Bruce Barry: Taking the Holy Ghost Approach
- Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
- 2004 24 Nov
Bruce Barry never dreamed he’d be teaching kids about Jesus for a living – much less working for God. And if he had, that dream would have been more like a nightmare. After all, the New Jersey native had never attended church, not even for Christmas and Easter, and had no Christian relatives whatsoever.
“I thought Christians were like the Hare Krishnas in the airport,” he said. “You know, some kind of cult.”
All that changed when Barry, a cartoonist and filmmaker who had worked at Nickelodeon, gave his life to Jesus. Now, just five years later, Barry is launching a new video series for kids called “The Roach Approach,” which has the quality of a Pixar film – only centered around a biblical message.
The first film, titled “Don’t Miss the Boat,” was released last week, and recounts the story of a roach family and their travels on Noah’s Arc. The next, called “The Main Event,” about Daniel in the Lion’s Den, will be out next year.
During a recent conversation, Barry shared how he met Jesus and why he’s making movies about bugs.
Annabelle: How did you get the idea for a movie about roaches?
Bruce: I was in the 7-Eleven one day and had just asked the Lord what He wanted me to do next, and I saw these kids picking out toys. One of them was a toy called “Brains.” Another was something just as gross. And it hit me. I realized that I had forgotten what it was like to be a kid, because kids like gross things. I was thinking about this as I went back to my house, where this roach comes out, in the middle of the day. Now, if you’ve ever been to Florida, you know how big these things are. You can saddle them up and ride them. But when I saw that, I said, “That’s it!” My wife thought I was crazy, but I went inside and started drawing.
Annabelle: Where does the creative process begin for you?
Bruce: It starts with character development. I give each character a bio. Like Lew, the grandfather in “The Roach Approach,” was in the Navy. He always went to church and thinks he knows everything, but never listened. However, he loves the Lord, but his wife, Nan, is always correcting him, because he never listened in church. That’s based a little bit on me – I’ve put a little bit of my life into all of my characters.
In addition to making films, you design churches and have done some really neat projects in churches all over the country. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into that.
I was designing 3-D restaurants and animated hair salons like Snippets, Jack Benny’s daughter’s hair salon, where it’s like going to Disney World to get a haircut. I also worked on the ET studio at Disney studios and at amusement parks all over the world. My father was a cartoonist and background artist for Disney. Mom was a fashion designer. I lost my sister a few years ago, but I have two other brothers and half-brother still in New Jersey.
My father died when I was 16. Mom moved to Florida with my brothers and sisters. I stayed in New Jersey, because of a girlfriend, where I painted store windows. I ended up living in my car, in a park, underneath the pier, during my senior year. I’ve been working since I was 12. I used to take my bike to downtown Danville and paint shop windows – Christmas windows. At the pier, during my senior year, I used to paint all the arcades and the games, and I did all the sign work down there. I cartooned for people. After graduation, I came down to Florida to be with my family and got an apartment. I remember my dad telling Navy stories, so I joined. And just like him, I started drawing cartoon characters on envelopes for the guys. I charged two bucks an envelope and would make $80 or $90 an afternoon.
I got out after four years and opened up a design company. My dad always taught me that what makes me different was my ability to cartoon. Every time my father was home, I’d have a paper and pencil and beg him to show me how to draw. He taught me the Disney style. But during all of this, it was like God was pruning me. When things would go bad, I would think, “Why me?” But God was pruning me to get ready.
Annabelle: Tell me a little bit about that – about how God came into your life. I understand you weren’t exactly expecting to become a Christian when you took on that church project.
Bruce: No! (laughs) I got a phone call from a children’s pastor in Arkansas, and I was like, what is this? I’d never even heard of a children’s pastor before! Well, he’d seen my website and wanted to fly me out there to look at a space that he wanted developed for kids. So I met with him, did some sketches and a model then drew up a contract. It took seven months to build it, and I sent it up there on an 18-wheeler.
All the while, I was preparing myself to refuse them when they asked me to come to church. I just knew they would, and I was all prepared to say, “No thanks – that’s not for me.” But I was there two weeks with my team, and nobody asked me anything or invited me to come to church. At that time in my life, I was starting to lose faith in mankind. I’m from New Jersey and nobody is nice to you there, but at this place, people were so nice. They were bringing us food and talking to us and helping us – it was amazing. But they never tried to convert me or anything.
Then one day, I was in the gym looking at these vignettes set up for Halloween, where they had all these stories and kids came dressed as their favorite Bible characters. A little girl came up and asked me to draw a whale, then told me I wasn’t drawing it right. I was thinking, ‘Look, kid. I’ve been drawing whales since before you were born!’ But I asked her why it wasn’t right, and she said that I needed to draw it with its mouth open. That surprised me. “Why?” I said. And she said, “Don’t you know the story of Jonah and the Whale?” I didn’t, so she told me.
