"There was no spark of compassion in Jonahs heart .. until God gave him a second chance."
- Moral of the "Veggie Tales" movie, "Jonah"
If you've read the book, you may have trouble - excuse the pun - swallowing the new "Veggie Tales" movie about the Biblical story of Jonah and his temporary stay inside the belly of a big fish or, if you dont mind being theologically incorrect, whale. But if you're looking for 90 minutes of great entertainment for all ages, grab a child - or a grandchild, as I did - and hurry to the theater before this fish gets away.
The Veggie Tales books and videos have been out for years, but this is the first time one of them has been made into a movie. Perhaps knowing they had to come up with something more original than Jim Hensens Muppets, all the Veggie Tales characters are colorful garden vegetables, or as Orlando Sentinel movie reviewer Roger Moore calls them, "salad-bar refugees."
In this tale the "Veggies" are traveling to a much-anticipated concert when Bob the Tomato crashes their minibus into a nest of porcupines, whose quills promptly flatten their tires and leave Tom's ample form painfully impaled. But adventure intercedes, and before long Bob and friends forget their pain and misfortune.
While waiting for a tow truck, they pass the time at a seafood cafe where a band of lazy pirates tells them the story of a skinny asparagus named Jonah.
The songs and antics of the story mesmerize the stranded, garden-variety passengers. The theater audience is mesmerized, too, partly by the children who become totally caught up in the hand-clapping, finger-snapping beat of the music, and partly by the sheer imagination of the screenwriters, whose genius many of us are still applauding.
Even the youngest child understands that God has told Jonah to go someplace (Nineveh) he doesnt want to go, so he runs away. Actually, he signs up for a cruise that promises far more amenities than it will ever deliver, at least to Jonah.
But its the fish and what happens inside that cavernous belly that was the high point of the movie for me.
Forget the argument about what kind of fish swallowed the disobedient prophet. Would you believe an overgrown, pot-bellied goldfish? Not just the kind that swims around in a bowl or pond, mind you, but one that can leap tall buildings at a single bound, and spit higher than Old Faithful can spout. When Jonah came out of that fishs mouth, he flew faster and higher than the Blue Angels rose over Augusta during their recent air show.
There were other adaptations to the book, too. I knew there was a worm in the story somewhere, but I thought it just nibbled on the vine that sheltered Jonah near the end of the story. I didnt remember a pseudo-Jiminy Cricket caterpillar-sidekick that follows Jonah into - and out of - the fish.
I also dont remember a fully-robed, mass choir that sings and sways the length of that big belly-stage while Jonah is trying to figure out how he can get back in Gods graces and out of the fish.
Since we already know how the story ends, our only surprise is Jonahs high-flying exit from the upset stomach of the big-gold-whale of a fish. Jonah then goes to Nineveh, tells the folks theyre sinners, watches them repent, and gets mad because he doesnt want God to forgive them - which is why he didnt want to go there in the first place.
But God and his own caterpillar-disguised conscience team up to convince Jonah that just as he had a second chance when he escaped from the fish, the people of Nineveh deserve their second chance, too.
Its funny and its delightful togetherness with our significant little ones. But if we want to see more G-rated, family appropriate entertainment in the future, its imperative that we jam the theaters for this movie. Theater chains make their decision on how widely a film will be distributed based on attendance figures for the initial showings.
So, as my favorite answering machine message says, You know what to do and when to do it.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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