5 VeggieTales Activity Cards

With the release of the new VeggieTales film, Beauty and the Beet, here are five activity cards that would be great for family time or to use in a preschool or children’s ministry setting. 

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VeggieTales: Beauty and the Beet (2014)

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Beauty-and-the-beet-cover-art“There are some who are hard to love.”

The family musical group The VeggieTones are starting to make it big when they get the invitation to play at Vegtable Square Garden. On the way, the family is forced to pull over due to a fierce snowstorm. They seek shelter at the inn owned by Mr. Beet. However, they have no money. They have to do chores around the hotel, including being the entertainment each evening.

This VeggieTales story is based on the classic Beauty and the Beast story.  Here, the Beet, much like the Beast, has walled himself off from other people – uh, veggies. His staff is timid around him, careful not to anger him. His inn has received poor reviews (only one star) because of his lack of hospitality.

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Meet the Beet

Beauty-and-the-beet-cover-artIt is hard to believe that Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber of VeggieTales have been around for more than 20 years! 

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Interview: Veggie Tales’ Mike Nawrocki

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Telling the story of God’s unconditional love

Next week a brand new VeggieTales DVD will be released, “Beauty and the Beet.” In this new show, a Veggie twist of the classic story Beauty and the Beast, Mirabelle (voiced by country music’ Kellie Pickler) and her family band, the Veggie Tones, are on their way to life-changing, career-promoting gig at Vegetable Square Garden. In the midst of a snowstorm, their car breaks down, and they find themselves singing for their supper for the cranky hotel manager Mr. Beet.

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It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown (1974)

Easter BeagleThe 12th animated television special, It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown, first aired on April 9, 1974 on CBS.  In this special, Charlie Brown and the gang are preparing for Easter. Peppermint Patty is teaching Marcie how to dye Easter Eggs. Poor Marcie can’t figure how to prepare the eggs to be dyed though. Sally wants new shoes for Easter Sunday. Lucy is preoccupied with getting gifts and hiding eggs.

And, then there is Linus. Linus tells them they are worried too much. None of that stuff matters, because the Easter Beagle is going to bring them Easter eggs. The Easter Beagle is right up there with the Great Pumpkin. The other children try their best to ignore or tolerant Linus’ belief in the Easter Beagle.

Like the Christmas special before it, the Easter special has a message against commercialism. As the children walk into the department store to get their Easter supplies, the store is decorated with Christmas trees and other Christmas items. Banners hang declaring how many days are left before Christmas. Sally cries out, “It’s Easter! And they have Christmas decorations out!?!”

The point is clear. Like Christmas, Easter is not about buying, buying, buying. Easter is about so much more than that. It is about the One who gave life so that we may have new life.

There has been some criticism that this special did have the religious message like its Christmas counter part. If by religious message they are referring to Linus reading from the Bible, than no, there is none of that in this one.

But there are allusions to the Gospel.

In the opening scene as Lucy listens to Schroeder play his toy piano, she talks about Easter being a time of getting gifts. Schroeder corrects her, “It’s a time of renewal,” and later, “All you think about is gimme, gimme, gimme, get, get, get.”

When the kids get to Easter Sunday, they are all sitting around waiting for something special to happen. Peppermint Patty says to Marcie, “You look forward to feeling real happy and something happens to spoil it.” Can you think of better words to describe what those who witnessed the crucifixion must have felt?

Sally is wondering where the Easter Beagle (Christ?) is. Charlie Brown expresses feelings of being alone. Sally tells Linus that he has made a fool out of her. Everyone seems to be sad or confused. Not unlike those who experienced the first Easter morning. But then in the distance a figure emerges. It is the Easter Beagle (of course, it is just Snoopy.) Snoopy dances around giving out Easter eggs that he picked up after Lucy hid them (Lucy: “He gave me my own egg!”).

Ten weeks later, the Easter experience is still hanging around. Lucy is still upset at Snoopy for pretending to be the Easter Beagle and for handing out the eggs that she hid. She goes to Snoopy with the intent of fighting him. Snoopy leans in and kisses her. She responses, “Awww, the Easter Beagle.” Even Lucy came around.

PeanutsEaster02There may not have been any quoting of scripture, but there are things held in common between the first Easter and this Charlie Brown Easter. The feelings of loneliness, of being scared, confused, and uncertain all must have been feelings that the disciples and others experienced. The surprise and awe that followed when Jesus appeared. There were those like Lucy who did not believe until they experienced the grace-filled love of Christ themselves.

