Veggie Tales are a big hit in my house. It’s by no means the only thing our kids watch, but as Christians we think it’s great that the stories are both entertaining (they’re funny on levels both kids and adults will appreciate) but also contain a positive Christian message. Some of the stories wind up being a little scary to younger kids but overall they’re wonderful shows that give parents looking for an alternative to some of the tripe that’s out there.
When, in 2002, Big Idea decided to expand the Veggie franchise to the theatrical screen, the results were decidedly mixed. On the one had, the movie turned out to be profitable and was one of the top grossing family films of the year. On the other hand, the studio took on too much of a load in the ramp up to the movie, had to lay off a number of staff and wound up being sold to a larger parent as a result.
But now the Veggies are back in theaters with The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie. This one sees the titular Pirates once again embarking on a quest that takes them outside their usual routine (of not doing anything) and helping those who call upon them.
TPWDDA marks a departure for the Veggie Tales brand. It’s the first show or movie they’ve produced that is not based directly on a Bible story. While the filmmakers have made it clear there are Christian themes in the film, it’s still a major departure from the usual formula (Bible story + slight story tweaking + Larry the Cucumber = Finished video). So for as much as the “It’s not a Bible story” might aid in the marketing to non-Christians still seeking good family entertainment, there’s also a risk that the core Veggie audience will be turned off by the move.
Let’s dive into the campaign and see how Universal is handling it.
Only one poster was produced, and I absolutely love it. The instantly recognizable characters are right there at the front of a pirate ship in all their bright, colorful glory. The title treatment, which plays down the Veggie Tales name but still features it prominently, is right there below them.
It’s the kind of poster that is easy to see on a kid’s bedroom wall, or repurposed (as it is) for the cover to the movie’s soundtrack. The bright colors and sense of fun are easy to pick up from the image and gives the audience not only instant brand awareness (Oh look…It’s Larry! And Mr. Lunt!) but also conveys the idea that this is a large-scale adventure with a wide array of familiar characters.
The first trailer for the movie actually began appearing on some of the regular Veggie Tales DVDs back, I think, in 2006. That gave it instant access to an audience of existing franchise fans and began to build awareness of the coming movie very early. The trailer is a mix of a little bit of finished – or at least nearly finished – footage from the movie, a couple interviews with the men behind the microphones as well as concept art from scenes yet to be animated. It’s a very nice way of saying, “We’ve got this new movie coming out in 2008, here’s a preview.”
The second trailer was released in the summer of 2007 and, honestly, was the first reminder I’d had in a while that the movie was coming.
This one is much more a traditional trailer, at least in most regards. It starts off with footage of scary pirate ships like those in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. An ominous voice over warns of the adventures that are about to unfurl when all of a sudden the action is interrupted by singing vegetables. It then progresses into a brief outline of the movie (someone is lost and that person’s family enlists the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything to help, believing them to be heroes) alongside a bunch of jokes about just how ridiculous these vegetable pirates are. It’s a good trailer that likely would have the kids who like the Veggie Tales videos laughing, especially when Mr. Lunt asks if anyone knows where the bathroom is.
When you first pull up the movie’s official website, the first thing that greets you is the same artwork that graces the poster. There’s a ton of stuff that’s there even before you fully enter the site. There’s the option to Join the Pirates Fan Club, Get the Soundtrack, Enter the Sweepstakes and check out movie-branded toys and clothing. There’s also a link to the general Big Idea press room and a Partners pop-up that shows KFC was also on board (sorry) the movie’s campaign, with the movie gracing their kid’s meals.
Once you do enter the site there’s a bunch of interactive content that is available. When you mouse over any of the characters that appear you get a brief audio clip from that character.
The first section of actual content is “About the Film.” There’s a very good Story synopsis that sets up the very nicely as well as provides a brief primer on Veggie Tales as a whole in lieu of all the usual fluffing that’s done of a studio or producing team or something. The About the Characters section is one of the best that I’ve seen on a film site. Instead of being written like an outline, with no cohesive feel, it’s instead written like a column about the characters and it all sort of blends together, introducing each character in turn and doing a nice job of it at that.
