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Big Idea Productions presents
VeggieTales: The Star of Christmas (2002)

Cavis: Millward, in this modern age it isn't enough just to have a great story anymore. No, you need to show the audience something they've never seen before.
Millward: You got a monkey that can yodel?

- Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: December 09, 2002

Stars: Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki
Other Stars: Lisa Vischer, Tim Hodge, Dan Anderson, Jim Poole
Director: Tim Hodge

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (fruits cavorting about)
Run Time: 00h:48m:29s
Release Date: October 29, 2002
UPC: 794051702920
Genre: animation


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-AB+ B+

DVD Review

With every release from the Big Idea team, I fall in love a little bit more. All three of their direct-to-video series—3-2-1 Penguins!, LarryBoy, and their first and most popular, VeggieTales—provide wonderful family entertainment, lots of humor, and clear, but unobtrusive, moral messages. VeggieTales in particular has grown more impressive since its debut in 1993, not only in terms of animation (which has matured from charmingly low-budget to surprisingly sophisticated), but in terms of the maturity of the writing and the nuance and charm of the humor.

To see this, you only need to compare the two VeggieTales Christmas specials. The first, The Toy that Saved Christmas, produced in 1996, was a goofy little tale about evil penguins and a toymaker trying to trick kids into thinking of Christmas only as a way to get more toys. The script is full of humor and classic Veggie moments, but the "message" is handled with all the subtlety of an anvil rainstorm. The Star of Christmas, the second special from the company, is just as entertaining, but much less obvious about its moral maxims.

Bob and Larry star as Cavis Appythart and Millward Phelps, two Gilbert and Sullivan-esque struggling songwriters working in turn-of-the-century London. Tired of making a living writing jingles for mustache wax companies, they lease a theater for the holidays and plan to put on an elaborate musical called "The Princess and the Plumber." Bob believes that if they make a really extravagant show that attracts a huge audience, they will help London forget their problems, and teach them how to love their fellow man. Their plans are potentially thwarted when the young Edmund's (Jr. Asparagus) Christmas pageant, featuring the unveiling of the rare artifact, the Star of Christmas, is planned for the same night. All of London wants to see the star (which hasn't been seen in London in 79 years), and Cavis is willing to go to drastic measures to ensure that the citizens come see his show and "learn to love."

The message is fairly clear, of course, even from the beginning—both Cavis and Edmund are both more worried about putting on a big show than on the message they're trying to convey—but the writers are careful how they go about stating it, allowing the characters to discover and change themselves, rather than simply having someone preach at them about what should be done. And there's lots of great VeggieTales humor along the way, including a couple of great songs, antics from the French peas, and some great jokes for the parents (in explaining the history of the Star, Archibald Asparagus reveals that it was hidden away for protection during the tumultuous reigns of Edward the Greedy and " Cedric the I'll-Eat-Anything-Star-Shaped").

The biggest leap in quality over past specials, however, is undoubtedly the animation quality. The Big Idea team, already displaying their talents quite nicely in the 3-2-1 Penguins! series, has produced their best-looking work outside of the theatrical release Jonah. The character animation is smooth and intricate, and backgrounds are full of detail and realistic atmospheric effects. When you compare this show to the simple renderings of their first releases, or even the fairly recent Lyle the Kindly Viking, the differences are remarkable. I can't wait to see what kind of top-notch work they come up with for their upcoming Easter special.

If you're tired of the typical Christmas fare, The Star of Christmas is a near-classic optional offering from the cheery folk at Big Idea. Share the spirit of the season with a troupe of talking vegetables, and try not to feel guilty when you serve up big dishes of them during Christmas dinner.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: As usual, VeggieTales looks pretty great on DVD. The CGI animation looks wonderful, showing rich, solid color without blooming or bleeding. Blacks are nice and deep (as evidenced in the prison scene), and shadow detail is good as well. I noted no aliasing or artifacting—this is just a stellar transfer in every respect.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio is offered in both DD 2.0 and 5.0 English, and both mixes sound fairly similar. The 5.0 mix is preferable, though, because it anchors the dialogue in the center channel, resulting in a much more natural sound (from the talking vegetables). The front soundstage sounds nice on both tracks, but the 5.0 option features more pronounced directionality and a better separation of the score into the left and right mains. Surrounds are mostly mute throughout, kicking in only during the "rocket car" sequences, but when they are used, they are used effectively. My only complaint is that dialogue sounds unsupported in the higher ranges (which is an issue any time Jr. Asparagus speaks).

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Jonah Sing-A-Long, The Toy That Saved Christmas, LarryBoy: Leggo My Ego, LarryBoy and the Angry Eyebrows, 3-2-1 Penguins!, 3-2-1 Penguins!: Runaway Pride at Lightstation Kilowatt
1 Featurette(s)
Storyboard
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Tim Hodge and writer Phil Vischer
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Concept Art
  2. Ye Olde Silly Synth and Millward's Mirror Morpher Game
  3. Trivia Challenge
  4. Karaoke Sing-a-long, 3 Christmas carols
  5. Family Game; Cookie Recipe; Electronic Storybook
Extras Review: In terms of extras, The Star of Christmas is the best Big Idea DVD yet. The features are nicely divided between the kid-friendly and the adult-centric, and all of them are well-produced and entertaining.

The more mature extras are collected under Features. The audio commentary features director Tim Hodge and writer/co-creator Phil Vischer. The two are quite enthusiastic in their discussion, sharing interesting trivia about the history of the episode's production and conception. They also discuss the story development process at Big Idea, and provide some hints about future releases. Fans for the series will certainly want to give it a listen.

Behind the Scenes is an eight-minute interview piece with the creative team (including writers, voice-actors, and animators). It repeats a lot of the information from the commentary, but it adds enough new stuff—particularly in terms of the animation process—and is well-edited enough that it's still fairly worthwhile.

Also featured in this section is a concept art gallery, a storyboard to final animation split-screen comparison, and a trailer gallery with clips for Jonah: A VeggieTales Movie, Jonah Sing-A-Long, The Toy That Saved Christmas, LarryBoy: Leggo My Ego, LarryBoy and the Angry Eyebrows, 3-2-1 Penguins!, and 3-2-1 Penguins!: Runaway Pride at Lightstation Kilowatt.

The majority of the bonus goodies are found under Fun! (confident, aren't they?). Ye Olde Silly Synth is a cute game that allows kids to choose a song, instrument, and style to create their own wacky version of a classic Christmas carol. Speaking of carols, there's a sing-a-long with Jr. Asparagus for the song While By My Sheep, featuring new animation, and Very Veggie Christmas Tunes versions of Away in a Manger and He is Born, the Holy Child.

Millward's Mirror Morpher is another game, one that allows you to choose a character and a goofy mirror and see the contorted reflective results. A Family Fun Activity provides the instructions for another game, a "Secret Santa" concept to bring your family together in loving happiness and shiny miracles for the holidays. And while you're playing, why not make "Turtle of Damascus Cookies"? I mean, the recipe is included here.

The ten question Trivia Challenge comes in easy or hard flavors, though there are no prizes for solving either. There's a electronic storybook version of the other VeggieTales seasonal special, The Toy that Saved Christmas and some brief character bios. Finally, the DVD-ROM portion of the disc houses an electronic game and some greeting cards to color. You should be done going through all this stuff by next Dec. 25th.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Another great installment for VeggieTales fans, The Star of Christmas is a worthy holiday treat in its own right. The DVD is showcases the best work yet from Big Idea, both in terms of the animation and the extras. If you are looking to adorn your house with Christmas vegetation, look no further.

 


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