Lent reminds us of the tension between looking forward to being happy and the reality of loneliness and despair. The promise of Easter is the gift of resurrection; new life; renewal. In the midst of the darkness of loneliness and despair, joy comes in the morning.

A Charlie Brown Valentine (2002)

A Charlie Brown ValentineA Charlie Brown Valentine is the first Peanuts cartoon special that was made after the death of creator Charles Schultz. It is also the third time that such a special was made with digital ink and paint, rather than the traditional cel-hand-drawn animation (thank you, Wikipedia.) The change in animation style also refers to the way the characters are presented on screen. They are drawn in a style that is similar to way they appeared in the newspaper comic strip. For example, you may notice the annoying white line around Lucy’s head. That is to make her appear more like she does in the comic strip. But, Schultz didn’t see a need to do it in the original specials, why do it here. It is mostly a distraction, and it was never done again.

The fact that Charles Schultz was not involved in this special is evident. The animation is not nearly as good as older Peanuts specials, and the story-line leaves much to be desired. Even so, it is a Peanuts special, and it attracted over 5 million viewers when it has been aired.

The story focuses on Charlie Brown and his secret love for the little red-haired girl. They are in the same class and despite all the effort on Charlie Brown’s part, he cannot quite find the courage to talk to her. He makes a Valentine for her and hides behind a tree, hoping that she’ll walk by and take it. In the meantime, Peppermint Patty and Marcie are both are trying to get Charlie Brown’s attention, as they are both interested. But Charlie Brown is getting his sleeve caught in the pencil sharper, trying to get the little red-haired girl’s attention.

Charlie Brown’s little sister, Sally, puts all her Valentine attention on Linus. Linus, as usual, rejects that attention and love.

Sally with hands held open: I’ll just stand here until you give me a Valentine.

Linus: Or, you can stand can like for the rest of your life and never get anything.

Linus, as usual, may be on to something. Sally has it wrong, it is not about what we get, it is about what we give. Sally makes a big deal out of the Valentine box in her classroom. I couldn’t help but wonder what would we put in Jesus’ Valentine box? I would hope that we would put ourselves in there. We are the best gift we can give Jesus. The Valentine we can give to Jesus is to show love to others.

At their wall, Linus convinces Charlie Brown that he should invite the little red-haired girl to the Valentine dance. But it doesn’t quite happen, and when Charlie Brown gets enough courage to ask her to dance, she is already dancing with Snoopy.

Charlie Brown is overly love-struck in this special. He makes reference to it himself. He gets so distracted that he cannot focus on his school work or anything else. His mind is solely on the little red-haired girl.

It is a pretty standard 25-minute special. Peanuts watchers will notice that the little red-haired girl in this special looks different than she does in It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. Here, she looks a little bit like little orphan Annie.

This Peanuts special is the 34th prime-time TV special. It first aired on February 14, 2002 on ABC, the first produced by ABC and was directed by Bill Melendez.  

It’s Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown

First Kiss, Charlie Brown - PonderingsIt’s Homecoming at Charlie Brown’s school. He and Linus are on the same Homecoming float, when Charlie Brown notices the little red-headed girl. The little red-headed girl is the Homecoming Queen. Charlie Brown and Linus are two of the guys who have been selected to escort the Queen and her court onto the dance floor.

Linus explains what is expected of Charlie Brown. Tradition states that when Charlie Brown escorts the Homecoming Queen to the dance floor, he then must give her a kiss. At this, Charlie Brown can’t believe it. In fact, he is filled with so much disbelief that he falls off the Homecoming float.

During the Homecoming football game, where Charlie Brown is the team’s kicker, he is totally distracted by the little red-headed girl in the stands. And distracted by the fact that he will  have to kiss her. Each time Charlie Brown goes up to kick, Lucy pulls the ball. Even when he has the chance to be the hero and win the game, Lucy pulls the ball away from Charlie Brown. Everyone is disappointed that Charlie Brown lost the game.

But, everyone’s attention now turns to the Homecoming Dance. Charlie Brown is so nervous, he is shaking and turning red. The other boys escort the court to the dance floor, and then it is Charlie Brown’s turn. He slowly walks down the red carpet, takes the little red-headed girl’s arm, and walks her out to the dance floor. Then, he leans in and gives her a kiss.

Ponderings - Charlie Brown First Kiss

The next morning, Charlie Brown joins Linus at their wall. Linus recalls how they lost the football game the day before. And even though Charlie Brown didn’t win the game for the team, he was the hero of the dance! Poor Charlie Brown doesn’t remember any of it!

