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Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie

The first feature film from the popular crossover Christian cartoon series "VeggieTales" the most recent in an aggressive marketing push toward mainstreaming Christian movies has a lot in common with Jurassic Park, a movie that panders effectively to its market. Jurassic Park features awesome digital dinosaurs and Jonah a slightly tweaked but sincere Biblical lesson. But neither of them bother much with tangential qualities. While Jurassic Park scrimped on screenwriting Jonah shows great effort at breaking out of its marginalized Christploitation box with some wacky invention and lively musical numbers, but is yet held back by a disappointingly dull technical approach. In adapting the story of Jonah the prophet whose refusal to deliver the word of God to the heathenous Ninevites temporarily exiled him to the belly of a whale Big Idea Productions tarts up its usual cast of asparagi, tomatoes, cucumbers, and other animated foodstuffs with a digitally animated sense of epic. Co-writers and directors (and sprightly vocal talents) Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki just temper their explicit proselytizing with enough Monty Pythonesque humor and absurd creativity to entertain secular boys and girls (and maybe even some patient parents) with a wholesome story about mercy and compassion, but visually the enterprise never quite comes together. The animation never effectively mimics or exploits the fluidity of film language. Its shot selection is pedestrian. Where other animated films often indulge in stylish flourish, Jonah often feels static and stiff, like a promising but misdirected student film. As well, the requisite musical numbers lack inspiration, settling mostly for blandly derivative tunes, spiced with cute lyrics, none of which feign to move the narrative forward. While it fails to challenge the animation acumen of Pixar or Dreamworks, Jonah was a great success, pulling in $20 million at the box office, and is also certainly the best of all of the recent mainstream Christian features. Perhaps if the next VeggieTales movie can match its gleeful silliness with a better production staff, they may end up playing with the big boys yet. Just like its more sophisticated secular cousins, Jonah is released in a feature-packed two-disc collector's edition. While the feature defaults to full screen (1.33:1), there is also a bright 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Audio is available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 Surround. The feature is accompanied by one commentary by Vischer and Nawrocki, another with producer Ameake Owens and director of animation Marc Vulcano, and yet a third with character voices of Larry the Cucumber and Mr. Lunt. Disc Two revels in typical animation process and studio tour featurettes, plus a discussion of the adaptation and scoring processes, music videos by Chris Rice, the Newsboys, and Superchic[k], DVD-ROM games, Easter eggs, and more. Keep-case with dual-disc swing tray.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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