Phil Vischer’s life as a tomato

Phil Vischer spoke of his life as the creator of VeggieTales at the session on Wednesday evening.



Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales, walks through the dream that began as an 8-year-old of wating to impact the world for Christ through VeggieTales being crushed by the burden of bankruptcy of his company, Big Idea. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES

Jackie Grade, Writer

Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales, walks through the dream that began as an 8-year-old of wating to impact the world for Christ through VeggieTales being crushed by the burden of bankruptcy of his company, Big Idea during the third Torrey session. | Olivia Blinn/THE CHIMES


In 1990, Phil Vischer’s vision for a biblical education animated series all began with a 10-second clip of a cucumber — Larry the Cucumber to be exact.

“It was ridiculous. There was no sound. It was just 10 seconds of a cucumber hopping. He’s going to sing, he’s going to dance and he’s going to tell Bible stories. Now give me a big wad of money to go make it. Nobody would,” Vischer said.

After two years of failed attempts to find Christian publishers to endorse his dream, an older couple in his church’s small group decided the idea was too important not to support and wrote him a check for $80,000 from their retirement fund. Thus, Vischer founded Big Idea Productions and the hit series, VeggieTales.

“We got our first VeggieTales video done in the Christmas of 1993 … ‘Where’s God when I’m scared?’ was the very first one. And that was how it started,” Vischer said.

A tomato and his friends

The Big Idea Productions’ staff consisted of only three people creating the entire religious vegetable show. Vischer, a computer graphics graduate and an art graduate all took turns around one shared computer and worked around the clock to complete the shows. The public liked the religious vegetables so much that the series began to grow exponentially. Vischer, having taken on the persona of a strong-willed, God-fearing tomato, watched God bless his media ministry.

“Bob the Tomato is me on caffeine,” Vischer said. “He always has a dream and is trying to make it happen. He is intense and driven like me and is trying to be Mr. Rogers, but failing.”

In the middle of of the series’ success, Vischer’s self-made plan slowly began to fall apart. When VeggieTales went bankrupt in 2003 and DreamWorks ended up taking over the series, Vischer watched his empire crumble. He deeply questioned God’s plan and could not imagine why the Lord would take something that had made such an impact for God’s kingdom and let it fail.

Dying dreams

Far from where he first began, Vischer explained that he had held on to his VeggieTales dream so tightly that he had lost his original “big idea.” He had made it his goal to save every child from the “evils of Hollywood” and along with that, he saw himself becoming the Christian version of Walt Disney.

“I was killing myself — working myself to death. God let it fall apart, not because he didn’t love me, but because he loved me so much and wanted to save me from myself,” Vischer stated.

Vischer went on to say that this dream had become an idol that he was unwilling to give up — until God willed that it fall apart in his hands. Since then he has learned to rest in God’s word and allow the Lord’s fruit to flow out of him rather than try to accomplish his own plans through his own effort for his own recognition.

“If I’ve given Christ lordship of my life, where I am in 20 years is none of my business,” Vischer said.

Following a new current

While Vischer still does some of the voices for VeggieTales today, he also started a new ministry within the media. He founded Jellyfish Labs in 2004 and began the online broadcast channel JellyTelly on the website — which he described as a sort of Nickelodeon for Christian families.

“It’s called ‘Jellyfish’ because jellyfish cannot choose their own course. They have to stay in the current and trust where the current will take them [is] where they need to be,” he explained.

Last week, Vischer also finished his last of a 13-DVD series called “What’s in the Bible.” The series surveys each book of the Bible in order to educate kids and their parents on theological truths.

“It goes really deeply. People say that kids can’t learn things like this. But we are proving them wrong,” Vischer stated.

Vischer, who does all of the voices for the new Jellyfish series, explained that the series uses puppets, in order to make it more enjoyable for kids to watch, but still sticks to the important truths that each book teaches. Other churches across the country have even taken this DVD series and shared it with their congregations in order to build a foundation for all of the church members.

“It’s kind of like the Muppets go to seminary,” Vischer stated.

Today, Vischer is able to enjoy his work now that he has learned to rest in God’s plan and hold everything else — dreams included — with an open hand.

“Now when I have an excited kid come up to me [with his dream], and they want help, my first response is, ‘Would you be okay if it never happens?’ You usually can see it in their face how important that dream is to them … God should be the only thing you should be unwilling to let go of,” he said. 

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