A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, the folks at Big Idea Productions, creators of the popular Christian video series "VeggieTales," realized that if they wanted to keep instilling Christian values in popular culture and maintain their place at the top of the Christian video market (not to mention their place pretty darn close to the top of the secular children's video market), they needed to expand their reach beyond 6-year-olds and get older kids hooked on something, too. Their solution, "3-2-1 Penguins," is a new series aimed at 9- to 12-year-olds. Not only will this series suck those older kids in like a Galeezle gun (I'll explain in a minute), it will solidify Big Idea's growing reputation as a media company to contend with.
Unlike the VeggieTales videos, "3-2-1 Penguins" features a pair of human characters, Jason and Michelle Conrad. When we meet them, these 9-year-old twins are on their way to their British grandmum's cottage in the Poconos for a vacation that, at least in Jason's eyes, couldn't be less promising. His best friend is off at space camp and he's stuck in the woods with his sister, his doddering grandmum, and a black-and-white TV that expires soon after his arrival. He's left with nothing but his late grandfather's telescope, a set of penguin figurines (Grandfather's gift to Grandmum from their honeymoon in the Falklands), and his imagination.
When Jason accidentally drops the penguins, they come to life and invite him to join them, tractor-beaming him into their spacecraft with the aforementioned Galeezle gun. On Planet Wait-Your-Turn, Jason and his flightless high-flyers find a land of talking vacuum cleaners who have forgotten how to take turns--thanks to their leader, President No I'm the President (sound familiar?). The planet itself has thrown itself out of its normal orbit to be closest to the sun, risking immolation for all its inhabitants.
Time is running out for the vacuums. When even the penguins become afflicted with the "me first" attitude, Jason has to muster the selflessness needed to reverse the planet's deadly trajectory.
Aimed at an older audience, "3-2-1 Penguins" has a charm and zip that the VeggieTales videos, as good as they are, haven't had. The pace is nice and quick--though this particular video suffers a bit from bearing the exposition burden for the videos to come--the humor is irreverent without seeming forced, and the characters are well-crafted and believable. The children in particular are never cloying or overly cute. Jason and Michelle argue, tease, and struggle to take turns, setting up the premise for them to learn a little something.
But the real fun is the penguins themselves. Zidgel, the arrogant crew captain; Midgel, the ship's swaggering first mate; Fidgel, the mad scientist; and Kevin, the sweet simpleton of the group, are hip (in a future video, they will form a rock-a-billy band), funny (ever-vain Zidgel practices his "shocked" faces in a mirror), and downright goofy (Kevin gets himself sucked into a vacuum cleaner, then proceeds to interact with the others by sticking his beak through the hose).
Like it's Veggie predecessors, "3-2-1 Penguins" is based on values that will still appeal to viewers more interested in basic character development, with one major difference. Phil Visher, co-founder of Big Idea, points out that, in the world of VeggieTales, the vegetables were not allowed to have a relationship with God.
We never see the veggies pray or talk to God unless they are playing a human character, like King David or Daniel. But in Grandmum, Jason, and Michelle, Big Idea has human characters who can act as role models. Grandmum quotes Scripture, and Jason and Michelle end their day with a prayer, thanking God for the lessons they've learned.
There are also some nice messages about the power of imagination and the value of teamwork. Marooned without TV, Nintendo, or a VCR, Jason and Michelle have to create their own fun. The video even leaves unanswered the question of whether Jason's adventure with the penguins is real or simply the product of his imagination. Even the Galeezle gun is used to bring people (and penguins) together for a common purpose.
With it's retro-futuristic style, it's surf-music soundtrack, and lots of clever visual humor (watch for Jason holding up five fingers and Larry the Cucumber vacuum), "3-2-1 Penguins" marks a new level of excellent entertainment from Big Idea.