That same sort of style is carried over to the The Crew section, profiling the creators and contributors to the Veggie Tales series. Finally in this section there’s a nice series of Production Notes that cover most of the high-points of the film’s making. Not as in-depth as on some sites but it doesn’t detract to how well the other sections are put together.
There are about a dozen or so still pics in the “Photo Gallery.”
“Video” contains two trailers, including one that I hadn’t seen before that’s really good, two TV spots and A Look Inside. There’s also a part labeled Clips but that’s still shown as “coming soon.” The Look Inside is basically an extended clip of the “Rock Monster” song that appears in the movie, with various facts about the Veggies popping up from time to time, a-la Pop Up Video. Some are factoids, some are very promotional in nature such as when the Veggie Tales show airs on NBC and such. But it’s funny, so it works.
“Downloads” takes you to a Screensaver and a selection of Wallpapers and Buddy Icons. “Printables” is a bunch of Veggie-activities that you can download and print out to enjoy like Stickers, Book Covers, Coloring Pages and more.
If you visit “Meet the Veggies” you’re taken to character profiles that include a brief description, a short video clip featuring that character and a handful of audio clips. More audio is found under “Talk Like a Pirate” which gives you a fun definition of various pirate phrases along with clips of that word or phrase.
Finally there are three games under, appropriately, Games.
I didn’t say so after each section, but the entire site is most definitely geared toward kids eight and younger. The games, the printable projects and just the overall site functionality make it clear to me that Fox created the site with the single-digit crowd in mind. That’s absolutely a good thing since that’s the audience for the movie and their parents have to be comfortable with their kids seeing it as well.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
I’ll admit to being a bit surprised when I saw a bit of outdoor advertising for the movie in New York City and Chicago. Pa Grape appeared on a taxi cab-top ad in NYC and both he and Mr. Lunt got the character poster treatment in outdoor ads in Chicago. In the final week or so before the release I also saw taxi-top ads with the same imagery or Mr. Lunt, Pa Grape and Larry the Cucumber as well.
The studio also was mentioned as a sponsor of Noggin, the commercial-free cable channel that plays Nick Jr. programming for young kids, throughout the Christmas holiday and New Years time period. True to Noggin’s mandate there weren’t any actual ads, but the announcer would break in occasionally and mention that Noggin was being brought to us by The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything: A Veggie Tales Movie while the movie’s title treatment appeared on the screen
That, I thought was a risky sponsorship move. Yes, it brought the movie’s name to a solid target audience of kids aged 2 to 7, but it counted quite a bit on the idea that interest would be generated among those not already fans of Veggie Tales by the name alone. If you don’t already know about the Veggies, this alone is not likely to spark your interest, especially since I don’t think there was any sort of strong call to action to visit the Website or anything. Yes, existing fans will be reminded nicely, but it does little to draw in new members of the audience.
Universal also lined up a number of promotional partners for the movie’s release. A good number of those will be targeted specifically at Christian audiences, with books and such that are in line with the usual Veggie Tales products. There will also be outreach to churches and youth groups that is specifically tied to the movie, with promotional kits being mailed out to thousands of churches.
Other efforts, some of which will be less overt in the acknowledgement of the franchise’s Christian roots, also include movie-themed books and other items. The characters also made appearances at events like minor-league baseball games, music festivals and more.
The campaign, I think, does a pretty good job of reaching its target audience of kids 10 and under. The funny, punny posters and ads, the way they sponsored Noggin for a weekend that was sure to have plenty of watchers and a Website that was very kid friendly, combined with trailers that feature the usual Veggie wackiness, are going to be very familiar to kids who already are fans. And parents will feel assured by the campaign that the movie is a faithful extension of the franchise they already consider kid-appropriate, which is an important goal to achieve.
There is quite a marked down-playing of the Veggie’s usual Christian message, but that’s alright I think. It seems like, based on the clips that are available and the material in the campaign, that the core themes are still intact, just not as overt if they had been expressed through a retelling of an actual Bible story. I wasn’t exposed to any of the church-outreach efforts Fox engaged in so I can’t comment on how that might have differed from the mainstream campaign, though it likely was quite different.