Should You and Your Family Follow ‘The Star’?

YES! Take your kids, take your grandparents, take your friends and maybe some strangers off the street and go see the heartwarming, and at times hilarious, Sony Animation film “The Star.”

Despite being animated, it really is a film for all ages. The movie is aimed at a core audience of little kids — 6 to 12 years old seems to be the sweet spot. That said, it is still engaging enough for older kids and adults, and could be appreciated by grandparents and viewers of any age.

WARNING for really little kids, there are some scary dogs and a menacing henchman, but that is about as “hard-edged” as it gets.

So, if there is one movie to top your list this weekend, I’m putting “The Star” in first place. That’s right, I put it above the “Justice League” and that’s coming from me – a serious comicbook fan!

For those of you who have never heard of “The Star,” the film tells the story of the birth of Christ – with a twist – it is taken from the perspective of the animals, in particular from a donkey named Bo (short for Boaz), who is voiced by “Walking Dead” star Steven Yuen.

But the cast of voice actors is sizeable and impressive, ranging from Gina Rodriguez (Jane the Virgin) and Zachary Levi, (Chuck and Tangled) as Mary and Joseph, to Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and even a voice cameo by mega-church pastor Joel Olsteen as a magi.

I am guessing that I don’t have to give a “spoiler alert” when talking about a film that follows the very familiar story of the first Christmas, but the movie literally kicks off with the Annunciation and goes all the way to the Nativity and Epiphany. The movie provides a highly entertaining way to connect, or reconnect, the whole family to the birth of Jesus.

However, don’t follow “The Star” too closely when it comes to pure scripture or theology. In fact, the filmmakers themselves were wise enough to state that, while nothing in the movie is anti-faith or against the Gospel, they took some “adventurous creative license” with the greatest story ever told. Therefore,

  • Do not look to this film to be an exact interpretation of scripture.  A line such as “Be it done unto me according to thy word” has been given the modern translation of “Let it be done, just as you said.”
  • Do not think this film follows an exact theological understanding of the bible. For example, the Wise Man, Caspar, presents his gift and says “I brought Frankincense. Do you like Frankincense? Oh, I never know what to get.” Now, the bible itself never specifies exactly what Caspar says, but theologically speaking, Catholics believe that the gifts the Magi gave of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were very intentional. Gold represents royalty (the gold of a crown), frankincense represented deity (frankincense was used as incense to worship in the temple) and myrrh depicted death or mortality (it was a perfume used on cloths to wrap the dead). Therefore, these gifts foretell that Jesus Christ would be King, God and Sacrifice, so it is unlikely Caspar brought frankincense as a default gift. That said, the line plays as funny and is meant to be harmless.
  • Do not think that this film is a historical retelling of the Bible either. In the movie, Mary breaks the news of her miraculous pregnancy to Joseph, who understandably tells her that he needs time to think before agreeing to be the foster father of the King of Kings. Then, in prayer, Joseph gets his answer. It’s a sweet moment in the film, but it is not “Bible accurate.” In the Gospels, when Joseph hears of Mary being pregnant, he actually decides to divorce her, though, to be clear, they were betrothed, not married. He actually wants to separate quietly so as not to get Mary in trouble with the law, because we see later in the Gospels how women caught in adultery are treated under Hebrew law. Then, that night, Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream, and the angel confirms that Mary is carrying the Son of God. That is when Joseph takes Mary into his home and fully commits to his calling. “The Star” gets to the point much faster, and carefully maneuvers past such issues as unwed mothers being stoned to death in ancient Jewish culture for obvious reasons. That said, “The Star” is clearly not Bible history.

So what is it?

“The Star” is a fun, clever, beautifully rendered, fable that re-envisions the birth of Jesus as seen from the eyes of animals that could have been there. Yes, certain denominations and hardcore traditionalists may criticize this movie. However, it can’t be denied that this film takes into account the importance of faith– people are actually shown praying — and the movie reminds us that God becoming Man, and the God-Man Jesus coming into our lives, is the real meaning and gift of Christmas.

In fact, if you want some helpful ways to connect the movie to religion, you can find excellent resources created by the National Catholic Catechetical Leaders association on “The Star’s” website. If you go to the film’s home page, then click on “Menu” at the top left, you go down to the “Resource” tab and click on that selection, and you find a page full of suggestions.

This link gives families good resources and suggestions on how to connect “The Star” to their faith.

Seeing “The Star” is a great way to get the whole family to kick off Advent and get everyone into the true spirit of Christmas. Finally, a new, truly family film for the birth of Our Lord!

