(I enjoy foraging at a clever and funny web site, LarkNews.com. I got the following "article" from there. I hope you enjoy a weekend of grace and rest in Christ. What would be better?)
BRANSON — In the wake of Big Idea Productions' bankruptcy and sale to new owner Classic Media, VeggieTales characters are struggling to define their post-Big Idea lives.
In a modest but clean condominium in Branson, Mo., Bob the Tomato sits on a rented couch and nibbles cheese curls. The window overlooks the busy thoroughfare jammed with tourist traffic. Bob's chin shows three days of stubble, his eyes the emotional scars of a recent bout with depression, but tonight he'll be performing again for the first time since Jonah — A VeggieTales Movie. After bouncing around the country for the past year, exploring a singing career in Nashville, enrolling at classes at the University of Tupelo where he briefly considered earning his degree in botany, he ended up here, providing warm-up entertainment for Russian comedian Yakov Smirnov.
"Yakov became like a brother to me," Bob says. "When nobody else would touch me, he invited me over and said he'd help me get my own theater here one day. He understood what it means to lose your platform overnight. For him, it happened when the Soviet Union collapsed. For me, it was Big Idea."
Later that evening, Bob gives a humorous, at times sentimental 15-minute performance before a friendly, curious crowd, riffing on subjects from the difficulties of child-rearing to the dangers of being left too long in the sun. The routine "is a big part of restoring my confidence," he says backstage after receiving a standing ovation. The next afternoon he makes a surprise appearance in the Andy Williams show, sending the crowd into rounds of cheers. But during a lively, big-band rendition of "God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man," he breaks down and is escorted from the stage by Williams. "It'll take a while," he says later.
One of the most unfortunate consequences of the Big Idea debacle was the break-up of the once-inseparable duo of Bob and Larry. It has been "months" since they spoke, Bob says. Larry, who was portrayed as bumbling and good-natured in the videos, is actually shrewd and business-minded, acquaintances say. When Big Idea was sold, Larry briefly sued for rights to the back catalog, but after an acrimonious public battle with Bob, he disappeared to Alaska for a long-postponed vacation, then returned to New York and promptly became the pitchman for drinkmaker V-8, a move Bob interpreted as a direct jab. ("You're talking about pureed tomatoes," Bob says. "How was I supposed to take it?") Larry now pitches a line of food processors on late-night infomercials and is a spokesman for the Sleep Number bed. He also sells autographed photographs of himself on eBay, "to make extra money for the wife and baby dills," he said by e-mail.
Other characters have had harder landings. Laura the Carrot, the pudgy, orange sidekick, was booked for breaking and entering a Las Vegas dry cleaner last December. She told the judge she had not received a royalty check from Classic Media for five months, and that "there is no career path for washed-up baby carrots." She was sentenced to six months of probation.
Russ and Cody Dillinger, the twins who played Junior Asparagus, are now adolescents and have lost the squeaky, innocent charm that made their character adorable. Both boys smoke, against their parents' wishes. They have taken edgy roles in independent films and earned reputations in their native Cleveland as "wild veggies," says one club-goer.
"When the Dillingers show up, you know it's a good party," said a local bartender.
Other VeggieTales alums have fared better. Daniel Nichols, who played bad guy Nebby K. Nezzer, has returned to Hollywood and earned parts in NYPD Blue, The Practice and other crime dramas.
"Dan was the only one of us with acting experience," says Bob. "He went right back to character acting, his forte." Ann Packett, who played Junior's mom, moved to Santa Barbara and is covering the Michael Jackson trial for E! network. Bill Winslow, Junior's father, has gone back to his accounting business in Puyallup, Wash. Both happened to sell their company stock within days of its peak, meaning that of all the cast members they came away with the most money.
"We got lucky in that, but I miss the group," Winslow says. "We were like family."
Archibald Derrey, the asparagus, teaches grade school in Oxford, England. French peas Phillipe and Jean Claude reprised their back-and-forth comedy routine to great success in Hilton Head, N.C. last summer, though the show's name, VeggieTails, drew threats of a lawsuit.
As for Willy Mayer, AKA Pa Grape, nobody has seen him since the last, dismal cast meeting. Some say he's upriver in Wisconsin flyfishing, one of his pastimes. Others fear he has rotted. Others believe he's holed up in his Florida condo, waiting for the inevitable demand for a VeggieTales reunion video.
In the meantime, Classic Media, the new owner of VeggieTales, is re-tooling and re-launching the series with broad inter-faith appeal. They have removed biblical references from old videos and aimed them at different religious markets, and will soon roll out revamped "3-2-1 Pagans," "Where's the Goddess Kali When I'm S-s-scared?", "King George and Dianetics" and "Rack, Shack and Buddha."
"We hope the VeggieTales consumer embraces them," says a Classic Media spokesman. "We want them to see we're strengthening the brand by reaching out to other faiths."
None of the VeggieTales cast members would comment on the videos' new direction. As for a reunion ..."It's too soon to talk about that," Bob says, back at his Branson condo. "We all have a lot of maturing to do." •