Life at the Pond is a series of five videos that have a lot in common with VeggieTales. Both combine simple animation with sophisticated humor – these are children’s videos that parents can appreciate too. Both teach moral lessons that line up with what God teaches.
But while many of the VeggieTales videos “sanitize” familiar biblical stories (e.g., David’s descent into murder and adultery is turned into a story about wanting someone else’s rubber ducky), The Pond steers clear of any disrespectful treatment of Scripture by setting their stories in the present day. (I’ll note, though, that the original audio programs do sometimes have 5-minute news-type reports from biblical times, with, for example, an on-the-scene report of Jonah’s time in the belly of the whale. Our family has enjoyed these otherwise fantastic audio programs, but we hit “next track” whenever it gets to these bits.)
The stories all take place at, of course, a pond, and the four stars are all aquatic:
• Bill the Duck is a regular joe; we are Bill the Duck
• Tony the Frog fills the role of wisecracking comic relief
• Floyd the Turtle is the most child-like, and often the straight man setting up Tony’s zingers
• Methuselah the Alligator is older, and a voice of biblical wisdom
This is aimed at the pre-school set, but there’s enough humor for parents and elementary-aged kids to enjoy too. I’d break these into two age groups, with There’s Something Funny in the Water and The Little Things good for even the youngest children, and the others, with more tension, better for ages 5 or 6 and up.
There’s Something Funny in the Water
27 minutes / 2004
In the first video we get two 15-minutes stories. Bill the Duck hides the fact that he is afraid of heights, because he doesn’t want to be made fun of, and then Bill, Tony and Floyd all learn that it is important to keep our promises, even when doing so cuts into our fun time.
These are stories kids can relate to, and parents can appreciate too, right from the get-go. The video begins with the familiar FBI warning against copying the film and Bill and Tony walk in from the sides to take a look.
Bill: Has the video started?
Tony: No it’s just the FBI warning.
Bill: And after this, what? CIA warning? FDA? NRA?
Tony: The NRA puts up a warning, I pay attention!
Big Mouth Bass
32 minutes / 2005
This time around Sarah, a big-mouth bass, is swimming off with whatever toys land in the water. She’s taking them because “toys lead to noise!” and she wants quiet! This bass is a grouch, and scary too. So when she goes missing – a bear has taken her away as a pet fish – the Pond friends don’t know whether to “save her …or celebrate!” It’s a lesson about loving your less than lovable neighbors, and reaching out beyond your friends group (Luke 14:12-14).
Our three-year-old found the fish here too scary. Even though the bass turned nice by the end it didn’t matter – she started off mean, so this video was deemed too scary (the accompanying Jaws music probably didn’t help). However, what’s scary for a three-year-old wasn’t for our five and seven-year-old.
Tony the Frog is my favorite character, and as he goes looking for Sarah he mutters some good lines to himself:
“After I find Sarah I can go look for the bully who pushed me around last year. And then, if there’s still time, a quick trip to the dentist to have some teeth removed. Anesthesia? Not today Doc, not today.”
The Little Things
29 minutes / 2007
When the carnival comes to town all the Pond friends get jobs. Three of them get great jobs (running rides or the food stands) but Floyd the turtle has to do the clean-up. He wonders why he got the worst job, and eventually realizes it’s because the circus owner saw the careless way he treated his toys. And because Floyd wasn’t good with caring for “the little things” the circus owner didn’t want to trust him with anything bigger. So, as the Dove review put it, for younger children the lesson is simply, don’t break your toys, while older children can apply that more broadly to: “If you can’t be trusted with the little things then you can’t be trusted with the big things either.”
The only caution would be that in the song at the end it mentions how you will “reap what you sow” and while that is a thoroughly biblical thought (Gal. 6:7-8, 2 Cor. 9:6, Prov. 22:8) our kids also need to know that by God’s grace His children will not get our just desserts in the end.
The Alligator Hunter
29 minutes / 2007
There are two stories again. In a parody of The Crocodile Hunter, Methuselah the Alligator is nabbed by a reality-show crew of kangaroo, so they can release him later somewhere far away. While Methuselah gets away, the kangaroos then capture his friends! Methuselah saves the day by returning and shaming the kangaroos into letting everyone go. This was way too tense for our youngest, and wasn’t that popular with our older kids either (kidnapping doesn’t seem the best subject for a children’s show).
The second episode is much calmer and funnier. Floyd the Turtle turns out to have selective hearing: whenever someone tells him to do something he can’t hear them. He doesn’t even hear it when his friends tell him to get out of the way of a falling tree branch! Selective hearing is, of course, a malady common to many a child, so this can make for a fun illustration when the malady next strikes.
The Rise and Fall of Tony the Frog
29 minutes / 2009
When Tony the Frog starts a paper route, it isn’t long before his ambitions turn it into a business empire. He ups his speed by first adding a bike, then using a machine gun mounted on a HumVee to fire newspapers at subscribers, then dropping them from an F-18 fighter jet. It’s all going to his head and his friends realize he’s made his business an idol…but how can they get Tony to realize?
The F-18 sequence is quite frantic and might be a bit much for younger kids, but Tony’s friends, eager to help, and happy to forgive him, make this a sweet one.