And, BTW, FTP donated 50,000 rosaries to help in the promotional efforts for “The Star.” Here’s Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., blessing a selection of them.

Image: Sony Animation

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5 for Friday: ‘Princess Bride,’ ‘Grinch,’ ‘Oz,’ ‘Charlotte’ and Thanksgiving Baking

The Princess Bride

Our biweekly family-programming guide returns with a weekend (and Monday) slate of classics old and new, and a bit of Thanksgiving-baking magic.

Remember, all times Eastern (check local listings for time and channel number in your area).

The Princess Bride (1987) — Friday 8 and 10 p.m., BBC America

Screenwriter William Goldman once famously said:

Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion-picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.

Well, Goldman guessed right on this cult classic, adapted from his own novel, itself based on a story he made up for his two daughters. In the film, a grandfather (Peter Falk) tells his ailing grandson (Fred Savage) about princess-bride-to-be Buttercup (Robin Wright), and Westley (Cary Elwes), a farmboy who finds his inner swashbuckler.

Their adventures are filled with colorful characters (played by, among others, Mandy Patinkin, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Carol Kane), incredible beasties and a cornucopia of memorable lines — all in service of a satire of the fairy-tale genre that also pays tribute to it.

Wrote Catholic reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus:

[Director] Rob Reiner’s great cult classic The Princess Bride is one of those rare satiric gems, like The Court Jester and Galaxy Quest, that doesn’t just send up a genre, but honors it at the same time, giving us the excitement and pleasure of the real thing as well as the laughs of a comedy.

The movie also got a shout-out in an episode of our new YouTube series, “Catholic Central” (all episodes available here):

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) — Saturday 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., TBS

The beloved book by Theodor Geisel, a k a Dr. Seuss, became an equally beloved animated special, featuring narration by Boris Karloff and a memorable performance of the Grinch by Thurl Ravenscroft. This tale of redemption begins with a grouchy creature suffering from a pinched heart, who envies the happy Whos of Whoville — especially their Christmas celebration.

With his dog Max at his side, the Grinch decides to crash the party, only to find out that he was wrong about Christmas — and the Whos — all along.

Pass the Who pudding (recipe here) and the roast beast!

The Wizard of Oz (1939) — Saturday 7 and 9:15 p.m., TBS

Judy Garland is the once and always Dorothy in this cinematic marvel, as the Kansas farmgirl whisked by a tornado into a magical land, where she makes a few friends, at least one enemy, and discovers that all is not as it appears to be.

Based on the American fairy tale written by L. Frank Baum, this is one of the 15 films that the Vatican deemed to be art, in a list released by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 1995, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of cinema.

It’s a long movie (especially with commercials), and the flying monkeys still give me the willies, but there’s a lot here for families to discuss about friendship, courage, loyalty and not taking things at face value.

Charlotte’s Web (2006) — 9 p.m., Saturday, and 7 p.m. Sunday, Discovery Family Channel

This live-action version of E.B. White’s acclaimed 1951 children’s book may not be the best possible version of the story about the friendship between a farm pig and a barn spider named Charlotte, but it has its moments.

Deacon Greydanus had a mixed reaction:

All in all, Charlotte’s Web is fair family entertainment, though the story would have been better served by a more faithful adaptation — and more inspired direction. The basic appeal of White’s story is sturdy enough to survive the filmmakers’ more dubious choices, and the emotional climax may even leave viewers with a lump in their throat. Even so, I’d rather rewatch the cartoon with my kids, or better yet, reread the book.

Speaking of the 1973 animated version, it can be viewed here.

Holiday Baking Championship: Thanksgiving Genius — Monday, 9 p.m., Food Network

The seven remaining bakers in the reality-competition series must devise a spectacular dessert using a mystery canned fruit, then they must combine two traditional desserts into something entirely new.

As it always does, this show celebrates creativity and inventiveness, and is a merit-based competition that rewards effort and excellence.

See you on Tuesday, with three more family-suitable choices to take you through Thanksgiving Day.

Image: Courtesy 2oth Century Fox

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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3 for Tuesday: ‘Chopped’ Thanksgiving (Plus a Nun) and a Double Shot of ‘LEGO’

Audio version:

What’s better than one LEGO movie? Two LEGO movies!

Happy Tuesday and welcome to another edition of 3 for Tuesday, our family-suitable programming guide to (mostly) primetime TV, airing from Tuesday through Thursday.

(All times Eastern; check local listings for time and channel in your area.)

