The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything

The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie is a moderately entertaining film starring the anthropomorphic vegetables of the animated Christian series VeggieTales as the titular pirates. Yes, the film has an utterly predictable plot and the depth of an inflatable kiddie pool. Yes, it is typical children’s fare in that it communicates morals and values in rather obvious ways. And yes, it stars a cucumber, a gourd, and a grape as likeable losers who become unlikely heroes on the seven seas. But if you’re the kind of person who can buy talking cars and cooking rats as High Art, you are probably capable of suspending your disbelief long enough to be briefly charmed by talking vegetables sporting eye patches and wooden legs.

The briskly paced plot of the film is in essence a pastiche of pirate lore and pop culture references, with a smattering of sci-fi to get the story underway. Our protagonists are Elliot (a kooky cumber with Henson-esque googly eyes), George (a mopey green grape who communicates his emotions with bushy eyebrows), and Sedgewick (a very lazy gourd): busboys – “cabin boys” – at the Pieces of Ate dinner theater. They aspire to be pirates in the show, but are hampered by self-imposed limitations like George’s acute lack of self-confidence and Elliot’s mental list of things he’s afraid of. After a disastrous audition that involves breaking the mechanical sets at their place of employment, the three are fired from their lowly stations and linger curbside, dejectedly pondering their bleak futures. Suddenly, a golden ball appears to whisk the veggies (still dressed as pirates from their audition) away to the 17th century, where they are roped into helping the verdant-skinned Princess Eloise rescue her brother from evil pirate Robert the Terrible.

Unlike Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, the first VeggieTales feature, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything isn’t based on biblical source material. Instead, it is an original story that pillages (if you’ll pardon the pun) from genre defining tales like “Treasure Island”. A sequence wherein our heroes seek out a hidden pirate haunt to discover knowledge about the whereabouts of Robert the Terrible is pure Stevenson, but no less exhilarating for its obvious origins. Talent borrows but genius steals, as they say. The varied challenges encountered on the adventure - secret islands, strange creatures, rival pirates, concealed fortresses, and fearsome whirlpools to name a few - allow each veggie a chance to prove his mettle and overcome his fears in fun, if conventional ways.

Preexisting knowledge of the VeggieTales characters might be helpful walking into the film, but is not necessary to understand the plot dynamics of The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything. Though the series is known for its overtly Christian overtones, Pirates thankfully refrains from pushy moralizing that can sour some faith-based productions for secular audiences. God does make an appearance but it is in a scene lifted straight from the Wizard of Oz. Like the omniscient Wizard, God comes wrapped in divine smoke and lights but is an ordinary man, er, vegetable, who wraps up the tale with a preachy sermon containing the Moral of the Story before sending our heroes back to the dinner theater. It is by far the most ham-handed moment in this surprisingly syrup-free film and the Deus ex Machina plot device that introduces Him is rather awkwardly grafted onto the story.

There are some other problems here and there that dampen the buoyant mood of the film, however most of them are due to the weird banality inherent to children’s media. Though all the characters are presumably vegetables, some are more disconcertingly humanlike than others (Princess Eloise and Prince Alexander have actual heads and necks, while their butler is clearly a stalk of asparagus with a Mr. Peanut monocle). The sailors who act as guards for the royal family don’t resemble vegetables at all but instead look like fleshy finger puppets inexplicably dressed as Venetian gondoliers in striped shirts and brimmed hats. Nobody has limbs of any kind and apparently sail ships, press buttons, and swing cutlasses through veggie-telepathy. The animation is sturdy if never magical, and sometimes the story dips into the improbably bizarre, as in a scene where Sedgewick must escape a toothy horde of cheese curls (I know). Finally, there are two brief musical numbers in the film that are so engaging, one wonders if the film wouldn’t have benefited from the addition of a few more.

Other than the occasional misstep, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything is very appealing film with a lot going for it. There aren’t many mature references to amuse adults, but adults aren’t the target audience here. None of the complaints listed above will bother the imaginative children who make up the VeggieTales fan base and on the whole, the film is winsome rather than irritating. The director and screenwriter provide voices for the main characters, giving Pirates a homespun, family atmosphere that is appropriate for the subject matter. While Pirates is far from an animated masterpiece, you could certainly do worse in the notoriously quality-movie-free month of January. Though an aversion to Christian productions might steer you away, it is worth remembering that even legendary pirate Long John Silver was a religious man in a pinch and he did all right for himself in the end.