Category: Family Movies & Television

‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ returning to PBS KIDS — and Amazon Prime Video

If you love big dogs and good children’s programming, you’re going to love what landed in my inbox. Scholastic Entertainment’s TV version of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” — based on Normal Bridwell’s classic children’s books — is returning to PBS Kids with new episodes, which will also stream on Amazon Prime Video.

From the inbox:

As beloved TV shows from the ’90s and ’00s find new life (and new audiences) in series revivals across platforms and networks, Scholastic Entertainment today announced the biggest reboot of all: the relaunch of its multiple Emmy-winning preschool series Clifford The Big Red Dog. Based on the best-selling Scholastic book series by Norman Bridwell featuring the larger-than-life dog and his best friend Emily Elizabeth, the reimagined animated series will launch on Amazon Prime Video and PBS KIDS in fall 2019. The series is currently in production for 39 episodes.

Scholastic Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Producer of the new series Iole Lucchese believes there is good reason Clifford has captured children’s imaginations for over 50 years. “There is something enduring in Clifford’s gentle, loyal spirit that touches fans even after they become adults,” she said. “We see it in tributes on social media and in fan art, and of course, in every parent who grew up with Clifford and now shares their love of him with their preschoolers. Clifford has always helped children understand their world and face challenges with kindness and understanding, life lessons he’ll continue to share in the new series.”

“Not only will the new Clifford The Big Red Dog series feature an expanded world and bigger adventures, it will introduce all-new designs for main characters Clifford and Emily Elizabeth, original songs and new friends,” said series producer Caitlin Friedman, the VP & General Manager of Scholastic Entertainment. “To accompany the launch of the new show, Scholastic Entertainment is developing a global publishing, broadcast, merchandise and licensing program to help further extend the positive messages of the brand to children and families around the globe.”

Although still set on Birdwell IslandClifford The Big Red Dog will offer fresh and colorful new locations. The rebooted show will also have a strong emphasis on social-emotional skills such as empathy, along with a solid curriculum designed to boost early literacy and encourage imaginative play – teaching as it entertains with Clifford-sized humor.

Clifford The Big Red Dog is produced by Scholastic Entertainment. 100 Chickens and 9 Story/Brown Bag Films are on board to help bring this great big series to life.

Here’s what Common Sense Media has to say about “Clifford”:

Parents need to know that Clifford the Big Red Dog is chock-full of positive lessons and likable characters — and may remind parents of their own childhood fascination with Clifford. Kids are often magnetically drawn to stories about Clifford because he’s the magical pet every child wishes for. The series is full of educational messages on social, emotional, and physical matters.

Common Sense Media recommends “Clifford” for ages three ad up, and gives it five out of five stars.

Good Dog!

Here’s an episode from the original series:

Image: Courtesy Scholastic 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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Saint Pope John Paul II at the Movies (Plus ‘The Princess Bride’)

Jon Voight as Pope John Paul II

Saint Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) was a towering figure in many ways. He was physically strong and vital; he was a dynamic speaker; he was the first non-Italian pope in a long time; he stood against modernism and Communism; he survived violence and oppression to stare down violence and oppression; he generated love from without and within.

He’s also a tragic hero — in that his body failed him by increments in front of the whole world, reducing the former hiker and skier to a stooped figure who could barely move or speak. At the same time, the Church he loved and led was torn apart by darkness from within in the last years of his life, when he was significantly weakened.

In short, if you had to invent a pope made for a dramatic story, you couldn’t do better than than the former Karol Józef Wojtyła of Poland.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that his life and papacy have been dramatized several times, by both American and European producers. Here’s a rundown of some of the ones worth watching.

“Pope John Paul II” (1984)

British actor Albert Finney (in his U.S. TV debut) plays the pope in a CBS TV movie that follows him from his early days as an actor in Poland to being elected pope. Writer Christopher Knopf received a 1985 WGA (Writers Guild of America) Award nomination for his screenplay.

And, here’s the whole thing:

“Karol: A Man Who Became Pope” (2005)

Produced during John Paul II’s lifetime — and seen and praised by both the film’s subject and by his successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI — the European TV miniseries stars Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk as the young Karol Wojtyla, as he survives World War II to become a priest, a bishop, a cardinal and eventually pontiff.

