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‘VeggieTales’ creator produces a big ol’ puppet Christmas

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DVD review: “Buck Denver Asks, Why Do We Call It Christmas?” Jellyfish Labs. 90 minutes.

The creator of VeggieTales is back, this time with big puppets instead of CGI fruits and vegetables. And for Christmas, they’re going to tell you, well, about Christmas.

Phil Vischer with his puppets from "Buck Denver Asks ... Why Do We Call It Christmas?"

Buck Denver Asks, Why Do We Call It Christmas? gives a nice, brisk walkthrough of December traditions — everything from the tree to the date to the color of Santa’s suit. Unfortunately, the show does more talkin’ than walkin’. More on that later.

The video is the latest work of Phil Vischer, creator of Big Idea Productions and its lamented VeggieTales. That company went bankrupt and was sold to a conglomerate. Vischer then put together a new company, Jellyfish Labs.

Jellyfish last year began its well-received What’s in the Bible DVD series, with friendly though pompous newspuppet Buck Denver as the main character. Buck is back for Christmas, with a host of friends, all voiced by the multi-talented Vischer.

For some reason, he gives the characters exaggerated accents. There’s an explorer with a British accent. There’s a cowboy with a Texas drawl. There’s a pirate with a Scottish burr. There’s even a monkey with an Asian Indian accent.

They’re all trying to get to a house in Indiana for a Christmas party. Unfortunately, each is delayed by a mishap, like a broken-down wagon or car. Except for the pirate, whose ship mistakenly drops him off in India instead of Indiana.

During their travels, they noodle over various Yule trappings. They trace the American Santa Claus to the Dutch Sinterklaas, then back to his original form, the fourth-century Bishop Nicholas of Myra. The Christmas tree, they say, came from the Great Oak of Thor, a “made-up god.”

The format makes the show necessarily short on action, long on talk, which was the same flaw of VeggieTales. In this one, they try to compensate with vignettes dreamed up by the puppet characters. Some of those are cute/funny, like a picket line of Norsemen with signs like “I (heart) Thor.” Will the net effect hold kids’ attention? Maybe. Vischer’s company says VeggieTales sold 50 million copies, and What’s in the Bible? has sold 170,000 units so far.

The video is refreshingly ecumenical (unless, maybe, you’re a Germanic pagan). The puppets point out that Christmas comes from “Christ Mass,” without any anti-Catholic tinge. That’s not only good theology; it’s good business for the 77 million potential customers who are Catholic.

For adults, there’s the blooper reel among the extras, with the puppets flubbing their lines. My favorite is when one says “Jesus Claus,” then runs with it: “My contract has a Jesus Claus. I get off work for the Second Coming.”

As a kids’ introduction to Christmas, Buck Denver Asks, Why Do We Call It Christmas? does the job. Don’t expect it to become a classic like, say, Miracle on 34th Street. But it may just help your kids to see the many facets of Christmas with new eyes.

James D. Davis

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Written by Jim Davis

December 5, 2011 at 2:40 am

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