About Big Idea’s new video VeggieTales®: The Little Drummer Boy
In 1968, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. directed the stop motion animated story, “The Little Drummer Boy.” On October 1, Big Idea Entertainment will release its all-new Veggie-version of this popular holiday television show,
. Paula K. Parker recently sat down with Mike Nawrocki, EVP of Big Idea Entertainment , and Brian Roberts, Director of VeggieTales, to talk about this new version of an old Christmas classic and what Big Idea hopes to accomplish with it.
Paula K. Parker: The original television show is obviously inspired by the song, but where did the song come from?
Mike Nawrocki: The song, “The Little Drummer Boy,” was originally known as “Carol of the Drum.” It written by Katherine K. Davis in 1941.
Brian Roberts: It was recorded by the Harry Simeone Choral, which was a record album my parents had when I was little. The song in the original film was by performed by the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
PKP: What kind of permission did you have to get to make this video?
Brian Roberts: Our show is inspired by the 1968 Bass and Rankin television special written by Romeo Muller, at least part of which is owned by Classic Media.
Mike Nawrocki: Which is the parent company for Big Idea. So we asked them, “Hey guys, do you mind if we do this?” “No, you’re good!” [laughs]
Brian Roberts: So it was fun being able to not just parody the original, but to actually use a lot of the same elements. To keep the pieces we liked, add some new things, and rework some things that didn’t work for us.
PKP: Why did you choose The Little Drummer Boy to do for this Christmas?
Brian Roberts: With anything business-wise, different people have a lot of reasons. For myself, I have wanted to do a Christmas story set at the Nativity for a long time.
Mike Nawrocki: That was our single biggest motivation. From the beginning with Veggie Tales, we’ve wanted to avoid showing Jesus as a vegetable. We felt that was a line we never wanted to cross. This gave us a great opportunity to go to manger without having to show Jesus as a vegetable.
PKP: Even Mary and Joseph do not have the appearance of any kind of vegetable. They actually look like little finger puppets.
Mike Nawrocki: [laughs] Yeah, they look like little carrots standing there. When we did The Easter Carol, we were able to tell the Easter story in a way that worked with Veggie Tales. This was the same thing; we were able to tell the Nativity story in a way that worked with Veggie Tales.
Brian Roberts: With the songs, you obviously can’t do The Little Drummer Boy without the song, so we feature that song heavily, when Junior comes to see Jesus. The rest of the songs, we decided to write original songs; so Mark Steele and Mike [Nawrocki] wrote several original songs for the film.
PKP: Including the Silly Song, “The 8 Polish Foods of Christmas,”
Brian Roberts: That song came from “A Very Veggie Christmas.” We’ve thought about animating that song for years and years.
Mike Nawrocki: We have a CD coming out with this video too. “O Holy Night – A Journey of The Little Drummer Boy.” We have some popular artists, like BeBe and CeCe Winans, Amy Grant, Matthew West, Wynonna Judd and Steven Curtis Chapman, performing on the project.
PKP: In the video, there appeared to be a nod to “The Princess Bride.” Was that intentional?
Mike Nawrocki: Oh yes, that was quite intentional. Pa Grape reading the book to Junior.
PKP: I appreciated how Pa Grape would explain that certain things in the story were not in the Bible.
Brian Roberts: We said they were, ‘inspired by the Bible.’
PKP: Like the names of the Three Wise Men.
Mike Nawrocki: I saw this show as a child too and I remember wondering, “Wasn’t The Little Drummer Boy story in the Bible?” They were in the same place in my mind. We wanted to clear that up; it isn’t there, but it’s inspired.
PKP: I loved how you explain the gifts of the wise men.
Mike Nawrocki: The gifts were for our Savior, Priest, and King; then we went to the Old Testament and got the specific verses that prophesied those three elements.
PKP: Beyond the Nativity story, the underlying message in this video is forgiveness.
Mike Nawrocki: Yes. Going in and looking at the original story, that’s really what it was about. Aaron’s parents were killed and he had this hatred for all people and his journey of finding Jesus at the manger and how he was restored and healed.
PKP: When you’re dealing with extra-Biblical stories that we’ve all grown up with and you’re trying to maintain Biblical accuracy, how do you vet these stories?
Mike Nawrocki: We’ve gone to outside ‘content advisors’ from time to time. In the early years, it was Phil Vischer’s mom; she had a doctorate in Christian education. On The Little Drummer Boy, we realized there were some really great things about the original, but there were some things that were theologically off. So we discussed what could we do, knowing what we know – as evangelical Christians – about the Nativity story. How could we write a story that was consistent with those beliefs?
PKP: When the original Rankin and Bass stuff came out – The Little Drummer Boy, even Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Coming to Town – they all had a strong Christian message. In “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” they talk about Santa and Mrs Claus got married on the holiest of nights. Charlie Brown Christmas…these were all going out on national television. I’m not sure this would fly today.
Brian Roberts: What is interesting is that they would still air the old ones…
Mike Nawrocki: But if you were to produce a new one today, they wouldn’t air it. It was so much a part of the culture then than it is now.
PKP: So how do you get these out beyond people who already know the stories? If that is even part of the mission?
Mike Nawrocki: It absolutely is. In Veggie Tales, we wanted to tell stories that engaged people, that pass on Biblical values and truths. Hopefully in ways that Christians love and will share with their kids, but in ways that non-Christians can say, “This is a really great story with a really great lesson. It’s entertaining and my child is going to learn something.”
Brian Roberts: That’s why we work hard to maintain a presence in the big box stores. Christian book stores are definitely a part of the mission of this mission of this company, but we want to reach beyond that and impact culture in a wider way.