So I got to hear Phil Vischer last week in Chicago. Phil created VeggieTales, the smash hit Christian animated series featuring armless, legless talking vegetables. Further proof that with God all things are possible.
I’d heard rumors of Phil’s story and read a few headlines which indicated things had not gone so well for Bob, Larry and the gang. But it was a whole other matter to have the Visch stand in front of a banquet room full of communication pros and lay out the whole rotten tomato (no offense to Bob). It was one more example of how one man had been brought back to the big question, “What does God want me to do?”
In 1993, Vischer, along with business partner Mike Nawrocki, had produced the first VeggieTales show, Where’s God When I’m S-scared?” Sales were mainly word of mouth at first but word spread quickly. By 2000, their production company, Big Idea Inc., had blossomed from 3 to 200 employees. People were touting Phil as the next Walt – Walt Disney that is. The PBS newsmagazine Religions & Ethics NewsWeekly named Phil one of its “Top 10 People to Watch” on the American spiritual landscape, along with the likes of Bishop T.D. Jakes.
Then the roof caved in. Big Idea’s massive personnel ramp-up occurred at the same time as a gigantic sales slump. Even the VeggieTales’ first full-length motion picture, Jonah, could not right the ship. Big Idea was dragging anchor. Then Vischer and company were hit with a lawsuit from a distributor claiming breach of contract. “God could have saved the company,” Vischer reported. “He could have but he didn’t; the distributor got all they wanted and more.”
Bankruptcy was next. And in one last prayer meeting at Big Idea, attended by only 13 of 65 remaining employees, Vischer sounded the call to battle once more, assuring the baker’s dozen that God could still act. Then one lady, a true prayer warrior, came up to him and delivered the prophetic blow: “This isn’t about God and Big Idea; this is about God and Phil.”
Phil found himself on the outside looking in as another company took over his creation. He made what he viewed as a magnanimous offer to serve as creative director for the new owners. “No thanks, we’ve hired another guy for that job,” was the reply. That was the last straw. But then he was confronted with Jeremiah 29, where the Israelites were commanded by God to pray for the prosperity of Babylon, not wish for its sudden destruction.
Finally he approached the new owners about serving in whatever role that would help – making editorial notes on scripts for instance. In exchange he would get a couple pennies for every dollar earned off his veggie pals. That money has now funded new ventures, such as Vischer’s What’s In the Bible puppetry-based DVD series or his online program, Jelly Telly (www.jellytelly.com).
“Seven years ago my dream died,” Phil related. “But I learned that impact doesn’t occur when you’re pursuing impact but when you’re pursuing God.” I think Bob and Larry would be proud.