“The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” won’t do anything for adult auds, but this second bigscreen adventure from the popular VeggieTales franchise should easily win over tots with its reliable menu of silly songs, easily digestible morals and wholesome (if not always fresh) produce-based characters. Less overtly Christian in content than 2002’s Old Testament riff “Jonah,” pic is nonetheless chockfull of lessons about courage, friendship and the inherent dangers of cheesy snack foods. The first VeggieTales toon distributed by a major studio, “Pirates” should encounter smooth sailing in family-friendly theatrical waters before bagging some serious ancillary booty.
Fans of the original homevid series will recall the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything from a sing-along song about a lazy threesome who dress up as pirates but prefer to spend their time, well, vegging out (“We’re the pirates who don’t do anything/We just stay home and lie around/And if you ask us to do anything/We’ll tell you … we don’t do anything”). A perfect three-minute distillation of the VeggieTales’ modest but delightfully eccentric sensibility, that zany throwaway was more genuinely clever than anything in this feature-length expansion, which builds an uninspired swashbuckling yarn around the eponymous trio.
As with “Jonah,” the main mateys in “Pirates” are composites of established VeggieTales characters: Larry the Cucumber is rechristened Elliot (voiced by Mike Nawrocki), while Pa Grape becomes George and Mr. Lunt, a mustachioed gourd, is Sedgewick (latter two are voiced by scribe Phil Vischer).
The three amigos are holding down dead-end jobs at a pirate-themed dinner theater when they are suddenly whisked back in time to the 17th century, summoned to a royal ship by the good Princess Eloise (voiced by Laura Gerow), whose brother Alexander (Yuri Lowenthal) is being held captive by their wicked pirate uncle, Robert the Terrible (Cam Clarke). (Robert the Terrible is a gourd, while Eloise and Alexander are leeks, raising questions of legume lineage that are perhaps best not pondered too deeply.)
George, Elliot and Sedgewick don’t look or feel especially heroic, as Eloise’s snooty butler Willory (who’s a real stick up the asparagus) is quick to point out; the drama hinges on whether they can overcome their initial reluctance and realize that true heroes come in all shapes and sizes. The journey they take is fraught with mildly imaginative perils — a family of cute but not exactly cuddly rock monsters and an army of bite-size critters that bring new meaning to the term “Cheese Nips” — as well as some serviceble but unmemorable tunes (penned by Nawrocki, Vischer, composer Kurt Heinecke and Steve Taylor).
As ever with VeggieTales, the demands of realism don’t weigh too heavily on the mostly clean, sparkling 3-D animation; viewers should be prepared to suspend disbelief when characters clash swords without arms or play hopscotch on the poop deck without legs. But if the series has never looked better visually, the wan material makes it hard not to wonder if Nawrocki and Vischer were creatively stymied by recent behind-the-scenes transitions (after the release of “Jonah,” their Big Idea Prods. shingle was acquired by Classic Media Holdings, which was in turn snapped up by U.K.-based Entertainment Rights in 2006).
Parents who have used the VeggieTales videos as Sunday-school supplements may be disappointed by the absence of a biblical hook — or, for that matter, pic’s penchant for easy ethnic stereotyping (plump, lazy Sedgewick has a Mexican accent, and Robert and Willory are oh-so-British in their condescension). Yet these sins could be more easily forgiven if “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything,” nourishing but limp salad that it is, amounted to more of a full meal.