(Photo: Big Idea Entertainment)
The animated children's series "VeggieTales" is nearly two decades old – a major milestone for any program that's outgrown its original audience.
In an interview with The Christian Post, "VeggieTales" co-creator and voice actor Mike Nawrocki states that there's plenty of life lessons and silly songs left in the tank. After all, Nawrocki contends, only teaching Christ's valuable teachings can keep a cucumber fresh for nearly two decades.
CP: "VeggieTales" is 19-years-old. What are you most proud of among its many accomplishments?
Nawrocki: For me the most meaningful thing is hearing how it's impacted peoples' lives and how special it is to children. I like knowing that we've consistently put out shows with biblical values that families pass on to their kids. I'm very thankful for that.
CP: You voice a number of "VeggieTales" characters, but your most memorable role is Larry the Cucumber. How does it feel playing such an iconic children's character?
Nawrocki: It's a ball. Larry's voice has changed quite a bit since the early shows but I've settled into it since then. Larry is an extroverted version of me. I love watching kids realize it's my voice when they hear me. It's a thrill.
Working with my co-creator Phil Vischer was great, as Larry and Bob the Tomato are extensions of our actual personalities. We were able to play off the real friendship between us. We wanted kids to feel like they could be friendly and comfortable with us as we're regular guys despite being vegetables.
CP: Is it harder making children's entertainment as you get older, or are you still a kid at heart?
Nawrocki: I think I'm a kid at heart. I'm a big Pixar and Muppets fan. I like making stories that are touching and funny on two different levels for kids and adults. It's a challenge and I really enjoy doing it. We want to teach the children a lesson but keep everyone laughing. The simplest lessons can be profound. It helps us as storytellers boiling down a message for a 4-year old and making it make sense.
CP: The latest "VeggieTales" release is a reimagining of the stop-motion animated film classic "The Little Drummer Boy." Was it difficult recreating such a beloved Christmas movie?
Nawrocki: That movie gave us a great way of going to the manger without turning Jesus into a vegetable. We're irreverent in many ways but that would be going too far. We wanted to be respectful. For our Easter special, for example, we depicted Christ during the crucifixion through stained glass the characters encounter. We wanted to capture the emotion of a Christmas miracle while focusing on the keystone event of that moment and that's Jesus' birth.
CP: "The Little Drummer Boy" draws heavily from Ephesians 4:32, which says "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." Why do you think it's important to teach the message of forgiveness early on in life?
Nawrocki: I can forgive because God first forgave me. On Christmas he sent his son as he loved us so much he'd sacrifice him so we could dwell together. It's a key component of the story of Christmas and we thought that'd be worthwhile visiting.
CP: Your co-creator on "VeggieTales," Phil Vischer, left Big Idea Entertainment, the company behind "VeggieTales," after it went bankrupt in 2003. How would you describe your relationship?
Nawrocki: We're very good friends. I was just visiting him in Chicago last week. We were college roommates before we started the show together. Right away we clicked creatively. I'm very appreciative of his friendship.
In some ways not working together every day on the business end of things has made us closer. He was the entrepreneurial force behind "VeggieTales" at first and thus the boss. It was hard for us as it wasn't always side by side. The stresses of the business world no longer play a part in our relationship. He still voices a lot of our characters. He's incredibly talented and has a great heart for God. I have the utmost respect for him.
CP: "VeggieTales" recently teamed up with World Vision International, a Christian aid organization that helps impoverished people overseas. How does VeggieTales help World Vision's mission?
Nawrocki: "VeggieTales" is focused on teaching kids that they are special and God loves them very much just like World Vision International. We're very excited to partner with them during Christmas. It's going to help people give to others in need. They have a gift catalog you can pick gifts from and give these people things they need. You can send them chickens, goats or even mosquito nets. It makes a substantial difference in these children's lives. I myself sponsor two kids from Colombia and one from Tanzania.
CP: You traveled to Tanzania last summer to see World Vision's work firsthand. What was that like?
Nawrocki: It was really special being there. I'd never been to Africa before.
It's breathtaking on the one hand and the other there's so much poverty. The drought last summer was very severe. People were definitely feeling its effects. World Vision was helping dig wells and irrigate crops. It was neat seeing them provide technology to better peoples' lives. It helps the whole community.
I actually met the family of the child from Tanzania I sponsor now. They're so proud to have help from people and write letters back and forth. It's precious. It's helped me show my own children how we show God's love to others. We pray for them and their families every night so it helps us as well. It's a great program and we've benefitted from it immensely.
CP: What does Christmas mean to you?
Nawrocki: Christmas is about recognizing how much God loves us and understanding that he sent his son for us. It's a day where we should try our best to appreciate him.