After a surprisingly pleasant experience with my initial VeggieTales encounter via the Lyle the Kindly Viking DVD, I was happy to find more of the same in their newest release, The Ultimate Silly Songs Countdown. Actually, the new disc does differ from its predecessor in some significant ways, most of which relate to the programs’ themes.
As I noted in my first review, VeggieTales is a Christian-oriented show, and it gently tries to reinforce some morals. Lyle presented a general emphasis on the importance of sharing. I liked the program because Lyle did this in such a kindly manner. It avoided excessive smarminess and it didn’t beat us over the head with its concepts; it kept things low-key and likable.
For Songs, however, the only theme is wacky fun. Apparently the “Silly Songs” - clever little tunes with goofy lyrics - are a popular component of the VeggieTales programs, so the show’s producers sought viewer input and created this top ten chart of their favorite numbers. Not surprisingly, we count down from ten to one as presented by the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.
I have no idea how the included songs fit in with their individual episodes’ themes, but here they simply coalesce to create a party pack of platters. Obviously, the emphasis is strongly on musical numbers. Lyle - and the other regular episodes of VeggieTales, I presume - covered a mix of skits along with some songs, but the emphasis seemed to be on the little stories that demonstrated that show’s lesson. During Countdown, the program works in reverse. Some verbal material from the Pirates fills the spaces between tunes, but this is a fairly minor aspect of the show.
Not that I want to minimize those parts, for they’re really quite fun. They also add a gentle modicum of depth to the program, as they allow us to learn a minor lesson. Yeah, I know I said that Countdown skipped this element of the show. I lied. I feel bad, and I’ve now learned something from my mistake.
Oh wait - “lying” isn’t the theme of this show, so ignore my prior penance. Actually, though Countdown does feature a minor lesson, I didn’t think of it in the same way as that of Lyle, for that show’s moral was much more all-pervasive; each of the various skits and tunes reinforced it. For Countdown, that wasn’t the case. The Silly Songs had nothing to do with the overall theme, which revolved around some attempted cheating by one of the Pirates, Pa Grape (voiced by Phil Vischer). He badly wants for their Silly Song to be number one and he tries to rig the ballot to achieve this. Of course, he’s caught pretty easily, and the other two Pirates - Larry the Cucumber (Mike Nawrocki) and Mr. Lunt (Vischer) - teach him that it’s not who wins or loses, it’s how you play the game.
Or something like that - onto the Silly Songs! As I’ve noted, my experience with VeggieTales remains pretty minor, but from what I know, it seems that the Silly Songs are a very popular aspect of the show. For good reason, too, as they parody various genres and forms and do so in a witty and clever manner. Normally I can’t stand this kind of satire; for example, I never could tolerate the limp and inane gags perpetrated by Weird Al Yankovic.
However, the Silly Songs are a different matter. For the most part, the productions follow along similar lines. Usually the tunes will start with a goofy premise - such as the one about the yodeling veterinarian - and they’ll go a couple of verses before they get even nuttier. VeggieTales shows a definite Monty Python influence, as the gags like to lightly skew reality and feed into various minor inconsistencies and things that go wrong along the way.
With 10 Silly Songs on this disc, it seemed possible - if not probably - that I’d tire of the format after a few numbers. While the tunes may be fun as a diversion during the regular VeggieTales programs, the potential definitely existed for Silly overload. Happily, this didn’t occur. The interludes with the Pirates helped spice up the presentation, and most of the songs themselves were different enough to make the program seem consistently creative and inventive.
While each of the Songs worked on a fairly similar premise and structure, they used a nice mix of various musical genres. Because of this, they felt fresh and loose throughout the show, and this kept the DVD from becoming tedious or tiresome.
It also helped that we found a generally high level of quality. As previously noted, actual VeggieTales viewers voted on the favorites. During the supplements, the show’s staff indicated that they definitely hoped for a certain skew to the results, but these didn’t come as a tremendous surprise since their office straw polls already let them know the rough order in which they’d end up with the real viewers.
Some of the songs seemed less compelling than others, but none were less than entertaining. As for my favorites, I found only one that I really liked: “His Cheeseburger”. Perhaps because this number was the only one that went with a rock format, “Cheeseburger” was the most amusing and delightful as it poked fun at the bombast of Seventies rock ballads from the likes of Meat Loaf. It’s funny and clever and a real treat.
It’s not a true Silly Song, but my other favorite tune was definitely the silliest. At one point the Pirates need to fill some time as the countdown machine gets fixed, so they rap a Chinese carryout menu. This is so ridiculous that it’s hilarious, and it lasts just short enough to keep from wearing out its welcome. The “Moo Shoo Rap” is a highlight of the show.
Actually, pretty much the entire Ultimate Silly Songs Countdown was a lot of fun. Perhaps someday I’ll start to find fault with the VeggieTales franchise, but my first two encounters have been quite entertaining. The Countdown lacks the thematic coherence of a normal program, but it compensates for this with consistent wit and creativity. Kids and parents alone should really enjoy the Countdown.
The Ultimate Silly Song Countdown appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. All told, this was a very nice transfer with very few concerns to mar the presentation.