Without further ado …

Chopped — Tuesday, 8, 9 and 10 p.m., Food Network

The cooking-competition show starts Thanksgiving early, with two repeat episodes and a new one (which airs a bit late for little ones; might need to go on the DVR).

Here’s the lineup:

“A Chopped Thanksgiving” (2013): The chefs compete to create a holiday feast from mystery baskets, and reinvent the green-bean casserole.

“Turkey Day Heroes” (2016): Chefs who work in soup kitchens, feeding the needy, must create an appetizer, and then work on an entree with bread, orange sauce, turkey and a cake.

“An Iron Chef Thanksgiving” (NEW): Three Iron Chefs judge a Thanksgiving feast.

Should families watch “Chopped”? Here’s what CommonSense Media — which recommends it for age 10 and up — has to say:

Parents need to know that unlike other competitive cooking shows that seem to value rivalries and behind-the-scenes drama, Chopped sticks to what’s on the plate. Both contenders and judges treat each other with respect and the focus is firmly on food, flavors, and cooking techniques, making this show a natural for young culinary enthusiasts. On rare occasions, chefs exhibit brief poor sportsmanship, but that is definitely the exception.

Click here for an earlier “Chopped” Thanksgiving episode.

BTW, did you know who won the “Chopped” Thanksgiving in 2015? A 30-year-old Franciscan religious named Sister Alicia Torres.

Secular Website Slate.com was a surprising fan:

 

So here’s to more nuns on screen! I have no idea if it’s good for the Catholic Church, but it’s great for TV. In the end, the latest star sister won for her dishes including sweet potato hash and a turkey quesadilla with green bean salsa. “One of my gifts is creativity,” Torres told the camera, adding that competition is a good thing because it helps us move “from where we are to where we could be.” Clad in the simple habit of her Franciscan order, she never stopped smiling.

Learn more about her:

The LEGO Batman Movie (2014) — Wednesday, 8 p.m., HBO

According to reviewer Steven Greydanus, a Catholic deacon, this one isn’t quite the equal of “The LEGO Movie” (airing tomorrow night), but it’s got good points.

He said:

The movie’s best idea, almost its only idea, is that Batman’s super-cool aura of awesomeness, toughness and invincibility masks an underlying social isolation and fear of emotional connection and vulnerability. In spite of his reputation as the greatest superhero of all, he’s actually so cluelessly self-absorbed and lacking in empathy that he’s not a full-fledged good guy at all.

There’s the same sort of group-hug ending as The Lego Movie, with Batman learning a valuable lesson, like Mr. Incredible over a dozen years ago, about how people need each other and you can’t just work alone because you’re afraid of losing people.

The LEGO Movie (2014) — Thursday, 8 p.m., Nickelodeon

Deacon Greydanus just loved it

Here is something I didn’t see coming: The freshest, most unique animated family film from any Hollywood studio in well over a year is … based on a line of brightly colored plastic construction blocks and assorted accessories. I’m not kidding!

Perhaps I can put it this way: The Lego Movie does everything you expect a movie like this to do, but it also does a great deal you don’t expect, subverting clichés, taking roads less traveled and even tiptoeing into theological wonder. Still not kidding!

There might even bit a hint of faith, said Greydanus:

Toward the end, there’s an intriguing twist that pays off scattered references to “the Man Upstairs.” One of the characters has a transcendent experience of a larger world of powers and principalities he can hardly fathom.

Happy viewing, and we’ll see you again with 5 for Friday, to get you through the weekend with sanctity and sanity intact (at least in terms of TV viewing).

Image: Courtesy Warner Bros. Entertainment

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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5 for Friday: ‘Ghostbusters,’ ‘Tanked,’ ‘Cake Boss,’ ‘Toy Story,’ ‘The Incredibles’

Toy Story

The 5 for Friday edition of our family-suitable programming guide is back, with ghosts, Sharks, Toys, cake and superheroes!

Without further ado (all times Eastern; check local listings for time and channel in your area):

Ghostbusters (1984) — Friday, 7 p.m., AMC

The supernatural comedy — starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson as paranormal experts battling a spectral invasion of New York City — is not only hilariously funny but also full of witty but respectful faith references and characters.

Don’t believe me, watch for the priests, rabbis and nuns — and the Archbishop of New York. As for references, here’s just a sample from a compilation I wrote in 2016 (click here for the whole thing):

At a bit past the one-hour mark, Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and new Ghostbuster Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) are riding in the group’s converted Cadillac ambulance:

Zeddmore: Hey, Ray, do you believe in God?

