THE PIRATES WHO DON'T DO ANYTHING: A VEGGIETALES MOVIEG
You don't have to be a parent to know that kids' movies are going through a fallow period right now. While recent titles like Ratatouille, Enchanted and the underrated Surf's Up provide younger viewers with sophisticated entertainment that doesn't talk down to them, much of the current crop of kiddie flicks fall into two categories: crass commercials disguised as feature films (such as the inexplicably popular Alvin and the Chipmunks) or bland moral lessons that go to such great lengths to be inoffensive, they wind up being thoroughly uninteresting (like the environmental-themed adventure Hoot). 2008's first family film The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything fits distinctly into the latter grouping.
This is the second theatrical feature spawned by the animated VeggieTales franchise, which has been a major player in the direct-to-DVD market since the early ’90s. Created by devout Christians Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki, the typical VeggieTales cartoon is blatantly and unapologetically pro-faith. In fact, most of them (including the inaugural VeggieTales movie, 2004's Jonah) are re-enactments of famous Bible stories starring a cast of kid-friendly computer-animated vegetables. But don't ruin your eyesight trying to find a reference to 17th-century sea pirates in the Good Book—The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything is an original story that incorporates such Sunday School-approved lessons as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “Thou shalt not abandon friends in need.”
Acting out these teachings are a trio of overripe friends, including Larry (Nawrocki), a cowardly cucumber; George (Vischer), a self-esteem-challenged grape; and Sedgwick (Vischer again), a wisecracking gourd with a pronounced Mexican accent that makes him sound uncomfortably like the love child of Cheech Marin and Speedy Gonzalez. All three are employed as waiters at a pirate-themed restaurant and dream about donning hat and eye-patch to join the cast of the nightly show. To their surprise, Larry, George and Sedgwick get the chance to live the pirate life for real when a magical device transports them back to the 1600s, where they have to help young Princess Eloise (Laura Gerow) rescue her brother Alexander (Yuri Lowenthal) from the clutches of their villainous uncle, Robert the Terrible (Cam Clarke). This quest brings them face-to-face with such fearsome creatures as a mechanical dragon, a family of giant rock monsters and a gaggle of tiny orange cannibals that bear a strong resemblance to Sedgwick's favorite snack food—cheese curls.
If you're not already a devout VeggieTales fan, The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything won't...well, do anything to convert you. It's not that the film is unwatchable; apart from the offensive characterization of Sedgwick (seriously, what were the filmmakers thinking when they gave that accent a pass?), there's nothing overtly wrong with it on a technical or narrative level. Although it'll never be confused with a Pixar production, the animation is competent and the story, as cliché-ridden as it is, moves from point A to C fairly efficiently. What is missing from the film is any spark of imagination. Once upon a time, children's movies took audiences on grand adventures to faraway lands like Fantasia in The Never-Ending Story or into deep space in Flight of the Navigator's wicked star cruiser. And even when the movies remained closer to home, kids got to spend time with such lively personalities as Kermit the Frog or Ariel and Sebastian. Maybe these are just the ravings of a nostalgia-addled Gen-Xer, but The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything seems symptomatic of the laziness that pervades the majority of today's G and PG-rated romps. It's little more than a video babysitter that gives kids something to watch, but leaves them with almost nothing to think about.