Somehow he found the courage to kiss the little red-headed girl, who in this special we learn is named Heather. Charlie Brown cannot believe that he actually did it! “What good is it to do anything, Linus, if you can’t remember what you did?” Charlie Brown inquires.

Linus just reminds him that it was still a good day because it was his first kiss. The special ends with Charlie Brown smiling in satisfaction. What a great way to end or start a day. Smiling in satisfaction. No matter what we have done, or how much of it we remember, it’s a great way to be. It’s counter to how we usually experience Charlie Brown. He can’t seem to kick that football, but he can drum up the courage to kiss the little red-headed girl.

This Peanuts cartoon is the sixteenth prime-time TV special. It first aired on October 24, 1977 on CBS and was directed by Phil Roman.

Nothing Artificial Here*

Christmas Ponderings - devotions for the Christmas seasonThere has always been something about Charlie Brown from the Peanuts comic strip that each of us can connect with. He opens his mailbox and it is always empty. He never can kick that football. He never could find the courage to talk to the little red-headed girl.

Poor, Charlie Brown.

And poor us. We all have days when no matter what we try to do, it never quite comes out right. But there are a few things we can learn from Charlie Brown. Even though that mailbox was empty, he keeps looking. Even though he never kicks that football, he keeps trying.  And even though he never could find the courage to talk to the little red-headed girl, he keeps planning to.

In 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas aired for the first time on CBS. It has sense become a Christmas classic. In it Charlie Brown searches for the meaning of Christmas. What he sees around him does not feel like Christmas to him. “Does anybody know the meaning of Christmas?!?” he inquires.

The answer is you do, Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown is sent to choose the Christmas tree for the nativity play. The lot is filled with beautiful, sparkling, artificial trees. He chooses the only “real” tree in the lot, that happens to be the wimpiest, littlest, tree.

There is nothing artificial about Christmas or the meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown’s decision to choose the tiniest and the weakest of the trees symbolizes how Christ chose each of us, the tiniest and the weakest.

So this Christmas season, go and love as Charlie Brown loved, never giving up and loving on the tiniest and the weakest. Go and love as Jesus has loves you.

*This first appeared as a From the Deacon column at Peakland United Methodist. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

Slide1On December 9, 1965 an animated Christmas special aired on CBS. Some network executives had already made the commitment to air it, but they only planned to air it that one time. Little did they know that the simple story of Charlie Brown searching for the meaning of Christmas would be the second most watched show that week (second only to the western Bonanza), much less a Christmas tradition.

They only planned to have it air once, but they didn’t think it was very good. It is a miracle that the special ever made it to the air anyway. Producer Lee Mendelson got a phone call explaining that Coco-Cola wanted to sponsor a Christmas special and accepted the offer, even though he didn’t have one. He called Charles Schultz and asked if he could have a story in a week. They pitched the Christmas special and it was accepted. They had six months to make the special, which is usually not enough time. But the team of Schultz, Mendelson, and Bill Melendez made it happen.

There are so many things that make Schultz’ story so brilliant. One is that he insisted on using children as the voices of the . . . . wait for it . . . . .children. Yeah, it was not the normal way to do things. The other is that he was willing to talk about that which no one else was willing to do at the time. In fact, the tension between consumerism and the true meaning of Christmas is still so evident (like the current “War on Christmas?“). Yet, it is possible that we are so consumed by consumerism, that we miss the message that Schultz delivers in this timeless classic. Buy, buy, buy is not the meaning of Christmas.

charlie-brown-christmas2Charlie Brown is depressed, living in despair, as he does in most of the Peanuts comics. “Something is wrong with me,” he tells his faithful friend Linus at the brick wall. “Christmastime is here, but I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.” The feeling that Charlie Brown thinks he is suppose to feel is that artificial happiness. The kind of happiness that can be bought.

This artificial spirit of Christmas is sweeping through town. When Charlie Brown goes to get advice from Lucy’s 5 cent booth, he drops a nickel into the jar and Lucy picks it up filled with joy. She shakes the jar, listening to the nickel rattle, and exclaims, “I love the sound of cold, hard cash.” As Charlie Brown walks pass Snoopy’s doghouse, he is surprised to find his beagle decorating the dog house. Why? For the chance to win a huge money prize. “My own dog has gone commercial,” Charlie Brown says, “I can’t stand it!”