Stantz: Never met Him.

Zeddmore: Well, I do, and I love Jesus’ style. Do you remember something in the Bible about the Last Days, when the dead will rise from the grave?

Stantz: I remember Revelations 7:12: And I looked, as he opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became as black as sackcloth, and the moon became as blood.

Zeddmore: And the seas boiled, and the skies fell.

Stantz: Judgment Day

Zeddmore: Judgment Day

Stantz: Every ancient religion has its own myth about the end of the world.

Zeddmore: Myth? Ray, has it ever occurred to you that maybe the reason we’ve been so busy lately is that the dead have been rising from the grave?

And my favorite, after a giant manifestation stomps on St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray) says:

“Nobody steps on a church in my town!”

Amen!

Tanked: Shark Tank in the Shark Tank — Friday, 9 p.m., Animal Planet

Wayde King and Brett Raymer of ATM (Acrylic Tank Manufacturing) head to the SAP Center in San Jose, California, home to the San Jose Sharks pro hockey team. Because of this, it’s nicknamed “The Shark Tank.”

Here’s a bit from the San Jose Mercury-News on what they installed in the VIP area:

The 17-foot long aquarium is filled with teal-tinged decor, with Sharks logos, hockey sticks and a goalie mask reminding the aquatic entertainers they’re not in the ocean anymore. There’s even a mini version of the Sharks head that the players skate out from every game. Designed and installed by Las Vegas-based Acrylic Tank Manufacturing, it’ll be featured on an episode of the Animal Planet series, “Tanked,” this fall.

For budding marine biologists, the species in the tank include epaulette sharks, horned sharks, bamboo sharks and even a catshark. They’re all really little guys right now, but they’ll grow to be about 3 feet long, much bigger than the tangs, triggerfish and other fish in the aquarium. At Thursday’s unveiling, though, mascot S.J. Sharkie dwarfed them all.

And they don’t just make fish tanks!

Toy Story (1995) — Saturday, 5:20 p.m. Freeform; Toy Story 2 (1999) — Saturday 7:20 p.m., Freeform

If you’ve got a kiddie party or a sleepover, Freeform accommodates with a mini-marathon featuring the beloved Pixar film “Toy Story” and its sequel, “Toy Story 2.”

Cake Boss: Home Runs, Rabbit Holes and Quinceaneras — Saturday 8 p.m., TLC

In this new episode featuring master baker Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, N.J., Buddy makes an “Alice in Wonderland” cake for a children’s theater; chief designer Mauro whips ups a vintage-baseball-themed cake for the Carlos Beltran Foundation; and a family needs a confection for a quinceanera celebration.

In this clip, Buddy’s daughter Sofia shows off her own baking skills:

The Incredibles (2004) — Sunday, 7 p.m. Disney

It’s hard to do better than this animated superhero hit. Just check out a snippet of a review from Catholic reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus of DecentFilms.com:
The Incredibles is exhilarating entertainment with unexpected depths. It’s a bold, bright, funny and furious superhero cartoon that dares to take sly jabs at the culture of entitlement, from the shallow doctrine of self-esteem that affirms everybody, encouraging mediocrity and penalizing excellence, to the litigation culture that demands recompense for everyone if anything ever happens, to the detriment of the genuinely needy.

Image: Courtesy Disney/Pixar

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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Your Childhood’s Calling: ‘Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie’ Coming Nov. 24 to Nickelodeon

For fans of Nickelodeon’s “Hey Arnold!”, giving thanks lasts an extra day.

On Friday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. ET/PT, on Nick, TeenNick and Nicktoons, “Hey Arnold!: The Jungle Movie” picks up where the beloved 1996-2004 Nickelodeon series left off.

Created by Craig Bartlett, the show centered on a fourth-grader named Arnold, who lived with his grandparents in an inner-city boarding house. Together with his friends — including street-smart Gerald and bully/secret admirer Helga — Arnold negotiated the challenges of city living.

In the movie (full details here), co-written and executive produced by Bartlett, Arnold and his pals reunite on a class trip to the same jungle location where Arnold’s parents disappeared when he was a baby.

Take a look:

A lot of original fans of “Hey Arnold!” are now young adults, and those that are parents could share the show with their own little ones. According to an interview Bartlett did with the Huffington Post, a few things are different in the show, including:

Everybody’s grown up a bit:

“I said, ’Look we know we’re going to have to redesign everything from the ground up ― the characters, the backgrounds. Let’s make it so that a couple years have gone by ― a year or two, say ― so you can accept that the kids are a little older, they’ve gotten a little taller.’”

