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White-hat, white-hot Veggies

Where does the road to becoming a hero begin?

Well, first you have to need to go to the bathroom really bad on a strange boat. You wander below decks into the dark and unfamiliar. You see what appears to be the loop of a key chain "just like the one at the gas station back home" and grab for it. But instead of a key it turns out to be a firing pin that unleashes a cannonball that pinballs off several rocks before taking out the mast of a feared pirate's ship, which then runs aground. Or more precisely, "arock."

It's an "F-Troop" moment that sends "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" on their way to unexpected hero-dom.

When we left The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything in their first VeggieTales movie, 2002's "Jonah -- A VeggieTales Movie," they were toiling away at a lakeside pirate-themed restaurant. Six years later, Elliot (played by Larry the Cucumber from "Jonah"), Sedgewick ("Jonah's" Mr. Lunt, a gourd) and George (Pa Grape from the original) are toiling away at The Pieces of Ate Dinner Theater. Mere cabin boys -- they clean tables, fetch refills -- they dream of someday making the pirate dinner theater cast. Then, perhaps, they'll be seen as heroes in the eyes of their loved ones.

An orb from the past has greater things in mind for the trio. They stumble upon the orb in an alley behind the theater. Before they know it, the orb begets a row boat, which they climb into and -- what the? --suddenly, they're in the middle of the ocean "somewhere in the 17th century."

The massively successful VeggieTales DVD/video franchise has been categorized as "faith-and-values-based" entertainment. What's that mean, exactly? When the vegetables made their debut in the direct-to-video market with 1993's 30-minute "Where's God When I'm S-Scared?" they were sold almost exclusively in religious-themed stores. That changed with "Jonah," which for three weeks in 2002 was among the nation's top-grossing films.

The Veggies aren't religious. Rather, they offer a message that you can't argue with regardless of your theological persuasion -- or lack of one. It's a message that isn't preachy; these foodstuffs are about showing rather than telling.

But what makes the VeggieTales franchise truly tasty is that they are expertly prepared. Creator Phil Vischer and colleague Mike Nawrocki do almost everything on the creative end: they (Nawrocki) direct, they (Vischer) write the script, they do most of the voices (eight for Vischer, six for Nawrocki), they write and sing most of the very catchy songs. All of this is good because the two are students of Monty Python and manage to bring that level of intelligent humor to VeggieTales.

Example 1. When Sedgewick becomes fed up with this hero business and pleads to return him to the present: "Just get me back to 1972. I'll walk from there."

Example 2. When a perceived whirlpool vanishes into thin air, George explains it was a "sea mirage" and gives a quick meteorological explanation of the phenomenon. A quizzical silence follows. "Weather Channel," he succinctly explains.

The lesson is deftly delivered, rolled out in layers for Elliot, George and Sedgewick -- and us -- to slowly recognize. Did the lazy Sedgewick really scale a rock wall to escape the churlish cheese doodles? Did spineless George really penetrate Robert the Terrible's inner sanctum? And how about that Elliot, ignoring his fear of heights and shinnying all the way up to the crow's nest? Did that really happen?

It did. If you missed it, it's probably because you were laughing so hard.

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