It was set to be released in early April 2005, but was delayed until later in the month by the pope’s death on April 2 at the age of 84 (a bit over a month shy of his 85th birthday).

It was successful enough to generate a sequel, “Karol: The Pope, the Man,” which came out in 2006.

Writes film reviewer and Catholic deacon, Stephen Greydanus:

Even before production began, the Holy Father met with Polish actor Piotr Adamczyk, who plays him in the film, jokingly telling him, “You are crazy to make a film about me.” After the completed film was screened privately for the Pope, Vatican press spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls described John Paul II as “very impressed” with the portrayal. Then, following a subsequent Vatican screening the day after what would have been the Pope’s 85th birthday, Benedict XVI addressed “a word of admiration” to the director and star, offering some moral reflections on the film’s portrayals of the inhumanity of the Nazi era of Wojtyla’s youth.

Again, here’s the whole thing:

“Pope John Paul II” (2005)

After airing in the Vatican in November 2005 and then on Italian TV, this CBS TV miniseries hit U.S. airwaves in December of that year. British actor Cary Elwes (a Catholic) plays the young Karol Wojtyla, with American actor Jon Voight (also a Catholic) taking over when the Polish cardinal becomes pope.

The new Pope Benedict XVI saw the film. From a CBS News story at the time:

When Pope Benedict screened the mini-series, Voight was sitting near him. “I was able to watch him a little bit, sneak a look… I could see he was moved by it and stuff. It was quite an experience.”

Afterwards, the pope greeted Voight in Italian, probably because the movie had been dubbed in that language for the Italian audience at the screening. Voight doesn’t speak Italian.

“You can see he’s very warm and everything. I could get the words he was talking about. Very sweet.”

As for Pope John Paul II, Voight said, “I really always thought he was such a man of grace and such a moral force. Good guy. Very good guy.”

Elwes is well-known for his role as Wesley in the cult favorite “The Princess Bride,” and apparently the pontiff he was to play was a fan.

From a 2014 New York Post story:

Elwes briefly met His Holiness at the Vatican in 1988, a year after the movie was released. After posing for a quick photo, the pontiff turned to the actor and asked if he was the one from “The Princess and the Bride.” (Infallible, my backside.)

Elwes was so startled, he could barely speak. “Yes,” he answered.

“Very good film. Very funny,” the pope said.

“I mean, what are the chances of that?” Elwes tells The Post. “‘Inconceivable’ was what went through my mind.”

As for the miniseries itself, Greydanus wrote:

Reverent, respectful, well acted and well-paced, Pope John Paul II does about as good a job at covering both halves of its subject’s life as could be hoped for in a TV movie. The miniseries neatly splits its two nights between the pre-election Karol Wojtyla and the reign of Pope John Paul II, with Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) playing Wojtyla from his youth to the 1978 conclave and Jon Voight (Holes) playing John Paul II from the conclave to his 2005 death.

Both actors do a remarkably good job at evoking the speech, style and physical presence of this most media-exposed of popes. Elwes particularly excels at projecting Wojtyla’s formidable intellect and passion, and Voight is especially good at realizing the Holy Father’s pastoral spirit and iron resolve. Both actors effectively tackle the physicality of the role, Elwes energetic and athletic as the younger Wojtyla and Voight giving an impressively controlled performance from the vigor of the early years of the papacy through the slow decline to that painful final public appearance when all the pope’s immense willpower could not coax speech from his throat.

Unfortunately, the whole movie is not on YouTube. Here’s a trailer:

But, you can buy it from Ignatius Press or from Amazon.com.

“Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism”

Of more recent vintage is this documentary, produced by Ignatius Press. Narrated by “The Passion of the Christ” star Jim Caviezel, it can be streamed or purchased at Amazon.com and several other platforms (see here).

