Pros: Strong message; funny story; lovable characters; memorable songs
Cons: Ending might be slightly difficult for young children (please see review)
With Thanksgiving growing nearer, I've been lamenting the dearth of children's stories on the theme of thankfulness. My friend Erin reminded me of the terrific Veggie Tales' animated video Madame Blueberry, produced in 1998.
I had forgotten how much fun this story is! The last (and only other) time I'd seen it was before I had a child of my own. Although the Veggie Tales videos, created by Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, certainly have plenty of pleasurable humor aimed at adults, I still found it was more fun to watch this story with a wide-eyed four year old.
But Veggie Tales are made for people of all ages. Kids will drink in the creative and wholesome lessons proffered by Bob the Tomato, his Cucumber pal Larry, and their assorted cartoon fruit and veggie friends. Parents and teachers can feel good about being able to provide such genuinely funny stories that contain some important and memorable life lessons. Many of the stories teach important Christian virtues.
Most Veggie Tale videos last approximately half an hour. Bob and Larry introduce the topic with their usual wit; the first half of the story plays; there's a silly song interlude (a kind of intermission, usually sung by Larry, but this time around sung by another character named Mr. Lunt); the second half of the story plays out; and then Bob and Larry wrap things up and emphasize the lesson to be learned. It's a winning formula.
"She's So Blue, She Don't Know What to Do"
The cautionary tale this time around concerns greed and contentment. Does buying and owning stuff make people happy? If not, what does?
We're introduced to Madame Blueberry, a purplish blue berry with the big googly eyes of all Veggie characters. Madame also an outrageous French accent, much like the accents of Jean-Claude and Philippe, the French Peas who help introduce the story this time around.
The viewer follows a jewel-like butterfly and finds that Madame Blueberry lives in very nice looking house in a green tree in a tranquil forest. Despite her lovely home, and the fact the she has two butlers (Bob and Larry in butler garb) Madame is not a happy berry at all. She spends a lot of time envying her richer friends their nice stuff. She even keeps pictures up of all the stuff she doesn't own but wishes she did.
In fact, it's true...Madame Blueberry is...blue. In fact, she's so blue, she don't know what to do, as Bob and Larry mournfully sing in the show's opening number. Madame Blueberry trills along with them, boo-hooing and bemoaning her "stuff-less" state. So she's in a very vulnerable mood when three salesmen arrive from the brand-spankin' new "Stuff-Mart" that's just been built down the road.
Stuff! Stuff! We Need More Stuff!
The makers of Veggie Tales often indulge in some humor that works on one level for children and another for adults. This time around, adults will grin and maybe even wince knowingly at their skewering sendup of big chain discount stores and the American mantra that "more is better." The three skinny green scallions that represent "Stuff-Mart" are as blatant as advertising marketers really can be. (And actually become "rap-scallions" -- groan!! -- in one of the musical numbers.) They look Madame Blueberry right in the eye and unashamedly lie. They tell her that if she buys all the stuff she wants, she'll be happy.
Larry is gullible enough to swallow their ad-speak. Bob, his usual cautious self, seems to know better, but is powerless to stop the magic of advertising. They both go along to the mega-store with the besotted Madame Blueberry.
The store itself, with its giant aisles filled with towering piles of things to buy, is a terrific tribute to the creativeness of Veggie Tales and their witty social/religious commentary. It's a combination of a warehouse and a cathedral. We see shining light and ethereal music when the shoppers first walk through the automatic doors. The glitzy, overwhelming store full of things that people don't really need is in direct contrast to a simple, happy family that Madame Blueberry passed on her way to the store. That family, despite not seeming to "have much" seemed grateful just to be together and to enjoy the little they did have. Madame Blueberry is intrigued to hear the little girl sing that she says thanks every day to God for what she has, because a thankful heart is a happy heart.
But...I Don't NEED a Toaster Oven!
The story utilizes another rousing musical number to accompany Madame Blueberry's buying binge. Egged on by the trio of slippery salesmen, she piles her shopping cart high with all kinds of items. A pause in the action gives the writers a chance to underline their theme contentment. Madame Blueberry sees another youngster in the store. Junior Asparagus is excited over a colossal train set he really, really wants. His mild-mannered Dad explains simply that they can't afford it, and offers to buy him a ball instead. Junior considers and then, thankfully, instead of throwing a tantrum, accepts his Dad's offer with gratitude, excited that he'll have a chance to go to the park to play. Junior even gets in a reprise of the earlier thankful song that Madame Blueberry heard on her way to the store.
And so it is that Madame Blueberry finally has her epiphany. Moved by Junior's attitude of gratitude, she's finally able to say no to the salesmen as they try to get her to buy more things. She leaves the store a happy and wiser blueberry. And all's well that....well, okay, not quite.
Not Your Typical Happy Ending
This is a parable. Since the writers are basing their teachings on Biblically shaped virtues, it makes sense that the story has a Biblical narrative shape as well. I mention this because if you're not quite clued into that, you might find the ending a trifle odd. And I discuss the ending here, not as a spoiler, but because I think it's important for parents and teachers to know what's coming!.... Since Madame Blueberry had already bought so much stuff (and sent it on ahead to her treehouse) her home can't hold it all. The tree collapses, and her house along with it.
The writers play this situation for suspense and laughs. Fortunately most of us don't live in trees, and most of us don't buy enough things to make our houses implode. So it's an exaggerated picture that drives home a point: not only does greed not make us happy, it also doesn't make us secure.
My four year old, however, was still pretty worried about Madame Blueberry losing her house. I think many preschool age children will need a bit of assurance at this point. It helps a lot that the final scenes show Madame Blueberry surrounded by friends and neighbors, new and old, who will clearly help her through her dilemma -- a dilemma she nonetheless brought on herself.
One reason I like Veggie Tales so much is that they allow room for parents and teachers to do what we do best... teach. This video helps begin that process by ending with a wrap-up where Bob and Larry discuss the story (in appropriate silly fashion) and underline the main points. A supporting verse from the Bible is provided, and the catchy songs drive home the moral of the tale. My daughter definitely "got the point" of this funny and colorful story, and it's an important point to be gotten, especially in a consumer-driven culture.
Just in Time for Thanksgiving
I'm thankful to have been pointed in the direction of Madame Blueberry. It would be a fun and helpful video for children (and grown-ups) to watch at any time of the year, but it seems especially apt now as we enter the thanksgiving season. I'm glad to remember, and to pass on to my daughter, that a thankful heart is a happy heart.