Dec 21, 2014

Review: VeggieTales: The Little Drummer Boy (2011)

Mike Nawrocki, one of the original creators and Mark Steele who's been around the series since 2009 did the script for this Christmas-themed VeggieTales entry. They've lifted the story directly from the 1968 Rankin/Bass TV special which sadly enough, I haven't even seen and I probably should've before watching this.

The Little Drummer Boy actually traces its origins back to a song written by Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941 which was then recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in '55. It's been re-recorded many times afterwards by pretty much everyone who's done a Christmas album. It's not really a favourite of mine as far as holiday music goes, but looking at the long list of different versions reminds me that I should really track down Christopher Lee's A Heavy Metal Christmas and give that a listen.


Genre: animation, family
Directed by: Brian Roberts
Produced by: David Pitts
Written by: Mike Nawrocki, Mark Steele
Music by: Kurt Heinecke
Running time: 50 minutes
Production company: Big Idea Entertainment
Distributed by: Anderson Digital
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Lisa Vischer, Mike Nawrocki, Phil Vischer, Dan Anderson, Keri Pisapia Pagetta, Maggie Roberts, Miles Fuqua



It's Christmastime and Junior (voice: Lisa Vischer) is a happy little asparagus, having really taken to drumming. He's waiting for his friends at home to go out caroling with them, but he unfortunately doesn't hear the doorbell because of the loud music he's listening to. Disappointed and not wanting to have anything to do with his friends, his grandfather (voice: Phil Vischer) offers to read him The Little Drummer Boy.


VeggieTales: The Little Drummer Boy begins with the annoying intro VeggieTales song that has now become an unfortunate fixture. I'm not sure when it started but I wish it never did because it really does put me in a bad mood every time I see it. It's like a death knell announcing my turn at the chopping block. 

It's strange though, the opening scenes with Junior and his grandfather are surprisingly not that bad and feel pretty natural. Besides a few lame jokes, I was never more than half-annoyed which is a real accomplishment. That changes once we shift into story mode back in the Roman days, but a pat on the back are in order for Mike Nawrocki and Mark Steele for writing a scene that only made me want to pull some of my hair out at most.

The real bad thing about VeggieTales: The Little Drummer Boy is that Junior is the main character whether we're in story mode or not and that is a huge problem. That's because of just how irritating Junior's voice is. Although I'm not sure who's voice I hate the most in the VeggieTales series due to all the contenders, Junior gets strong consideration now because of all this overexposure.

Animation is same old same old and it's pretty amusing to see just how much Big Idea struggles to animate things that aren't vegetables. The lamb, the donkey and especially the camel are atrocious examples of animation, or great examples of terrible animation depending on what kind of person you are. It's especially the limbs of the animals that show the lack of know how and it's no surprise since all of the VeggieTales characters are limbless and always have been since the beginning. For sure this was a decision made at the dawn of VT to reduce cost and complications which is pretty understandable. but it's causing problems now.

Something completely surprising in The Little Drummer Boy is that there is a half-decent song which is practically miraculous given that this is VeggieTales. It's a song with Junior singing for a crowd on-stage with his trusty drum and three animals that's called "I Can't Smile Without You" or something like that. It's a shocking turn of events and one that gives me hope for this stubbornly unevolving series. The featured songs are usually always guaranteed to be awful, but this one isn't for whatever reason.

Maybe the best way to explain this is like having an infinite number of chimps hitting random keys on a typewriter. Chances are, one of them will come up with a literary masterpiece and that just might be the case with this song. All the other songs are bad as expected, but they actually manage to stay out of the annoyingly bad territory which isn't too bad I suppose.

VeggieTales: The Little Drummer Boy is among the better VeggieTales movies that I've seen. It doesn't fall into the trap of being overly-preachy and its mentions of God and Jesus are warranted and make sense. Good on Mike Nawrocki and Mark Steele for showing some restraint there. Yeah, the animation is bad and the songs are awful except for one in particular that gets a pass for actually sounding like a song, but I'm hoping that this can be the movie that Big Idea can finally grow from and use as a stepping stone. 



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