George Weigl wrote at First Things:

It took me nineteen years of research and three books (The Final RevolutionWitness to Hope, and The End and the Beginning) to do what executive producer Carl Anderson and writer/director David Naglieri have done in ninety-three minutes of gripping videography and marvelous graphics: explain how and why John Paul played a pivotal, indeed indispensable, role in the greatest drama of the last quarter of the twentieth century, the collapse of European communism. In doing so, they make us think hard, again, about how this miraculous liberation took place—something no one expected on October 16, 1978, when a little-known Polish cardinal, who styled himself the pope “from a far country,” was presented on the central loggia of St. Peter’s as the new Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis is well on his way to being put into as many TV specials and documentaries as Saint Pope John Paul II, while no great dramas have yet to be announced concerning the life of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

One suspects he’s fine with that.

Image: Courtesy CBS

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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‘The Twilight Zone’: Not Even the Devil Escaped Rod Serling’s Imagination

It’s May 11, a k a #TwilightZoneDay, and if you’ve never seen this classic TV series in its original 1960s incarnation, all the episodes are available at CBS All Access (and there’s a lot sprinkled across YouTube).

It was a generally secular show, but with a very definite moral core and point of view, largely due to its creator, voice and on-screen host, Rod Serling. A decorated World War II veteran and amateur boxer, Serling was raised in a Jewish household, but converted to Unitarianism to marry his wife, Carol.

He was a fearless and talented writer, who often clashed with network and studio heads over his willingness to take on controversial subjects. In “The Twilight Zone,” which originally ran from 1959 to 1964, Serling introduced and closed out the episodes, which employed excellent writers, directors and actors.

Many of the stories had science-fiction and horror themes, often used as vehicles to explore contemporary issues of politics, racism, war and even faith.

One, called “The Howling Man,” dealt specifically with a monastery where Satan is kept prisoner, and how and why he is set free.

Here’s a review:

OK, so they did a show about the Devil, but why should Catholics watch “The Twilight Zone”? I’ve gathered comments from some folks on that very subject.

From the “Why I Am Catholic” blog, in a post called “Thanks to Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone”:

Whole fan sites are devoted to analyzing the moral messages and twist endings of Serling’s Twilight Zone tales. One theme of all the episodes I have viewed is Serling’s view that human beings must connect with one another. And that all humans have equal value. According to his wife, Rod Serling often said that “the ultimate obscenity is not caring, not doing something about what you feel, not feeling! Just drawing back and drawing in; becoming narcissistic.”

This care for others certainly is a value we hope we are nurturing in our children. As Pope Benedict XVI says: “The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbor is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbor or hate him altogether. Saint John’s words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbor is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbor also blinds us to God.”

On the same subject, from The Catholic World Report, in a story called “The Battle Against the Devil Is Still Being Fought Today”:

It’s the devil that’s in dire straits—imprisoned—in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episode, “The Howling Man”, an allegorical story that depicts a Satan captured and imprisoned to curtail the wickedness he inflicts on man. The devil eventually escapes by exploiting the weakest human link, exactly the manner in which he relentlessly works on the conscience of each human being.

From “The American Catholic,” talking about an episode called “The Night of the Meek”:

Originally broadcast on December 23, 1960, the Twilight Zone episode Night of the Meek features Art Carney as a drunken Department Store Santa with a big heart who substitutes for Santa on Christmas. Rod Serling sums up the message:

A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards. There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas and there’s a special power reserved for little people. In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.

Here’s a quick summary:

And from Catholic-homeschool-focused Seton Magazine (as in Mother Ann Seton), in a post called “12 Reasons You Should Watch ‘The Twilight Zone'”: 

The Twilight Zone takes us into the mind of Rod Serling, who was an underrated observer of human nature and culture in the Twentieth Century. That is reason enough the watch the show, but the stories are top notch.

I am always searching for movies with a good message, because without a good message, movies and shows must succeed purely on the level of entertainment, and most shows fail on that level. The Twilight Zone succeeded brilliantly on both counts.

The final episode of The Twilight Zone may have aired over fifty years ago, but many of its observations are, as Serling might say, “as timeless as infinity.” You might even say it has many Catholic elements. As I watched the show as a child, most of these elements escaped me, but now I understand the deep level of significance that Serling was after.