I was blown away. I mean, here was a man that God talked to, who ran away, who got eaten by a whale, then spit out on the beach. I said to her, “You gotta be kidding me. That story’s in the Bible?” So I went around that Halloween night, learning all these Bible stories. I was 40 years old at the time and I had never – never – heard any of these stories. I was like, these stories are truly in the Bible? They’re better than any Disney movie out there! I was just totally blown away.
Annabelle: So how did that lead to your conversion?
Bruce: I went to a luncheon with some businessmen and these pastors, and while I was there, I just blurted out that my sister had died, my father had died, and my brother’s baby had died. I had not had a good life, but all the while, I was thinking to myself, “Shut up! Shut up!” I was a very private person and I never talk about stuff like that. But someone turned to me and said, “You know, Bruce, we didn’t bring you here to talk about dying, but while we’re on the subject, did you ever think about going to heaven to see them, when you die?” I said that no, I hadn’t, and they led me to Christ right there. I just fell to my knees and all these men, all these pastors, just gathered around and laid hands on me. Then we prayed – we prayed hard. When I came up from kneeling, I felt like I was floating. It was like walking over to a wall. When you hit the light switch, you finally get why you are there.
Annabelle: What happened after that?
Bruce: I got back to the church and I discovered that seven of my employees were Christians. I had no idea, either. I said to them, “Do you know that this church as been praying for me every single day for the past seven months?” They start hugging me and high-fiving me, and said, “Man, we’ve been praying for you for a lot longer than that. After that, I was ready to take on every church in America and lead every kid to Christ.
But I didn’t know if my wife was going to divorce me over this. She was Roman Catholic and had always tried to get me to go to church, but I didn’t know if this was a cult or what, or how different it was from Roman Catholicism. I called her on the phone, but I didn’t know what to say, so I just talked. She said I sounded different. I told her that I had had a pretty big day today … then I told her what had happened. The reason why I did it, I said, is that I want to go to heaven.
She started crying and said, “Well, you’re not going to heaven without me!” Vivian was on a plane the next day. We went to church that Sunday, she was saved, and we were both baptized that night.
Annabelle: So what has changed for you since then?
Bruce: My life has flip-flopped overnight. Your life will never be the same, the pastor [of that church] told me, and it’s true. It’s unbelievable what God has done in my life. I think that’s why God kept me away from His church for so long. Now, it affects how I look at churches and how I design my movies.
God brought me in through the eyes of a child. He knew my heart was so stone cold that if an adult had asked me, I would have refused. But a 12-year-old opened my heart and my mind. Now here I am designing churches and videos for kids. I’m still learning all these stories for the first time, but I’m trying to make a difference. We’re not trying to force it down anyone’s throat, but at least the non-Christian kids will walk away and say, ‘What a cool character.’
Annabelle: So what’s next for you?
Bruce: My next Roach Approach movie is about Daniel and the Lion’s Den, called “The Main Event.” I’m also working on a series called The Bee Squad, titled “Bee All You Can Be,” as well as “Professor Thinkawrinkle,” which is a PeeWee Herman-"Back-to-the-Future" style TV show inspired by the Muppets.
You know, what God is doing right now is absolutely incredible. Everybody knows here at the company that what I stand for is quality. God deserves the best, and that’s what I’m trying to do. My sister died of Hodgkins Disease. Toward the end, she couldn’t breathe. She had a tracheotomy. She had never gone to church, but just before she died, she wrote on a piece of paper, “Always keep the faith and live each day as if it was your last.” And what’s what all my movies are about – always keeping the faith.
“The Roach Approach, Don’t Miss The Boat!” is an original new series featuring the wacky adventures of Squiggz and his six-legged roach family, bringing to life the values of love, faith, hope and respect as they journey through timeless stories of the Bible. The 50+ minute DVD release has special bonus materials including a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of Wacky World Studios, music videos and concept art from the movie. Also available is a full music CD entitled “Songs from The Roach Approach, Don’t Miss The Boat!” featuring Michael McDonald, Kirk Whalum, Natalie Grant and Gabriel Patillo, as well as three other Wacky World Studio products: “Noah's Journey of Faith CD Read Along & Storybook,” “Noah's Journey of Faith DVD Storytime & More” and “The Biblical Quizzical Game” interactive Bible trivia game.
For more information about Bruce Barry, Wacky World Studios and “The Roach Approach,” visit www.wackyworld.tv.
Fun Facts About Cockroaches:
Number of legs on a roach: 6
Number of miles roaches can run per hour: 3
How often roaches pass gas: every 15 minutes
Number of knees on most roaches: 18
Number of minutes a roach can hold its breath: 40
Percentage of time roaches rest: 75
Number of species of roaches in the world: 5,000