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3-2-1 Penguins: Good Message…Mainly For The Kids

By Craig von Buseck Producer -- How do you follow up on something as phenomenal as Veggie Tales? It was a tall order, but the endlessly-creative folks at Big Idea Productions have done it with Penguins. First of all, late in 2000, they launched a whole new cast of characters for children to love -- 3-2-1 Penguins! Holding the #1 spot on the Soundscan kid video sales charts for the first 18 weeks of release, the loveable Penguins instantly became another hit direct-to-video property. Hot on the heals of this success, Big Idea has just released the second installment in the Penguin series, The Cheating Scales of Bullamanka.

penguinsFor those who have not yet been introduced to them, the brightly-colored penguins, Zidgel, Midgel, Fidgel, and Kevin zip around the Universe in their space ship. They are joined by their twin "earthling friends," Jason and Michelle, a brother and sister who provide human stability to the zany antics of the Penguins.

The video opens at the home of the twin's grandmum, a charming English lady that we only see from the neck down. She is busy working in the kitchen as the children play a delightful game of "Squid-Tack-Toad" (look for the home version at your local Wal-Mart in time for Christmas … maybe). Michelle wants to win so badly that she resorts to cheating, sending her brother upstairs to find another game to play.

After he's gone Michelle's conscience starts to get the best of her. She begins talking out loud to the inanimate toy penguin's in their space ship on the shelf. "I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't cheat." Suddenly Grandmum enters the room and responds, "Well of course you didn't cheat, deary. You know better than that." She goes on to proclaim the lesson of the video from the "Good Book." "The Lord hates cheating scales, but accurate weights are His delight" (Proverbs 11:1).

Michelle doesn’t quite get the message, and so after Grandmum rushes into the kitchen the toy space ship in the corner suddenly comes to life with the frolicking penguins at the helm. They use a galactic fishing pole to catch Michelle, shrink her, and then suck her in to take her on a space adventure. Their destination is the space-base Bullamanka, where the conniving Lizard King has defeated the kindly Bandicott King in a life size, fully-animated version of "Squid-Tac-Toad" (watch for the video game coming this November … wink, wink).

321 PenguinsWhen Michelle finds out that the Lizard King has cheated in his game, the moral lesson is taken to a higher level. I'll let you get the video to discover how it ends.

Like the now mega-selling Veggie Tales, 3-2-1 Penguins! uses 3-D computer animation to spin their magic -- and in a big step forward from the Veggies, these characters actually have arms and legs. The story has some funny gags, like the static socks that cling to the simple-minded penguin named Kevin; or the landing gear that works like albatross legs. There are also some delightful post-modernisms that make this tale entertaining -- like the penguin who stops the action in freeze-frame so that he can write a definition of the word "ombudsman" over the screen.

But unlike many of the Veggie Tales stories that have enough double entendres to keep adults entertained, 3-2-1 Penguins! is primarily geared to children. I doubt that there will be many college dorm parties playing this video like they have with the Veggies.

And that's o.k., because we need more entertaining Christian children's video to drive biblical messages home with the kids. The Cheating Scales of Bullamanka does it so well that my 8-year-old son, David, had 90% of the dialogue memorized within the first week. I was nearly mugged when I brought the thing home, as my three kids tore it from my hands and rushed toward the VCR. David's birthday is in November, and he's already told me that he is expecting a gift of the 3rd installment of the Penguins when it is released that month (just in time for Christmas, too … nudge, nudge).

In order survive and continue to grow, media production companies have to break into the realm of product marketing -- and that's o.k., too, as long as it's not too "in your face." There are some potential products that can be spun out to the public from this story, as I have subtly mentioned already, but the video doesnt' push them. I'm sure you'll be seeing them soon at your local Target or Christian Book Store.

There is also a little too much borrowing from Disney in this episode. The twins "communicating" with "star base" in the beginning of the film sounds more-than-vaguely similar to Toy Story. Some of the Australian characters seem a little too much like a few of the animals from Rescuers Down Under. That can be forgiven, though, because there is enough genuine, original creativity to more than make up for it.

321 PenguinsLike Veggie Tales there is reinforcement of the biblical lesson at the end of the video. The Penguins appear on stage at the Comet Lounge as a 4-piece band singing the entertaining, "Take another look at the Good Book, God wants us to play fair…"

Way to go, Big Idea. And I can't wait for the full-length feature film, Jonah, A Veggie Tales Movie, coming only to theaters next summer. A preview for the movie precedes The Cheating Scales of Bullamanka -- "Before Jaws; Before 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea; Before Free Willy…the biggest fish story of all time -- Jonah."

My 11-year-old son, Aaron, said it best when he declared, "3-2-1 Penguins teaches kids a message, and it has humor so kids want to watch it over and over again. When they do, they learn the message." I don't think a marketing consultant could have put it any better.

Order your copy of The Cheating Scales of Bullamanka.

Order other Veggie Tales products at

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