The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie
For pirates who don't do anything, Elliot, Sedgewick and George sure get around. Introduced to the VeggieTales world during a random "Silly Songs With Larry" segment, they went on to play a key role in Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie. Now they're back as "cabin boys" bussing tables at the Pieces of Ate Dinner Theater to tell a new (veggie) tale about why laziness, fear and low self-esteem should never be allowed to get in the way of becoming a hero.
Preposterously transported back to the 1600s via rowboat and a mystical metal ball called a Helpseeker, Elliot, Sedgewick and George (you might recognize them as Larry the Cucumber, Mr. Lunt and Pa Grape) discover that not only are they suddenly in the middle of the ocean but they've been selected to save a prince and princess who have been captured by a dastardly pirate determined to steal the crown from their royal father.
Bumbling adventure awaits. As do curiously ravenous cheese curls, menacing mechanical sea serpents and toweringly cute boulder families.
Larryboy, that famed superhero of plunging abilities, is not in this pirate parable, but he'd be proud of what's been done here. In his escapades as a Batman-esque protector of all that is good and holy in Bumblyburg, Larryboy discovers that true heroes have to first get out of bed and do ... something. The pirates who don't do anything are more in need of that lesson at the beginning of this film than pretty much anybody else on the face of the Bumblyplanet. By the time it's done, though, they're being awarded shiny medals for tenacity, bravery and leadership.
George, the cabin boy with the lack of self-confidence, grapples with what he thinks of himself and with how others see him. He eventually concludes, "Maybe the reason [my kids] don't look up to me is because I haven't given them something worth looking up to." And he uses that thought to push himself into making better choices and, thus, presenting them with a better role model. (John 13:1-17 could easily have served as inspiration for George's character; it shows how Jesus set Himself up as an example for us all and, in turn, taught us how to be examples for others.)
Elliot, the timid cabin boy, has tabulated a whole list of things he's afraid of, and regularly succumbs to the looming threat of everything from inflatable dragon heads to wicker furniture. But, just as the cowardly lion does in The Wizard of Oz, he eventually realizes that bravery isn't about not being afraid, but is rather about doing what needs to be done even when one's knees are knocking. Or, in the cucumber's case, when his rind is wrinkling. (Romans 8:15 will lend spiritual backbone to this lesson for families interested in pursuing it further.)
Sedgewick, the lazy cabin boy, initially decides he would rather live in a cave and eat cheese curls all day than have to keep working so hard. But by the time the credits roll and the silly songs begin, it is he who has done the yeoman's share of hard labor. Sure, he has to be nudged a time or two, and be threatened a time or two, but when the real push comes to shove, he does both—and more. (Matthew 21:28-31 puts an interesting twist on Sedgewick's actions.)
The application? 1) A child who complains, "Teacher, I'm too dumb to do all these math problems by myself!" might be inspired to start saying, "Miss K, these math problems are super hard, but just like George, I'm going to give them a yo-ho try!" 2) "Mom, I'm too scared to go to sleep now that my big brother took my nightlight to use in his science fair exhibit" may morph to, "Mom, it's pretty dark in here, and I'm still a little nervous, but I know you'd never ask me to do anything I'm not able to do. So I'll try my best not to be afraid, just like Elliot." 3) "Um, Dad, I'm too busy playing with our new Wii to take out the trash today" might transform into, "Dad, I already took the trash out, can I help with anything else around here before I play? After all, if Sedgewick can swim 90 nautical miles without any arms or legs in order to help his friends take out that evil pirate dude, then I can certainly spend 15 minutes setting the table and helping with the dishes!"
Contrasting the pirate Robert the Terrible's negative example with the king's good one, we're also taught that true leadership is servant leadership. It's using your wealth for the benefit of others, using your power for the building up of others and using your wisdom for the enlightenment of others. Robert wants to steal the crown so he can live the high life. The king uses it to improve the lives of his loyal subjects.
Kids will be able to see here a kind, loving, wise king who cares for his children and arranges for their protection. And while nothing in the story is overtly spiritual (and Qwerty isn't around to help out at the end), this king serves as a God-type, intentionally designed, says director Mike Nawrocki, to provide moviegoers with allegorical references to the wisdom, love and care of the Creator.
Also relevant is the fact that the king seems to know more about George, Sedgewick and Elliot than they know about themselves. They think they're worthless and are of no help to anyone. He, however, knows that underneath their coast-through-life, self-focused and apprehensive exteriors, they all truly want to do the right thing. And this refrain repeats throughout the movie. "Even princesses can do the right thing," the princess insists. George, too, tells Elliot, "If you want to go home, you can go home, but [the princess] needs me, and I need to do what's right." The king himself puts the final punctuation on this idea when he says, "The hero isn't the strongest or the fastest or the smartest or the best looking. The hero is the one who, no matter how hard, does what he knows is right."
