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VeggieTales Sumo Of The Opera
[ big idea productions, 2004 | 45 minutes | review by becca tuttle ]

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Sumo Of The Opera - Click to view!What do you get when you combine wrestling, opera singing and produce? The answer, of course, is VeggieTales: Sumo of the Opera, the latest installment in the cherished series of made-to-video VeggieTales tapes. Straying from the typical VeggieTales format of using a vegetable cast to recount simplified Bible stories, Sumo of the Opera offers original material infused with Christian ideals, a testament to the creative prowess of the folks at Big Idea. With its lively animation, vibrant characters and family-friendly humor, there's little not to like about this DVD. If, as Bob sings in the theme song, a "squash can make you smile," Sumo of the Opera can guarantee a solid forty-five minutes of laughter.

In traditional VeggieTales fashion, Sumo of the Opera supplies several short stories to cater to the brief attention span of its target audience. Introducing these segments is Khalil (the caterpillar from Jonah: A Veggietales Movie) who poses as "teensy-weensy cucumber" Lutfi to co-host the movie with Bob the Tomato. First up finds Larry the Cucumber and friends as movers, challenged to hoist a piano up an enormously long staircase. The Silent FilmPresented in silent movie format, the story parodies classic film, borrowing its plot from an old Laurel and Hardy short and outfitting its three protagonists to resemble the Three Stooges. The resulting lesson in perseverance is highly predictable, but enjoyable nonetheless. Moving quickly along, Lutfi introduces a new feature, "Lutfi's Fanciful Flannelgram," which uses shockingly vegetable-free, cutout style animation to recount the legend of Saint Patrick. Although based on historical fact, the story is enriched with humor, and highlights include jokes poking fun at Patrick's original name (Maewyn Succat) and a simplistic but humorous depiction of paganism ("Oh mighty pond scum! Ye are powerful and... um... scummy?").

The infamous "Silly Songs with Larry" intermission offers "School House Polka," a goofy look at parts of speech starring Larry in a toupee and glasses. The Story of Saint PatrickAlthough not quite on par with the legendary "Hairbrush Song," Larry's struggle to use multiple meanings of same-sounding words in his ode to homophones is amazingly clever. Even the not-so grammatically inclined will find it difficult to resist a smile when Larry "breaks it down" mid-song, writhing on the floor as he passionately rocks out to his accordion.

The final story, which lends its name to the movie's title, proves that the directors saved the best for last. Slapstick stunts in the classic Veggie vein keep kids entertained, from Jerry Gourd's antics as the out-of-sync member of the carrot opera to Larry's astounding ability to juggle (despite the slight handicap of having no hands). However, the veggie cast also supplies a fair amount of material directed at an older audience—an almost unprecedented feat for a VeggieTales movie. The Silly SongRather than pulling from the Bible, Sumo of the Opera draws from Japanese culture and the Rocky movies to form a satire that will have children and their parents laughing out loud.

Larry stars in the role of "the Italian Scallion"—an aspiring sumo champion hindered by his lack of resolve. Tempted by an alluring tiger bicycle prize, Scallion/Larry vows to keep his "eyes on the tiger" and face "Apollo" Gourd in the championship match. The training that follows is part Rocky, part Karate Kid, as Pa Grape uses various unorthodox techniques to whip Scallion into shape. Larry weaves between patrons, dodging blows from elderly ladies as he determinedly ascends the down escalator that replaces Rocky's Philadelphia steps. A recycling plant substitutes for a meat plant, with bags of cans providing much friendlier punching bags than Rocky's bloody sides of beef. Most hilarious is when Pa Grape passes Larry a glass of raw egg, which, as Rocky fans will know, was the champ's equivalent of a breakfast smoothie in the classic films. "Am I supposed to drink that?" Larry asks in disgust, looking doubtfully at his grape mentor. The Final Showdown"Of course not, they're raw!" He exclaims. "Scramble 'em!"

Perhaps the movie's most admirable quality is that it parallels Rocky right to its end, forgoing a superficial happy ending by allowing our hero to lose the match. This surprising dose of reality drives home the movie's overall moral: perseverance—not winning—is the real victory. Sumo of the Opera fulfills the promise of the VeggieTales slogan, providing "Sunday morning values and Saturday morning fun" in a film that is sure to become a family favorite. With a richer story than ever before, it seems that veggies, like most fine foods, only get better with age.
- Becca Tuttle
August 2004

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