Co-creator of VeggieTales and now vice president of creative development for Big Idea, Mike Nawrocki oversaw the production of the July release VeggieTales: Sweetpea Beauty-A Girl After God's Own Heart, the first-ever episode just for girls.
What's different about this release?
It's our first ever VeggieTales episode just for girls. We've done stories in the past with female leads-Madame Blueberry, Esther-but we wanted to deal with an issue in this episode that girls especially face in this culture-beauty. How does the world around us define beauty compared with how God defines beauty?
How did the idea of a girls-only episode come about?
When the general manager of Big Idea, Leslie Ferrell, offered a woman's perspective and said, "I know! Let's make a show about inner beauty!" To be honest, it's not the first thing a development team of three guys would think of. But we embraced the challenge and, being fathers of daughters ourselves, created a couple of stories that we would love for our own daughters to watch.
In what ways did you change what you usually do, to reach this niche audience?
We didn't really change much of what we usually do in that, with any story, you want to try to write from a place of experience and truth. You need to speak to your audience with the story you are telling-whatever the niche. We needed to be sure that the emotional tone of Snoodlerella (on the Sweetpea DVD) and Sweeetpea Beauty really spoke to the hearts girls, the intended audience. As male writers, we needed to rely on the input and feedback of our wives, daughters and female co-workers.
Isn't the message of Sweetpea one that boys need to hear, too?
Absolutely. I think boys are also under a tremendous amount of pressure in our culture to "look good." The message that God looks at the heart and not on our outward appearance is also important for boys. As Petunia says on the closing countertop, "Anyone can learn a thing or two from a princess story, Larry."
Will there be other targeted episodes, and if so, on what kind of topics?
We're currently working on an episode where we are partnering with World Vision on a lesson in serving others. We're very excited about that opportunity.
How did Nichole Nordeman come to write a song for Sweetpea?
Nichole has some huge fans at Big Idea. She's such an amazing writer, singer and performer. Because of how she has addressed the topic of true beauty in the past, both personally and professionally, we felt that her unique perspective as a singer-songwriter-in addition to her role as a mother of two small children and her love of VeggieTales-would be a great fit for Sweetpea. We were so thrilled when she agreed to write a song for the show and were absolutely floored when we heard it. "Beautiful For Me" is a wonderful and moving song that captures the lesson of Sweetpea Beauty perfectly. As Nichole put it, "I really wanted the song to capture that moment of, He (God) loves you. He cherishes you. He adores you. You captivate Him because He made you in His image."
Tell us about some of the tie-in releases.
We worked with our licensing partners to develop some fantastic consumer products that will be fun to use and play with while understanding the message of true beauty. From the 365 Bedtime Devos for Girls daily devotional to Sweetpea's Songs for Girls CD, which includes the new theme song from Nichole Nordeman, we have something for every girl. Also Gund is creating Sweetpea Beauty and Prince Larry plush toys, while Gregg Gift has a Sweetpea Beauty Bible cover, photo album and more.
How is Sweetpea being marketed and promoted?
It's a pretty amazing rollout with street-date mother-daughter events at Christian retailers on July 31, plus Princess dress-up events and special screenings at over 3,000 churches across the country. Nichole Nordeman will join me on a Christian radio tour leading up to street date. We have TV, radio and massive online promotions all centered on this important lesson and the release of Sweetpea Beauty.
How is today's VeggieTales audience/generation different from the one from your beginning in the early '90s?
I think kids, and for that matter, people in general, are hard-wired for story. If you have a good story to tell, it will never get old. And I feel that the way we tell stories has not changed drastically over the past 17 years. We're still telling stories from a biblical worldview that assumes God made us special, and He loves us very much.
I do think people are much more visually sophisticated than they were at the birth of 3-D computer animation. Twenty years ago if it was computer-animated, it was cool. I think VeggieTales benefitted from that early wave of enthusiasm. As I go back and watch the shows, I notice the stories and lessons hold up well, but they look very rudimentary. Visually, we've had to improve as the art form has improved, and our audience's expectations have grown. Probably the biggest challenge we face with each new show, after 17 years and 40-some episodes, is, what makes this story special? Why do my child and I need to see this VeggieTales episode? That's the creative challenge that keeps us going and hopefully growing as storytellers.
Is the three-day sale date head start given to Christian retailers still beneficial?
We think so! Truly the motive behind a Saturday street date at Christian retail is to be able to hold the in-store events such as our mother-daughter parties. It's a lot easier to help retailers drive traffic on a weekend when more people are available. We really haven't seen much backlash from the general market retailers who can't budge from a Tuesday street-date system.
Will there be another full-length VeggieTales movie?
We have a script for The Bob and Larry Movie, which tells the story of how Bob and Larry met, that we would love to make into a movie when the time is right.