The folks who bring you the Saturday morning Christian cartoon series VeggieTales make movies that appeal not just kids but, as the old Hebrew National kosher hotdog commercials used to say, “a higher authority.” They offer themselves as an alternative to the usual Hollywood fare, to the unending gratitude of parents and youthful fans, who could go toe-to-toe with Trekkies for loyalty and knowledge of lore. Just to show how un-Hollywood VeggieTales is, their second feature film, “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything,” which opens today, doesn’t try to capitalize on the runaway success of the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” trilogy, spoof Johnny Depp’s winsome Capt. Sparrow or even work in a guy with a removal eyeball. The story of three flunkies who work as busboys at a swashbuckling dinner-theater show about buccaneering heroes, “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” is very much its own universe.

Which is a shame, since what knocks the wind out of the sails of this second big-screen effort from VeggieTales is the laborious construction of a world in which the hapless trio time-travel back to the days of privateers in the South Seas and rescue a princess from the clutches of Robert the Terrible, a zucchini who stumps around like Bluebeard. As aids to the plot, a mysterious compass-like contraption, a dinghy that falls from the sky at random moments and a convenient but otherwise unexplained soothsayer all creak louder than the spars of a brigantine.
Should you bring the kids? Sure: even mediocre VeggieTales is worth a foray with the minivan. Kids familiar with VeggieTales DVDs or their NBC show on Saturday mornings will be entranced by the irrepressible Larry the Cucumber, who steals the show as usual. The animation, a real leap forward for VeggieTales, includes an astonishing island where giant rocks get up and not only walk but eventually dance in a post-credits sequence. The lessons the kids will imbibe is more authentic than anything tacked on to “Enchanted.” A subplot about a greedy junkfood addict who ends up almost being consumed by his favorite cheese crinkles is worth a hundred lectures on why broccoli is good for you.

But the team of Mike Nawrocki, who directed, and Phil Vischer, who wrote the screenplay, have yet to create a movie that rivals the genius of their best small-screen stories. Classics like “The Fib from Outer Space” or the minor masterpiece “Sumo of the Opera”—which manages to tangle “Phantom,” “Rocky,” and Mr. T—succeed because they critiques of Hollywood as much as provide ennobling Bible lessons. We count on VeggieTales to point out the flaws and foibles of our culture as it offers relief from it. It’s a natural, necessary and prophetic stance for Christians to take, and Nawrocki and Vischer oughtn’t shy from it.
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