Arnold’s not actually wearing a kilt.

“That was kind of a gag between me and the designers,” Bartlett said of Arnold’s look. “Hey, maybe he’s still kind of wearing the same shirt, but he’s a little taller [in the new movie] and so now you can see more of his pants, so it’s not as kilt-like.

The saga of Pigeon Man continues.

In this scene, saddened by the destruction of his pigeon coop, Pigeon Man took his leave of Arnold.

But where did he go? Apparently some people were spreading rumors on the Internet that the Pigeon Man flying away was originally to be a suicide attempt. Bartlett says this emphatically is not true.

In the movie, we learn the Pigeon Man has taken up residence at Paris’ most famous Catholic cathedral.

Said Bartlett:

He’s basically living in Notre Dame taking care of pigeons in Paris. I was so annoyed about that rumor that I specifically put him in “The Jungle Movie” to know that he’s alive and well and in Paris.

So, is “Hey Arnold!” good for Christian kids?

If you’re worried about the content in “Hey Arnold!” — which did deal with some of the realities of city life — here’s what apologist Jimmy Akin said at Catholic review site Decent Films had to say about a 2002 feature-film (not TV-movie) version of the show:

Nickelodeon’s animated “Hey Arnold!” TV series, created by the Snee-Oosh animation house, is one of the better cartoon shows around.

It is entertaining in a low-key, kid-friendly mode, yet also far more psychologically complex than most cartoons. With its ensemble cast of quirky characters and its visual conceits — such as Arnold’s football-shaped head — it offers a stylized look at the human condition in a way that is both whimsical and grounded in reality.

Finally, Arnold himself is a great kid: decent, respectful, down to earth, and full of common sense. In his neighborhood full of eccentrics and kooky characters, Arnold is the calm eye in the hurricane — a fourth-grade Andy Griffith in the Big City. In fact, like Andy Griffith, Arnold spends much of his time solving the problems of those around him. (For more on this commendable series, see my related piece.)

The return of “Hey Arnold!”?

And there might even be a new series, as Bartlett shared at Comic-Con:

“[In season six] they would be in sixth grade and so on, and we would just watch them grow. Maybe eventually they’d even become teenagers.”

So, grown-up ’90s kids, are you going to share “Hey Arnold!” with your kids?

Image: Courtesy Nickelodeon

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

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3 for Tuesday: Great Barrier Reef, Cheetah Cubs and an Aquatic Motorcycle

In this edition of our biweekly family-viewing guide, we’ve got sea creatures, little cheetahs and a motorcycle that thinks it’s a boat.

The Great Barrier Reef — Tuesday, 8 p.m., Animal Planet

Now that winter’s closing in, what better time to take a trip to the shore with this two-hour 2012 documentary, a co-production of the BBC and Animal Planet.

From Animal Planet:

Earth’s largest living structure is also home to the most magical marine environment on the planet, and the Great Barrier Reef, a series of interconnected habitats harboring Earth’s most exotic creatures, spans more than 1,200 miles and is so large it can be seen from space. Animal Planet presents a two-hour special GREAT BARRIER REEF, which takes viewers beneath the Coral Sea and provides an inside look at this ever-changing natural miracle that’s abundant with stunning, untouched islands, coral cays and spectacular marine life.

 

Nature: The Cheetah Children, Wednesday, 8 p.m., PBS

From PBS:

Life on the African plains is a constant struggle, and for a single mother rearing her offspring, the odds seem to be stacked against them. This is an inspiring tale about motherhood and family, as we follow a cheetah family on the grasslands through the eyes of conservationist and cameraman Kim Wolhuter. The mother is completely on her own, protecting her five newborn cubs and teaching them how to hunt some of the continent’s fastest game. Watch as the inquisitive cubs explore the world around them and discover their place in the forests of Zimbabwe. Over time, two sister cubs survive and develop into brave and successful predators ensuring their species will give birth to another generation.

The film will be available to stream the following day via pbs.org/nature and PBS OTT apps.

Mythbusters: Men, Women and Motorcycles — Thursday, 8 p.m., Discovery

It’s a full night busted, with a three-hour episode of the show in which special-effects experts Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage and their team run experiments to see whether things we believe to be true actually ARE true.

From Discovery:

Jamie puts his life on the line to test the myth that a motorcycle traveling at highway speeds can drive across the surface of a lake. The Mythbusters also test out gendered cliches, and then test bathroom cleanliness with public bathroom stalls.

Image: Courtesy PBS

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.