And he really can’t stand it. Charlie Brown has been given the chance to direct the Christmas play. But he can’t seem to get the other kids to focus on the meaning of Christmas, which is something that Charlie Brown is trying to discern. He knows that there is more to this favored holiday than just money! He is just not sure how to articulate it.

CHARLIEHe is sent to get a Christmas tree for the play. This, the kids reason, will fix everything. Charlie Brown and Linus are told to get a nice, big, shiny, aluminum Christmas tree. We all know what happens, Charlie Brown chooses the wimpiest, littlest, tree in the whole lot. But it’s a real tree. It’s not artificial. It’s not a fake. It’s not a tree in disguise. It’s the real deal.

When Charlie Brown returns with the tree, he is laughed at and called names. It causes him to cry out, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is about?” And Linus, very humbly, steps up on the stage and quotes Luke 2:8-14 from the Kings James Bible.

This was another risky move by Schultz. Not all of his team thought it was a good idea to use the Bible on primetime television. They were certain that it would not go over well with audiences. Schultz’ wife recalls him thinking that scripture is not just for the church, but for everyone. And it was fitting that Linus, the little philosopher that he is, be the one who recites the scripture. In doing so Linus becomes a little theologian as well. In reciting the birth narrative from Luke’s gospel, Linus makes the connection between the message of the Gospel and Charlie Brown’s actions – a message that is not just for the church.

There is nothing artificial about Christmas or the meaning of Christmas. Charlie Brown’s choice to choose the tiniest and the weakest of the trees symbolizes how Christ chose each of us, the tiniest and the weakest.  Instead of being concerned with money and buying extravagant gifts, we should follow Charlie Brown’s lead and care for the tiniest, loneliest, and weakest.

Tom & Jerry’s Giant Adventure (2013)

C8bz6t7In this animated straight-to-DVD film, Tom and Jerry are the last two animals left in the petting zoo at Storybook Town, a fairy-tale based theme park. Mr. Bigley has plans to turn the theme park into a strip mall. Young Jack and his widowed mother have until 9am to come up with the money to pay off the mortgage. Jack doesn’t give up hope though. He recalls a phrase that his father used to say all the time, “Dreams come true if you believe.”

Jack takes the family cow to sell to the circus, but by the time they get there, the circus has already packed up and left. As they start to head home, they pump into Farmer Dell (voiced by Garrison Keillor). Farmer Dell says that he will pay the cow in exchange for some magic beans. Jack pulls Tom and Jerry along away from the farmer, until he says, “They don’t look like much, but they can do miracles if you believe.”

Jack takes the beans home, and overnight a giant, green, vine grows. When Jack, Tom, and Jerry awake, they find themselves in Fairy Land. All of the themed rides and attractions in Jack’s park are real here. The story does not veer too far from the original Jack and the Beanstalk story. The giant holds Fairy Land captive by bullying its treasures away. Jack, Tom, and Jerry help them restore peace and order by returning the magic harp. In return, the three friends end up with a golden egg. Part of that egg is used to pay off the mortgage.

Jack is the one who does not give up on believing. His mom is ready to hand it all over to Mr. Bigley. Tom makes a sign that says, “Free to a Good Home.” Jack is the consistent believer. Which is hard to do in a world filled with tragedy, injustice, and death. In a world broken, it is hard to keep believing. But Jack does. He does so when others don’t, and he don’t so even when it seems completely crazy.

It reminds me of this parable that Jesus told:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in his field. It’s the smallest of all seeds. But when it’s grown, it’s the largest of all vegetable plants. It becomes a tree so that the birds in the sky come and nest in its  branches. (Matthew 13:31-32, Common English Bible)

Mustard seeds are known for their extremely small size. And yet, they grow into sizable bushes. A small seed can produce a lot. Jack is a child with a lot of faith in some tiny seeds. And that big faith has even bigger results.

Tiny Toons: One Beer (1991)

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In this Tiny Toon Adventures short, Buster Bunny, Plucky Duck, and Hamton J. Pig go where most Saturday morning cartoons don’t go. “One Beer” was only aired once in the United States. However, I came across this short while viewing a collection of episodes for HollywoodJesus.com. 

Buster opens the fridge to offer a drink to his friends Plucky and Hamton. He names off what its in the fridge, and notices that there is one beer. He offers that, ,too, acting all cool about it.

Hamton: “What are you thinking, Buster?”

Buster: “Drink it.”

Hamton & Plucky: “Drink it?!?”

Hamton: “But, Buster, this isn’t like you.”

