The year is 1993. Two guys from the Midwest with big dreams and little to no money conceptualize a brilliant idea: animating a series of short films about talking vegetables that teach children about the Lord. Today we’re lucky enough to bear witness to the adventures of one tomato and one cucumber who remain unrivaled in Christian children’s programming. Their names are Bob and Larry, and I watched almost 15 hours of them so you don’t have to.

To clarify, the two aforementioned midwestern guys are the creators of “VeggieTales,” a computer animated cartoon about anthropomorphized vegetables that aims to teach children moral lessons found in the Bible. The creators’ names are Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, both of whom are well-rounded people in their fields. They each have experience writing, directing, animating, and voice acting in their own productions. It’s for these reasons that “VeggieTales” was able to get off the drawing board and onto our televisions. I could speak at length about the inception of “VeggieTales” and the rise and fall of Big Idea Productions — the studio that produced it — but we don’t have time for that. Instead, I’ll be pitting these films against each other in a battle royale to see which ones come out on the top shelf and which ones stay shoved in the back of the crisper drawer.

Before we begin, I want to clarify something. This started as a personal mission to watch and rate every single “VeggieTales” film as a way of celebrating the series’ 30th anniversary. Unfortunately, there are 43 “VeggieTales” films in total. I’m a guy with two jobs pursuing a college degree, so I’m sorry to report that I did not watch 43 films about talking vegetables in less than two weeks. Instead, I narrowed down my watchlist to films with a runtime of 50 minutes or more. This resulted in a list of 16 films, running over 800 minutes in total. In unrelated news, I have re-succumbed to my catholic roots. 

To save on time, I’ll only be rating the five best and worst films. I’m also recommending the top five as essential viewing for any “VeggieTales” fan, old or new. I reviewed these on a scale of 1-10 and considered three factors: humor, relevancy, and silly songs. Humor indicates the quality of the jokes — are they funny to people other than Christian children between the ages of 5-10? (Disclaimer: I can only attest if they’re funny to a 24-year-old ex-catholic, you’ll have to use your own discretion if you aren’t in that demographic). Relevancy means how well the films themselves hold up — did the references age well? Are the stories relatable? And finally, the silly songs. Oh boy, the silly songs. If you’re unaware, “VeggieTales” is known for its vast array of silly songs, most of which are sung by Larry the Cucumber. A silly song’s quality can make or break a “VeggieTales” film’s chances of getting on the leaderboard. With all this in mind, let’s get started!

(Side note: Almost all of these film titles are vegetable puns on already existing media. You have been warned.)

Into the Drawer with Ye:

5. Saint Nicholas: A Story of Joyful Giving (2009) – 6/10

This one isn’t a bad “VeggieTales” film, but it’s not their most exciting Christmas special. It tells the origin of Saint Nicholas and how he became Santa, although it’s fictionalized to the point where I’m not sure if any of it is historically accurate. The moral lesson revolved around generosity, which is basic as far as Christmas stories go. The silly song wasn’t too strong either and featured a CGI dog that bordered on uncanny at times. Truly a middle-of-the-road “VeggieTales” film. If you’re looking for one of their better Christmas specials, consider watching “The Toy that Saved Christmas” or “The Star of Christmas.”

4. Celery Night Fever (2014) – 5/10

When I first read the title of this film, I was excited! A veggie-fied version of “Saturday Night Fever?” Sign me up! Unfortunately, the title has little to do with the actual content of the film. The story revolved around two children, Laura Carrot and Junior Asparagus, who made it their mission to save Celery Park from getting demolished by reuniting Laura’s grandfather’s band to play a show there. At the very least I thought that we’d get to hear some disco music, but no, we don’t even get that. It’s all pop except for one moment in the middle of the film where Archibald the Asparagus’ character plays a disco instrumental with his orchestral ensemble. That’s it. The one highlight is that we meet a new character, a venture capitalist onion named Bruce who’s voiced by Terry Crews. If you want to watch a more riveting story about getting the band back together and saving the day, just go watch the Love Händel episode of Phineas and Ferb instead.

3. Sumo of the Opera (2004) – 5/10

I wish I didn’t feel the need to put this one so low on the list, because it was funny, and I enjoyed it! The most glaring issue is that it’s aged worse than other “VeggieTales” films. The overarching theme of the film was persistence. It featured three stories that were loosely connected to each other — one was a silent film, one was about the origin of St. Patrick’s Day, and the other was a musical about sumo wrestling — but overall, the whole thing felt chaotic and disjointed. The main story featured Larry the Cucumber and Apollo Gourd as sumo wrestlers, which isn’t a bad premise at all, except for the fact that Apollo Gourd is… yellow. Yeah. Not to mention they did a blaccent (i.e., a non-Black person using AAVE, or African American Vernacular English) for a minor character in that same story. Additionally, they wouldn’t stop dissing Paganism in the St. Patrick’s Day story. Although this film is sprinkled with a fair amount of cultural ignorance, it has its humorous moments.

2. Pistachio: The Little Boy That Woodn’t (2010) – 5/10

We’re getting to the bottom of the barrel now. I wasn’t sure where to put this one in the rankings, mostly because its only sin is being boring. So boring in fact, that I don’t have much to say about it. As the title suggests, this film is a retelling of the story of “Pinocchio.” Because of that, you’d think the moral lesson would be not to lie, right? Well, sort of. This one was a Father’s Day special, so the overarching moral was to listen to your parents, specifically your dad. Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with that message, but throughout the film I just kept thinking “Man, what if your dad sucks? What then?” And get this, it’s the only “VeggieTales” film that I watched without a silly song! To the crisper drawer with you!