So if you’re looking for a new show to devote your time to, you aren’t likely find a better one. As J. J. Abrams, one of today’s finest directors, said: “The Twilight Zone at its best is better than anything else I’ve ever seen on television.”

Here’s a rundown of some top installments:

Happy #TwilightZoneDay!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

‘The Baxters’: Production Underway on Roma Downey’s Online Series

Production is underway in Los Angeles on “The Baxters,” a scripted family drama set to premiere late this year on Roma Downey’s LightWorkers platform.

Based on “The Baxter Family” 26-book series by Karen Kingsbury, the streaming series of six half-hour episodes stars Downey and Ted McGinley (“God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness”) as the heads of a family with six adult children.

From Variety:

“We have assembled a talented cast and creative team to lead ‘The Baxters,’ LightWorkers’ first premium scripted digital series,” said Downey who is president of LightWorkers Media. “We look forward to bringing this beloved story to life for a whole new audience.”

LightWorkers Media, the company behind the uplifting, positivity-focused platform, is a joint venture of MGM TV, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, who’s also the head of MGM TV and Digital. Downey is producing “The Baxters” with Will Packer (“Uncle Buck,” the new “Roots”) and his Will Packer Media shingle.

But you don’t have to wait to enjoy the other fare offered at LightWorkers (click here), which recently included a feature story on our feature-length documentary “The Dating Project.” After a one-night run in theaters across the country on April 17, it’s set to come out on DVD in June, and perhaps then on a digital streaming service.

Image: Courtesy LightWorkers

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.

Father Mike Schmitz on ‘The Dating Project’ and ‘The Culture of Netflix and Chill’

Father Mike Schmitz

Word is beginning to circulate about the new documentary “The Dating Project,” in which Family Theater Productions has partnered with Paulist Productions and MPower Pictures. Hitting theaters around the country on Tuesday, April 17, as a one-night Fathom Event, it follows five singles — two in college, and one twentysomething, thirtysomething and fortysomething — trying to find love in today’s dismal dating culture.

There are Christians in it — and the L.A.-based participant, Chris Meehan, is Catholic — but this is a universal problem, and the documentary is, as the tagline says, for every single person.

We recommend buying tickets in advance, and taking as many friends, relatives, co-workers, teammates, shipmates and roommates as you can, because, if this isn’t your problem, it’s a problem for someone you care about.

Just go to TheDatingProjectMovie.com for information on a theater in your area and to buy tickets.

People of faith may decry the state of secular dating, but as this article from the managing editor of CatholicMatch.com says, we’re no better at it than anyone else.

Honestly, as I see it, the problem with all three scenarios above is the same: people just don’t know how to date. Non-Catholics don’t know how to date. “Normal” Catholics don’t know how to date. And Extra-Catholic Catholics don’t know how to date.

Plus, add to this the fact that dating is not an end in itself — marriage is. Dating is a means to an end. But you have to use that means well and stay right in the middle between two extremes: dating just to fill the loneliness versus hardly ever dating because you think you need to get engaged after the first two dates.

And that’s what “The Dating Project” is all about. It’s based on the work of a Catholic professor at Boston College, Dr. Kerry Cronin, who is trying to restore sanity to a situation in which it’s somehow less awkward to engage in a drunken hookup with a near-total stranger than to ask someone out for coffee face-to-face.

It’s also something that vlogger and speaker Father Mike Schmitz — whose day job is ministering to students at the University of Minnesota Duluth — addresses in his latest video, released today. Inspired by seeing “The Dating Project,” he attacks the culture of “Netflix and chill,” which means anything but watching Netflix and relaxing (unless Father Mike says it).

The film is suitable for middle-schoolers (with their parents) and older. There is a discussion of pornography, but it is not graphic (and if you think your kids don’t know what that is … well, I hope you’re right).

Hope to see you all there. And if you’re looking for lasting love, throw up a prayer that we can all #DateDifferently.