Sharpness seemed to be consistently positive. The picture looked crisp and detailed at all times, as I witnessed no signs of softness or fuzziness. However, some jagged edges appeared, and a few examples of moiré effects occurred as well; these were minor but occasionally noticeable. Unintentional print flaws seemed to be totally absent. I needed to use that qualifier because some grit and vertical lines popped up during “Larry’s High Silk Hat”, but it appeared obvious that the show’s producers created these to give the number an artificially worn and old look. Otherwise, the program completely lacked any form of defects.
Apparently the world of VeggieTales offers a very bright and varied palette, and Lyle followed with a strong batch of colors. The tones remained appropriately cartoonish and bold, and they were displayed in a very solid manner. At no time did any of the colors show signs of bleeding, noise or other concerns, as they always looked tight and distinct. Black levels were also nicely deep and rich, and though shadow detail was only a minor consideration, all of those sorts of shots came across as appropriately clean and visible. Ultimately, Countdown provided a very satisfying visual experience.
Also fairly strong was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Ultimate Silly Songs Countdown. For the most part, this soundfield stayed with an emphasis on the forward spectrum, where it offered nicely broad and engaging audio at times. Effects tended to appear “speaker specific” and they didn’t blend together exceptionally well, however. Vegetables would walk - or hop, actually - from side to side, but oddly, their voices almost always remained centered. The only exceptions occurred when a character spoke totally from off-screen; on those occasions, the speech came from hard left or right. However, I never heard dialogue pan along with the bouncing sounds.
Music seemed to be nicely delineated, however, as the show provided positive stereo separation. The rear speakers backed up the music well, and some decent effects usage also occurred. In general, the surrounds remained minor partners, but they became more active at times. For example, one scene provided good isolated information of votes that poured from a closet, and some unique musical instruments cropped up from the rear as well. As a whole, Countdown showed fairly useful usage of all five speakers, though it wasn’t a tremendously powerful piece.
Audio quality seemed to be fine across the board. Dialogue was consistently warm and natural, and it showed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects sounded clean and accurate, and when appropriate they came to life quite vividly. For the most part, bass response was a bit tepid, and the subwoofer received little work, but some rich low-end did crop up at times. Music demonstrated fairly positive dimensionality. Again, the bass could have sounded warmer and deeper, but I thought the range of the tunes remained quite acceptable throughout the show. In the end, Countdown didn’t give us a stellar auditory experience, but I thought the mix worked quite well as a whole.
Countdown also includes a smattering of extras. Behind the Silly Scenes provides an interview with Big Idea founders Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki and also some soundbites from con-composer/arranger Kurt Heinecke. During the 20-minute and 15-second piece, they discuss their inspiration for this compilation of Silly Songs and also give us the details about how each number was invented. They’re all very spirited subjects and this is a fun and interesting look at the program.
In addition, we get a separate Interview With Phil and Mike. Taken from the same session as “Behind the Silly Scenes”, this seven-minute and five-second program could be redundant; some of the same clips appear in both shows. However, it adds enough new information to merit a look, as it essentially fleshes out the opening segments of “Behind”.
Moo Shoo Karaoke offers an oddly entertaining piece. You can sing along with the best tune in the show, as this snippet removes the vocals for Mr. Lunt, Larry, or both; you then are expected to fill in for the missing vegetable. It’s a cute 87-second addition. Deleted Countdown Footage just gives us 15 seconds left out of the Pirates shots. It’s fun but insubstantial. Lastly, the Story Reel shows the “Moo Shoo” segment via filmed storyboards. These are accompanied by the show’s audio for this 43-second bit.
In addition, a few Easter Eggs appear on the DVD. All of these are accessible from the “Chapters: Songs and Scenes” menu. To get to the first, highlight “Main Menu” and then click to the right. Hit “enter” and you’ll get to see another Silly Song. Entitled “Oh Santa”, this tune lasts for five minutes and 15 seconds, and it’s another fun entry in the line.
Go to the “5-8” page in the chapter menu and repeat the method above; click to the right of “Main Menu” and hit enter. At that point, you’ll watch another Silly Song called “Lost Puppies”. This one seems to be an abandoned piece of work, as much of the 70-second piece shows still images. Still, it’s a neat piece to see.
Lather, rinse, repeat: perform the same actions from the “9-12” screen and you’ll find the actual official results of the Silly Song vote. You can see for yourself how tight the race really was! Finally, from “13-16”, you can access the oddest egg. There you’ll find “The Hairbrush Song” dubbed in Japanese! The three-minute clip is amusing and entertaining.
As is virtually all of The Ultimate Silly Songs Countdown. Even a crabby and cynical dude such as myself can find a lot to like about the VeggieTales series, and Countdown continues that trend. It’s a witty and clever compilation of tracks that consistently entertained me. Picture and sound quality were very solid, and the package includes a reasonable mix of useful extras. It’s not a packed set, but with a list price of $14.98, it seems like a decent value. The brevity of the 43-minute show makes the cost a little more questionable, but I still think it’s well worth the money, especially since younger VeggieTales fans are likely to run the program skillions of times, and the DVD format allows them to easily repeat favorite tunes.