1. Twas the Night Before Easter (2011) – 4/10

Finally, my least favorite “VeggieTales” film so far. I’m sure this isn’t the VERY worst one since there were 27 films that weren’t covered in this ranking, but it was the one that I had the least amount of fun watching. Its cardinal sin was, predictably, the fact that it was extraordinarily boring. The entire film had a predictable “We gotta save the local theater!” storyline, where the main characters weren’t particularly compelling, the music was so-so, and the ending wasn’t interesting enough to justify the rest of the story to me. The silly song was just okay, its one selling point being that the two French peas, Jean Claude and Phillippe, got to run the show. Also, Archibald was there, so I wouldn’t call it irredeemable. Anyway, don’t bother with this one. You aren’t missing anything by skipping it.

The Freshest of the Fresh:

5. Beauty and the Beet (2014) – 8/10

Now onto the good stuff! A loose reimagining of “The Beauty and the Beast,” this film’s moral lesson focused on extending kindness to those who don’t do the same to you. The story followed a family of traveling musicians who got stranded at an old, dilapidated inn during a snowstorm. The inn’s owner, Mr. Beet, was very grouchy and continually mistreated the film’s main character, Mirabelle. Throughout the film, Mirabelle continually showed kindness to Mr. Beet and the two of them gradually developed an adorable friendship and restored the inn to its former glory. The silly song in the middle of the film featured Larry singing about how his great great great (etc.) grandparents invented macaroni and cheese. Altogether it’s an extremely cute and satisfying film, with fantastic music to boot.

4. Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier (2014) – 8/10

An homage to the science fiction genre in MY vegetable cartoon?! That’s right, the whole film was full of cheeky references to sci-fi media such as “Doctor Who,” “Star Trek,” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” which was surreal coming from a bunch of talking Christian vegetables. The film even opened with a mech fight (i.e., a battle between two giant robots), which made me wonder if someone in the writer’s room was a “Gundam” fan. The moral lesson focused on greed, and how learning to share makes everything easier for everyone. The silly song featured three space cowboys wrangling increasingly large asteroids on rocket-powered horses. Overall, I’m glad that the newer “VeggieTales” films are just as entertaining as the older ones.

3. The Penniless Princess (2012) – 8/10

This one surprised me. I didn’t expect a retelling of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel “A Little Princess” to hit me so hard in the heartstrings, but it did. The film’s moral was about showing kindness no matter what hardships you face. At one point the protagonist, Sara, was forced to cope with the death of her father while overseas and it got surprisingly somber — she was suddenly plunged into poverty and the film touched slightly on class conflict, which once again felt surreal being depicted with talking vegetables. On a brighter note, the silly song was about two girls using increasingly ridiculous 2000’s-era texting slang to proclaim their friendship and love for one another. Fantastic stuff.

2. The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything (2008) – 9/10

One of only two feature length “VeggieTales” films with a theatrical release, “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” was a flop in theaters, but it’s a bop in my heart. I saw this one on the big screen as a kid and loved it. It’s a standard pirate story which surprisingly doesn’t have any references to the Bible in it whatsoever. Three heroes (Larry, Mr. Lunt, and Pa Grape) embark on a rescue mission to save the king’s children after getting fired from their day jobs. The film features a cover of the B-52’s song “Rock Lobster,” so it’s automatically in the winner’s circle for that reason alone. The other reason is because they let my favorite character, Archibald, wear a frilly cravat tie with his costume and he looks unbelievably cute. Coincidentally, Archibald wears cute costumes in nearly all of the films that made the top five list and no, that didn’t influence my ratings whatsoever, stop looking at me like that.

1. Jonah (2002) – 9/10

At last, the winner. The Christian vegetable film to end all Christian vegetable films. A comedic retelling of the prophet Jonah’s story, this film has it all: slapping people with dead fish as capital punishment, gospel choirs singing inside of a whale’s stomach, a talking caterpillar who’s also a Persian rug salesperson. I really can’t do this film justice with words alone; you need to watch it to fully understand what I’m talking about. Among “VeggieTales” fans, “Jonah” is seen as the film that sank Big Idea Productions (no pun intended), and while the issue is a little more complicated than that, it did accelerate the studio’s untimely demise according to co-creator Phil Vischer. Think of it like vegetable Icarus flying too close to the sun and burning his little vegetable wings on the production costs that came with creating and marketing a 14-million-dollar movie. Truly a modern-day tragedy. On the bright side, Archibald portrays Jonah in this film so if you want to hear his voice actor (who also happens to be Phil Vischer) do an atrociously goofy British accent for 83 minutes then you’re in for a treat!

To veggie-wrap this up, although some people may have heard me griping about almost exclusively watching Christian children’s media for 2 weeks straight, I had a fantastic time. Even the “VeggieTales” films that ranked the lowest still had some value to them — there wasn’t a single film I watched that didn’t get a mildly amused exhale out of me. While there weren’t any moral and/or biblical lessons conveyed here, I do think there’s one lesson to come away with: “VeggieTales” has still got it. It’s a charming series that’s held up remarkably well in the 30 years it’s been around, and I believe that even folks without a single drop of Christianity in their background can enjoy it.