Sunday, February 24, 2013


The country's most popular VBS curriculum company may do many things well. Perhaps distribution, or age-appropriateness, or choice of music, or whatever. My granddaughter seemed to like "Sky" last year, at least the music and crafts.  But the dialogue in their videos is not merely bad, but stunningly so. Bad enough that one has to stop and listen and analyze "What exactly is it about this approach that makes it so terrible?"

Our Bible study group had five families writing skits every Christmas for two decades.  Every single one of them had better dialogue.

My daughter-in-law noticed that Chatter's videos were somewhat better a decade ago.  "Maybe they had better student interns that year," she laughed.  But even then, not good.  Those who have followed Sunday School and church camp materials over the years will recognise one standard horror: the insistence on inserting a particular theological lesson into the content whether it fits or not. (What?  You don't think it's important that children know they can talk to Jesus when they're afraid? Are you saying we shouldn't teach them that God loves them?)  The expression is stilted as well.

This is why Veggie Tales took over the North American Christian Ed departments for a generation beginning around 1997.  They could write, and do plenty of stuff with animated facial expressions and voices.  VT was plenty didactic, and not entirely immune from forcing things at times, but the touch was much lighter.

Still, I may have it entirely wrong.  Just because it rings false to me doesn't mean it doesn't work for kids.  I similarly groused in Romania about the use of flannelgraph stories, a Sunday School staple from my childhood.  The Romanian children, in contrast, seemed to like them just fine.  Yet I am reminded that CS Lewis had a particular horror or writing in a patronising manner to children.  In his On Three Ways Of Writing For Children he deplores giving children what we do not like but think they will.


SJ said...

I think VeggieTales even managed to make fun of the badly-written, forced-message stuff once.

It was framed as two of the minor characters pretending to be Bob and Larry, and telling an overly-simplistic story.

Then Bob and Larry come in, and manage to salvage the situation with an actual story. And a lesson that fits the story.

The meta-story of Bob and Larry interacting with the other veggies, as well as the main story and lesson, were all handled quite well.

I was a teenager when Veggie Tales came out. However, I really liked the ones I saw.

The creative team behind Veggie Tales managed to generate a for-kids film that adults could enjoy.

james said...

I've not been in touch with VBS for quite a while, but I remember some things were fingernails on a blackboard.

The home school choir group put on twice-yearly presentations (older and younger choirs), and rapidly exhausted the good material. The later musicals showed the same poorly-paced didactic features, plus lame attempts to connect with pop culture. Pacing is constrained by the demands of set-piece songs, so I have to forgive that. (To be fair they were designed to allow as many solos as possible, and the music was the right level: challenging but not too hard.)

Some were good: a simplified version of Elijah, a collection of Vivaldi pieces arranged around a day in his life, and a few others. But apparently it is a bad idea to repeat musicals.

I've read some materials intended for adults that made my teeth itch too--some of it by genuine saints, whose personal devotion and service I don't come within shouting distance of.