(Photo: Jellyfish Labs)
In an interview with The Christian Post, Phil Vischer shares his opinion that secular and Christian ideas of Christmas create division. His new film, "Buck Denver Asks...Why Do We Call It Christmas?" attempts to confront this issue with puppets, playful sing-alongs and education about the holiday's Christian connotations.
Given that Vischer made generations of children and adults laugh voicing animated vegetables and playing with puppets, it's a safe bet he understands pursuing happiness with a biblical bent.
CP: You got your start with the computer animation cartoon "Veggie Tales." What originally attracted you to children’s ministry?
Vischer: I started playing with puppets at six and animation at eight. I've been involved with them ever since. I love those genres.
I like the experience of sitting down with your family to watch a family film or a Christmas special. It's always appealed to me. I grew up wanting to make shows like that.
CP: What has made "Veggie Tales" so successful among families?
Vischer: 92 percent of Americans believe in God. We're obviously not averse to talking about Him – we're adverse to boring people about Him.
There's often over-sincerity talking about God among Christians. The last few generations really distrust that. Anyone who just talks about serious topics while looking at the camera without ever making a joke stirs distrust. Instead, talking about serious things in a light-hearted way is extremely effective.
CP: You've now switched from computer animation on "Veggie Tales" to puppets with "Buck Denver Asks…Why Do We Call It Christmas?" Which medium do you prefer, and why?
Vischer: Different techniques work for different stories. Animation is amazing as you can do anything. You can create worlds that don't exist. It's just so slow and expensive it's hard to make it successfully.
The immediacy of puppetry is the appeal. You can just grab a puppet and point it at a camera and shoot film.
CP: Your latest "Buck Denver" episode explores Christianity's relationship with more secular Christmas traditions. What do you hope people learn from it?
Vischer: I'm trying to diffuse some of our confusion and concern over "Jesus Christmas" vs. "Santa Christmas." There's just so much angst. We don't understand why the holiday is the way it is.
I'm trying to impact that. When you look at Santa Claus, for example, the man who inspired the character, St. Nicholas, was a great Christian who helped the poor. I'm trying to shine a light on a somewhat confusing modern holiday and trace the traditions as they relate to Jesus.
CP: What do you think will surprise people most about this episode of "Buck Denver?"
Vischer: People will see that many of our secular traditions are still in line with Christianity. Christmas is still a Christian holiday. It's a fascinating story about how many traditions have gotten wadded together into this modern holiday.
It's important to know that there’s never been a "pure" Christmas. Christmas today is a modern invention created by America. It's an amazingly complex thing.
CP: How do you strike a balance between education and entertainment in a series like "Buck Denver?"
Vischer: We're trying to return TV to the educational potential you saw 50 years ago on network television. Walt Disney used to make primetime cartoons explaining atomic energy. Somewhere along the road we forgot what this medium is capable of. I want to go back and recapture that. Our kids grow up somewhere between lectures in Sunday school and "Hannah Montana." The question is which of those worlds becomes their real world?
CP: What does Christmas symbolize to you today?
Vischer: Christmas is significant to me but only in relation to Easter. The early Church saw the date of Jesus' resurrection as central to the year.
In contrast, the secular world plays a fairly negative role in Christmas today. They want the good feelings of Christians without their beliefs. It's led to the grossly exaggerated mythology of Santa Claus, a figure we now export around the world. Hollywood has the effect of homogenizing all the world's beliefs into a secular form available for mass consumption.
Christian families should fight that. Let's celebrate St. Nicholas and the birth of Jesus and all that means. We need to openly discuss it with our kids. This is a great time of year to celebrate Jesus and give each other gifts. It creates a bookend for Easter and starts the story that ends that morning so our kids can see the arc of Jesus’ life.
CP: What's next for your ministry?
Vischer: We want to be teaching more stuff. We have about seven more DVDs to put out for "Buck Denver Asks…What's in the Bible?" to cover the second half of the Bible.
After that, I'd like to move on to other things. I'd enjoy doing a series on church history or science in the Bible. What motivates a lot of this is that there are lot of people who believe they're Christians but don't know what they believe. If we don't know our beliefs, we don't know how we should be. To the world, there's no appeal to following people like that. We need to practice Christianity well. To do that, we need to understand it and that takes education.