Finally face to face with the king and presented with medals, George, Sedgewick and Elliot are nearly speechless. But George manages to blurt out, "We're no heroes, we're cabin boys!" The king replies, "There were no mistakes. The Helpseeker picked exactly who I intended. And I made sure you had everything you needed to complete the task. ... The adventure I call you to may not be easy, but you'll never journey alone. My help is always there."
In Nawrocki's words, "God calls us into adventure, and He equips us to fulfill that call."
Elsewhere, the script goes out of its way to make sure families aren't bombarded with Pirates of the Caribbean-style sorcery. In fact, it sets up its villain as a dabbler in the "mechanical arts," which consist of him concocting all sorts of levered and spring-driven devices that make him more powerful. Continuing that theme, when an incredulous 17th century observer gawks at Sedgewick's radio-controlled car, croaking, "What manner of magic is this?!" the response is simple, "It's no magic, it's Radio Shack."
It's a pirate yarn, so moviegoers should be prepared to see several seafaring fights complete with swords and cannonballs. Two things stood out to me that may frighten some young Veggie eaters: Both the prince and princess are taken captive with gleaming swords put to their throats to fend off would-be rescuers. Also, Elliot is suddenly and roughly devoured by a mechanical sea serpent. He's all right, of course, but when my 7-year-old daughter sees this movie I fully expect to hear a plaintive yelp.
Along the way, the pirate-themed set at the dinner theater is accidentally wrecked—twice. A pirate ship crashes into rocks. Another one sinks. Teeth-baring cheese curls chase Sedgewick, intent on eating him. A family of huge moss-covered rock creatures seems to be threatening at first, mainly because of its sheer size. Robert the Terrible invents black-powder mines to blow up ships. One is demonstrated in a test, but none are used against occupied vessels.
Frustrated, Sedgewick repeatedly bangs his head on the side of the boat. A song references hitting "your shipmates with a rusty blade." The rowboat falls on Robert. And at one point it appears that a boatful of pirates all drown.
Crude or Profane Language
None. Exclamations are limited to "ninny," "heavens," "blast," "for Pete's sake" and "holy mackerel." The prince tells a pirate attacker to go "back to the sea, dog!" "Loser" is used to describe the way everybody thinks of George.
Drug and Alcohol Content
None. Root beer and ginger ale replace grog.
Other Negative Elements
Sedgewick blurts out, "If I run into that Robert guy, I'm going to wet myself." (It's the second time he ties bodily functions to fear.)
Big fans of VeggieTales may wish The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything had more direct spiritual dialogue and impact. And they may also wonder why it doesn't take a Bible story and revamp it the way Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber have done previously. But when asked about it, director/cucumber Mike Nawrocki is quick to point out that VeggieTales has a long history of making stories that don't retell Bible stories—from Where's God When I'm S-Scared? to Madame Blueberry.
"It's my hope that in this film, the biblical worldview is very clear and that a Christian audience and a VeggieTales audience will go to it and see what they've always seen in VeggieTales, and get the allegory," Nawrocki told Plugged In Online. "That will ring very true with them and they'll appreciate that."
So, setting aside any expectation of a between-the-eyes Sunday school lesson, what kind of kids' movie is Pirates? Maybe I should answer that question with a recitation of places it doesn't go that so many other animated flicks do:
It refuses to reference the "f-word" as a joke line the way Open Season does. It sticks to clean veggie humor, not crass "nut" humor like Over the Hedge. It stays far, far away from the New Agey worldviews expressed in Brother Bear. It doesn't feature Regis Philbin and Larry King as the voices of drag-queen "sisters" like the Shrek movies do. It avoids what we called Happy Feet's "oddly unpleasant interjections of spiritualism and Footloose-style loosen-up-you-old-fuddy-duddy 'moralizing.'" And it doesn't indulge in mean-spirited name-calling ("booger breath," "moron," "idiot," etc.) the way pretty much every movie from Meet the Robinsons to Garfield does.
Clearly—with the exception of flurries of pirate violence that includes swords being held to young vegetables' throats—the obvious influence of movies such as Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Galaxy Quest and Star Wars, along with onscreen references to Edward Scissorhands, The Love Boat and Days of Our Lives don't seem to have dulled Nawrocki's and screenwriter Phil Vischer's commitment to creating clean, creative entertainment with a layer of biblical frosting for good measure. That layer is sometimes thicker, and sometimes thinner. But it's always there.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Phil Vischer as George, Sedgewick, Willory, Sir Frederick, Mr. Hibbing, Bob the Tomato, Pirate Spy and Pirate Philippe Pea; Mike Nawrocki as Elliot, Pirate Jean Claude Pea, Theater Foe, Pirate Spy Sidekick and Rock Monster Father; Cam Clarke as Robert the Terrible and The King; Yuri Lowenthal as Alexander; Alan Lee as Blind Man and One-Eyed Louie; Cydney Trent as Bernadette; Megan Murphy as Madame Blueberry; Jim Poole as Pirate Scooter Carrot; Tim Hodge as Jolly Joe and King's Ship Officer; Ally Nawrocki as Lucy and Rock Monster Girl
Mike Nawrocki ( )