Buster: “I know. But in this episode we’re showing the evils of alcohol.”

The three friends go to the park (why the park, I don’t know) with the single bottle of beer. After ensuring they look innocent when a police officer walks by, Buster opens the bottle. He dares the others to drink it. Hamton says that the darer should go first. And so Buster takes a sip, and then the other two take a sip, and immediately they are wasted. And we have after school cartoon characters drunk.

"I'm Larry, and this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl."

“I’m Larry, and this is my brother Darryl and my other brother Darryl.”

They show up at the Looniversity dressed like Larry, Darryl, and Darryl.  It is referring to the 1982-1990 series Newhart, staring Bob Newhart, a pop culture reference that was mostly missed by the children who were watching. The girls don’t want anything to do with these three drunk amigos. (Keep in mind, they are still sipping from the one bottle.) They look rough and their breath smells bad. The girls walk right past them.

Next, the three friends head up to a donut shop, where Plucky finds a police car with the keys still in it. And in their drunken state of mind, they decide to take the car for a spin. They crash their way through town, before driving up a mountain. As they do so, they pass a sign that says, “Now leaving reality.”

And that, they do. Plucky turns the cruise control on and they drive right off the mountain falling into a graveyard. From there, the three rise up into the heavens complete with white gown and wings. But, instead of heaven, we find our colorful, young friends back in the studio. As they leave, Buster says, “I hope the kids get the message.” Plucky adds, “Yeah, drinkings uncool.”

When I first saw this in the midst of other classic Tiny Toon episodes, I was surprised that this even existed. It is, by the far, the darkest Tiny Toon short in the collection. The short was banned after it only aired once. But if you are YouTube savy (by that I mean, you search Tiny Toon One Beer, and it comes up), you could probably watch some of it.

It is, basically, a cartoon version of an after school special. But, as Buster said at the beginning, this was about the evils of alcohol. It may seem kind of morbid to send cartoon characters over a steep mountain to their death. But the “evils of alcohol” are many and diverse. For example, in 2010 about 190,000 emergency room visits of those under 21 with conditions related to alcohol abuse. The three leading deaths of 15 to 24-year olds are automobile crashes, homicide, and suicide. Alcohol tends to be a factor in all three. (Sources: CDC, SADD)

A couple of years ago I was speaking at a youth retreat, and I was talking about how we, like the great Biblical figures who have gone before, stand every day in a place where we discern God’s call in our lives. Every decision that we might in our lives as an affect on us, those around us, and those we have never met. We stand, every day, in these forks in the roads where we have to decide one thing or another. I had, in a very Fred Craddock kind of way, three little vignettes as illustrations. One of them was about a young man who chose not only to drink one beer (and maybe more), but to also drive his girlfriend home. It did not end well.

Afterwards, one of the adult counselors approached me. He was in a wheelchair, unable to use is legs at all. He became to share his story. The vignette of the young man drinking and then driving, that was him he said. That was his story.  He took his dad’s car without his dad knowing, took a girl to the drive-in movies, and had a few drinks. On the way home, he got into a car accident, totaling his dad’s car and leaving himself paralyzed form the waist down.

But let me be clear. I’m not taking an alcohol is evil stance. I am, however, taking the stance that every day in every moment we have decisions to make. And we need to make them through the lens of our faith, through the lens of our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we make the decision to have one beer, than we should not make the decision to drive, for less our fates are that of Buster, Plucky, and Hamton.  And I take the stance that one beer is a lot different than 12 or 20 or 50 beers. There are numerous studies that show that alcohol has lasting effects.

At a different retreat, I started the event off speaking on grace and how God’s grace in the midst of our lives even before we know we need God’s grace (truly good news!).  And that no matter how many stupid things we do, God’s grace is still greater. Another adult counselor came up to me to show me his pin. His 5 year sober pin. This man was in an AA group, and had been since he realized what kind of affect his drinking was happening on his family, especially his daughter. As this short shows, one beer can have lasting effects.

And I think this is what the writers and directors of Tiny Toon Adventures was aiming for with “One Beer.” A cartoon way to say, hey, it’s uncool. But also, I think, to say hey, we need to be having these conversations. It is not enough to say it’s uncool and don’t do it. It is greater and more valuable to have the conversations about the dangers and the realities of alcohol.

We Three Kings: Claymation Style

Do you remember the Claymation Christmas special? It was aired in 1987 and won an Emmy. In celebration of Epiphany, here is their version of the hymn “We Three Kings.”

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