Phil Vischer, CEO and chief creative officer of Big Idea Productions, the company that produces VeggieTales, might just sit back and let his very successful garden grow. Vischer has accomplished what he set out to do: create a Christian alternative to secular forms of children's entertainment. But as our interview with Vischer shows, he has a whole lot more than talking tomatoes on his mind.

One look at a VeggieTales video shows you're trying to create a different kind of children's product. What it is you want to do with these videos?
Our real goal is to reinject God's truth into culture. One of the best ways to do that is through the popular media. That's the common language of this culture, and our goal is to become experts in speaking that language.

Too often, Christians approach media ventures as ministry, period. They forget they're in the entertainment industry. And while that might be noble, the truth today is that no matter how profound the message, it won't go anywhere if it doesn't entertain. People have plenty of really entertaining stuff out there demanding their attention. If we want to compete with the Disneys and Viacoms of the world, we have to play at their level. In fact, because our message is so different, we have to be more entertaining, be even funnier than the other guy.

That's not something you hear a lot about in Christian circles. We tend to stick with our own standards of excellence and say, "This is the best-selling whatever in Christian stores."
My goal is to exceed expectations. Look at old Disney films. When "Steamboat Willie" came out, it blew people away because they'd never seen anything like it before. When I look back at our very first videos, they're nowhere near as sophisticated as what we're doing now, animation-wise. But at the time, it exceeded expectations. Every time we do something new, we know the expectations are higher, and therefore we need to create something better than we did before. If you just get by, I think you fail your audience.

The things that sell in this culture are sex, violence, humor, and spectacle. As Christians, we can't use sex or violence to sell our message, and we usually can't afford spectacle. So we're left with humor, which is cheap. We can do all the dry, deeply pertinent messages we want, but they don't attract anyone. But people will respond to humor. We work to put out a message that doesn't compromise on the truth of Scripture and entertains people at the same time.

Are you competing to get the message to people who may not have heard it before, or are you content to provide Christians with alternatives to shows like "Rugrats"?
We want to do both. Parents who are looking for an alternative are the bedrock of what we do. The most obvious group is Christians, because they're the ones who have so little to choose from. But there are plenty of parents who might not call themselves Christians who like what we do and the moral message we're sharing.

This is one of the things we wrestle with when we write ad copy. We've got ads in secular publications and mainstream markets. So do we mention forgiveness or the Christian worldview? We spend lots of time arguing about how best to do that.

Why is it so important to compete with Disney and Warner Brothers?
I think that if we are in right relationship with God, our creativity should be illuminating the world. I can't find any theological basis for being derivative or half-hearted in what we do.

Through most of history, great artists have used their gifts to glorify God. But [lately], that's been less and less the case. My mission is to be a part of reversing that trend. I want to help create a context where people who are truly gifted--not just talented, but gifted with something extraordinary--can use their gifts to glorify God.

There are so many gifted artists at a place like Disney--illustrators, musicians, writers. But very few use their gifts to enrich the Kingdom. Most of them are just enriching themselves. There are senior-level artists at Disney, Warner Brothers, who are committed Christians. They might lead a Bible study at the office, but it never occurred to them they could glorify God through their work. But their gifts are meant to bring people back to God, not just sell Happy Meals.

I know one guy who wanted to minister to people, and the only thing he could think to do was be a pastor and walk away from his gifts as an artist. Now he's at Big Idea using his skills to carry God's truth through his art. You've never seen a guy smile so much. There's no happier place to be than at the intersection of your giftedness and God's will.

As you look at what you've accomplished so far, how does it change the way you think about the future of Big Idea?
It can't be just me telling stories. C.S. Lewis was a great storyteller, but he did it alone, so there will never be more "Chronicles of Narnia." The gifts he had died with him. Walt Disney worked to build a culture of storytelling. He trained other people in an ethic that they passed on to the next generation, and now his influence is greater than it ever was in his life. I plan to extrapolate Big Idea's influence beyond my death. The world needs a company that can tell great stories, not just a guy.

In terms of our audience, though, I want to keep doing what we're doing. FisherPrice is making a talking Bob that says, "God made you special and he loves you very much." We're still early in our life cycle, but these are signs that we're moving in the right direction.

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