Big Idea Entertainment has delivered another high-quality animated feature with a higher purpose.
The latest VeggieTales original production is "The Penniless Princess — God's Little Girl," based on the children's classic "A Little Princess," by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Sharp animation, clever humor and memorable songs make for an entertaining DVD for parents and children, but the foundational themes of self-worth and love could bring any daddy of a daughter to tears.
"The Penniless Princess" is an emotionally rich production aimed at teaching girls to recognize that they are loved by God, and how to share that love with others.
Sara Crewe is the daughter of a military man who has made a fortune in diamonds. Capt. Crewe is an adoring father who lets his daughter know that she is a princess in his eyes — and in God's. But the captain has been called off to war and must leave Sara at a boarding school with the cold and cruel Miss Minchin.
"You're never alone, no matter what," Capt. Crewe tells Sara. "God is always with you. ... You're his princess."
The captain instructs the headmistress to provide his daughter with whatever she needs, but Sara is far from spoiled. She's enthusiastic, selfless and considerate. "Everyone deserves kindness," Sara says.
But Sara's father is killed at war, and the man charged with finding the captain's daughter and managing his fortune is unable to locate the young girl. Sara goes from a student to a servant who is overworked and underfed.
"You're not a princess anymore," Miss Minchin tells her.
Sara is a wonderful protagonist who exhibits the best of qualities. She remains grateful despite her spiraling circumstances, maintains her sense of self-worth and does her best to uplift others.
"Even if we look like servants on the outside, we can be princesses on the inside," she tells Becky, a fellow servant.
Of course, this is VeggieTales, which means she's also a walking, talking produce item. Her best friend is a carrot and her father a goofy cucumber. There's an ample amount of silly humor, like a hilarious French class where the students learn such words as "cul de sac," "chocolate mousse" and "grand prix." Then there's Mr. Lunt, who kicks off the production by saying, "Musicals are so unrealistic; people just burst into song for no reason," right before he bursts into song.
"The Penniless Princess" requires some emotional depth and weighty plot points to move the story along. It's not fun realizing that Larry the cucumber has died, and it's uncomfortable watching Sara suffer. But the storytelling is effectively balanced with humor, song and trademark VeggieTales quirkiness, allowing the feel-good themes to emerge.
This new DVD strikes its spiritual target. It will particularly hit home for parents who long for their children to hold their heads high and know their worth in the sight of God.
Aaron Shill is the editor of Features and Mormon Times at the Deseret News.