Author, speaker, filmmaker, and voice actor Phil Vischer is celebrating a busy season of life with a role in writing new episodes of the infamous VeggieTales series and the creation of a kids bible. VeggieTales first came to the world in 1993 and ran roughly until 2004. Netflix created a new series in 2014 called Veggie Tales in the House, in which Phil provided voice over. Now with 18 new episodes coming to TBN this fall, VeggieTales is back with its strong scriptural foundation. Each of the new episodes are entertaining and Biblically-based. Simultaneously, Vischer is preparing for the release of a new kids bible that is desperately needed in today's world. Phil finished something he has wanted to create his whole career, a Bible for kids that is both entertaining and theologically solid. The Laugh N’ Learn Bible has been a hot ticket item with pre-sales on Amazon ahead of the September 10th release. It is connecting families in new spectacular ways to share a whole new Bible experience. Phil recently took a few minutes to talk with us about both of his exciting new projects.
Congratulations on the upcoming return of VeggieTales! What all went into the decision to bring back VeggieTales and how long did it take to organize things to create these 18 new episodes?
Well, since I no longer own the series, bringing it back wasn’t up to me. TBN (the Christian broadcaster) approached NBC/Universal (newest owner of VeggieTales), and asked if they could partner on a new veggie project for TV. And…here we are! They both reached out to me and asked if I would be creatively involved, which was an easy “yes.” Everyone was excited about returning the show to its roots, so simple, silly, with Bible stories. We started talking back in August of last year, and a year later we’ve just about finished writing 18 episodes, with at least half of those well into production.
Who or what were some of your biggest influences in creating these new episodes of VeggieTales?
As a kid, I loved Walt Disney and Jim Henson. The Muppet Show was my favorite show on TV, and was the biggest inspiration for this new series. What if Bob and Larry were trying to put on a variety show in a theater? Bob obviously takes the role of Kermit - trying not to go crazy while everything backstage is chaos. Larry is a little like Fozzie Bear - always there to help, but typically not very successfully. Mr. Lunt and Jimmy & Jerry are bringing chaos, and Archibald Asparagus is pointing out how ridiculous everything has become. It became very easy to write.
What is the biggest difference fans should expect from the Netflix series Veggie Tales In The House?
The Netflix series was a whole different feel, driven by Dreamworks. TBN and Universal wanted veggies to feel like “old school” veggies. Which is what I wanted to write. So the new series should feel like the veggies you first bumped into, long, long ago. But in a theater. And 18 shows in one year!
How do you think VeggieTales has evolved since 1993, and what elements have intentionally remained the same?
The shows started out short and simple, almost like TV episodes sold individually on VHS cassettes. Then DVD came along, and people wanted longer shows that felt more like mini-movies. So veggies got more complex. And now, with a TV-focused series in production, we’re going back to the beginning with short and simple shows filled with Bible stories and silliness.
What is one important message you hope viewers take away from the upcoming series of VeggieTales?
The same message I hope kids have taken away from every VT film ever… that God made you special and he loves you very much. I’ve taught lots of things over the years, but that was always the central message.
In addition to the return of VeggieTales, you have also constructed a new kids bible. What fueled your decision to pursue this project at this moment in time?
Yes indeed! After veggies I produced a series called What’s in the Bible? that walked kids through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Quite often when we teach kids the Bible, we focus only on the stories that are the easiest and most fun to tell, typically involving animals and no dying. Kids end up with a very limited picture of the Bible - just a few stories with no connective tissue. So with What’s in the Bible? I tried to give kids the big picture. Even the tricky stuff. Because a partial view of the Bible leads to a partial understanding of faith, and that doesn’t do anyone any good at all. The new kids Bible is an extension of that. The whole Bible, from Creation at the beginning to the new heaven/new earth at the end, summarized and simplified to make it accessible to kids.
How do you think the Laugh N' Learn Bible will stand out from other kids Bibles on the market?
Well, first, it’s written in my writing and teaching style, which a lot of people have told me they enjoy. When you’re trying to pass on your faith to your kids, it really helps if the experience isn’t dull or awkward. So there’s that. But it’s also unusual to give kids a book that doesn’t skimp on the meat of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Rich teaching, enjoyable storytelling. There you go.
What are your biggest hopes and dreams for the Laugh N' Learn Bible?
That we can give kids a clear, engaging picture of God’s big story and their opportunity to be a part of it. We all want to be part of a big story. It’s why grown-ups dress up like superheroes and go to Comic Con. It’s why we line up to get into Star Wars land at Disney or Harry Potter land at Universal Studios. We long to find ourselves in a big story. But that’s the whole point of the Bible. We ARE in a big story. And we all have a part to play.