• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Wednesday, August 13, 2008

    A Few Thoughts on VeggieTales: Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen

    I've made a few posts on Esther and, by coincidence, the other week at church Nina (my 2 year old) and her pals were sat down to watch VeggieTales: Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen (2000). I had watched this once before, but as I was looking after Nina anyway I was keen to re-watch it given both my currrent exploration and my criticisms of it in a previous post. My major bone of contention then was that,
    the Veggie Tales series sanitises the story to such an extent that it removes all dramatic tension from the film whatsoever. The Jews aren't at risk of being wiped out by a jealous megalomaniac. They simply are in danger of being exiled to the island of perpetual tickling. I must admit I don't understand the approach of this series and other attempts to purge the Bible of mentions of death, unpleasantness and other aspects of real life. Sooner or later children will learn about death, and that it's in the Bible, and the longer this goes on, the harder it will hit them.
    That was actually written before I became a parent, but I still largely standby what I wrote. Whilst I wouldn't want children unnecessarily traumatised, I do think death is part and parcel of life, and there seems little point to me in adapting a story if you are going to purge it so thoroughly of its primary narrative momentum. Just do a different story.

    Film is such a powerful and accessible medium that altering, as opposed to simply editing, a story inhibits a child's ability to know a story later in life. They have to undo their previous understanding as well as grasp for the first time what the story actually says. Obviously much of these alterations are humorous and are made to make the story more entertaining, which I accept is part and parcel of the whole Bible film sub-genre. At the same time, I'm frequently amazed at how few evangelical Christians are, in any sense, disturbed by some of the Old Testament stories. I think one of the main reasons that this is the case is that, early on, and, primarily thereafter, sadly, they are told the sanitised versions of the stories rather than confronted with a straightforward version of the text. The fact that the story ends with large numbers of the Jewish people's enemies being killed fails to trouble the majority of evangelicals simply because it is either minimised or omitted entirely from most re-tellings of the story that they will have heard. Anyway, revisiting the film gave me the chance to re-evaluate how the film handles the original story. The first scene of the film I got to see was the contest to decide the next queen. In the Bible this contest is essentially about Ahasuerus having sex with the (presumably) best looking virgins in his kingdom and choosing the one he enjoyed the most. Different films portray this differently, for example One Night With the King, despite the sexually suggestive title, plays this more like a beauty contest. The sexual aspect is still there, but it's very much toned down.

    By contrast, in the Veggie Tales version the decision is made on the basis of a talent contest - queen idol if you like. Esther's song moves the king and she gets chosen as queen. On top of this, it appears that the king (pictured below) is significantly older and physically unattractive, although it's hard to know for what passes for beautiful amongst vegetables. This again minimises any notions of romance and /or sex that dominate most of the other Esther films. Of course, portraying things as they really were would not be appropriate for young children, but why include this part of the story at all? All we need to know in order to keep the story moving is that Ahasuerus chose Esther.Whilst we're on the subject of this contest, it's notable that Esther sings a particularly Jewish sounding song. This means she emphasises her Jewish identity rather than conceals it as Mordecai actually urged her to do in the original story.

    One final observation is that Haman is not only planning to kill Mordecai and behind the command to wipe out all the Jews, but he is also behind the attempted assassination of the king. This places Haman in an even worse light than the Old Testament does and thus makes Xerxes' decision between his right hand man and his queen significantly more straightforward than it would have been.

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