Image: Courtesy Father Mike Schmitz/The Dating Project

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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As Faith Films Rise, The Christopher Awards Honor Uplifting Movies, TV and Books

“The Star”: Courtesy AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation

Just in the last month, the faith-based drama “I Can Only Imagine,” which cost $7M to produce, has earned over $58M at the box office. This past Easter Sunday, NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” earned both good reviews and won primetime for the night.

To put it mildly, Hollywood is a bit surprised. From Entertainment Weekly:

“There is this mainstream bubble that is marginalizing these types of films, and we do underestimate them,” explains comScore’s senior media analyst (and box office expert) Paul Dergarabedian, adding that the Easter holiday could inspire countless droves of parishioners to plop down cash at the multiplex at the request of their religious leaders. “The faith-based films may be bolstered by perhaps the most grassroots of all movie marketing, which is at the church level. It’s like having a watercooler discussion at work, but you’re having a watercooler discussion in front of a church. You can imagine that, on Easter Sunday, when the leader of the flock is up there [giving a] sermon, it might be about going to see [a movie like the upcoming Jim Caviezel film] Paul, Apostle of Christ.”

“It’s a mistake to underestimate faith-based movies,” Dergarabedian concludes. “Just because you’re not seeing it in your own backyard, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

But if one looks, Christian values can be found in many places, including both faith-based projects and secular ones. The purpose of the annual Christopher Awards is to recognize these efforts.

First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” Their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively. Award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others.

All the 2018 awards can be found here.

From The Christophers ‘ Director of Communications Tony Rossi, the producer and writer of the annual awards:

In a world where there’s a lot of anger and division, people need stories like those we’re honoring with Christopher Awards this year. From heroism in war to ordinary acts of kindness, these stories can serve as instruments of grace, helping us to see beyond our differences and celebrate our common humanity.

Here are the TV and film winners …

Broadcast TV & Cable:

ABC News 20/20:Wonder Boy follows the Newman family as they deal with their son Nathaniel’s rare cranio-facial condition called Treacher Collins, the brutal surgeries he must endure as a result, and their efforts to help the world see his beautiful heart, mind, and soul.

The mini-series The Long Road Home (National Geographic Channel) dramatizes the 2004 ambush of the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division as they started peacekeeping duties in Sadr City, Iraq, the anxieties of their families back home, and the sacrifice and heroism of ordinary soldiers.

In The Christmas Miracle, an episode of the long-running comedy series The Middle (ABC), Frankie Heck’s [played by Catholic star Patricia Heaton] adult son Axl refuses to attend church with the family on Christmas Eve, causing her to confront her own lackluster spirituality and recognize the importance of connecting with God.

The Music of Strangers (HBO) celebrates the unique sounds and individuals that make up cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa, who blend their musical cultures in order to build bridges in a divided world.

POV: Swim Team (PBS) highlights Michael and Maria Quay’s efforts to give their son and other young people with autism the opportunity to achieve goals and gain confidence by channeling their energies into sports in an inclusive and encouraging environment.

Feature films:

With a Nazi invasion of England imminent, newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill [Academy Award-winner Gary Oldman] must rally his unprepared nation and fellow members of Parliament to fight for liberty and freedom in Darkest Hour (Focus Features).

A rebellious and insecure teen, who has a contentious relationship with her mother, strives for independence and experiences moments of grace due to the subtle, unrealized influences of her Catholic education in Lady Bird (A24 Films).

A brave donkey, lovable sheep, and wisecracking dove make up the merry band of misfits on a divine mission to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth in the animated Nativity story The Star (AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation).

Asked by FTP for a comment, “The Star’s” Catholic director, Timothy Reckart, said: “All of us on the team are very grateful to Sony Pictures Animation for giving us the opportunity to retell the Nativity story in a playful, original way, and we are thrilled that the Christopher Awards has honored our efforts.”

Last but not least:

Based on the Christopher Award-winning bestseller, Wonder (Lionsgate) tells the story of a 10-year-old boy, born with facial deformities, who enters a mainstream school for the first time and teaches his classmates and community about compassion, acceptance, and the power of kindness.

The 69th annual Christopher Awards will be handed out in New York City on May 17.

Image: Courtesy AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation

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.