Category: Family Movies & Television

5 Family-Friendly Series and Films About Horses (Plus Two Bonus Films!)

Free Rein

It may be the dog days of August, but we’re talking horses. After all, we had another Triple Crown winner this year with Justify, and the annual Thoroughbred-racing season is well underway at the historic Saratoga Springs Racecourse in my hometown in upstate New York. So, let’s get horsey — take it away, guest blogger Adrienne Thorne!

…Kate O’Hare (editor)

When it comes to non-animated fare, it might feel like there’s just not a lot out there that you can watch with your kids. There’s one little sub-genre, though, that I’ve found to be refreshingly clean, on the whole. That sub-genre is horse drama.

My kids happen to love watching shows and movies that have lots of “horsies” in them. And I’ll admit that sometimes these types of shows and movies do run a little on the cheesy side, or a lot on the cheesy side in some cases. But here are five picks that are actually pretty entertaining.

Heartland

This 11-season Canadian horse drama is about a teenage girl who loses her mother and decides to carry on her mom’s work of rehabilitating damaged, untrainable horses. There’s lots of family and relationship drama, plenty of storylines revolving around problems with the horses, and an abundance positive values.

On the downside, it’s a bit cheesy here and there (especially the first season — but it gets quite a bit better later on!), and the later seasons tend toward the edgier end of the PG spectrum, with occasional discussion of things like unwed pregnancy and substance abuse — though it’s all treated in a pretty family-friendly way.

“Heartland” is currently streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Free Rein

This Netflix original series is about a 15-year-old American girl who spends the summer on an English island with some family and discovers her natural ability with horses.

I have to admit that I started watching this G-rated series expecting it to be unwatchably cheesy, but I was pleasantly surprised. There’s a bit of silliness here and there, and definitely more cute teenaged boys crushing on the heroine than feels realistic, but over all it’s not bad.

Mister Ed

I remember watching this B&W comedy series about a talking horse named Mister Ed when I was a small child. And as a parent now, I can definitely see why my parents let me. Like most comedy shows of the late 50s and early 60s, this one is pretty clean. And littler kids will probably get a real kick out of the fact that that palomino horse is talking!

“Mister Ed” is currently streaming on Hulu.

Cowgirls ‘N Angels

This is one of those little movies that look like they could be pretty hit or miss quality-wise, but it’s not bad at all. It’s a PG drama about a feisty pre-teen girl whose unknown father is a rodeo star. Without ever really intending to follow in his footsteps, she discovers she has a knack for riding and begins training with a trick-riding team.

Cowgirls ’N Angels is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Harry & Snowman

If something educational is more your taste, you might enjoy this documentary about a post-World War II Dutch immigrant who bought a horse bound for the glue factory and trained him into an elite jumper. The film takes a look at their training process, the surprising victories they went on to achieve, and the bond between man and horse.

“Harry & Snowman” is streaming on Netflix right now.

And a bonus from the editor — since I’m a huge Thoroughbred-racing fan, I couldn’t close this out without including two of my favorite films in the genre: 2010’s “Secretariat,” about racing’s second “Big Red” and the 1973 Triple Crown winner (after a 25-year drought), which is on Amazon Prime and Netflix; and 2003’s “Seabiscuit,” about the legendary underdog champion of the Great Depression, available on Amazon Prime, HBO GO and HBO NOW.

“Secretariat” is PG and suitable for all audiences; “Seabiscuit” is PG-13, for some mature themes, and is probably best for middle-schoolers and up.

And my favorite bit from “Secretariat,” featuring a gospel arrangement of a classic hymn:

Images: Courtesy Netflix

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.

Bishop Barron’s ‘Catholicism’ Marks 10 Years With Video and Free Online Screening

A decade ago, then-Father Robert Barron started filming his acclaimed “Catholicism” series, which premiered in the fall of 2011 on PBS, and has since gone on to become one of the most beloved and acclaimed presentations about the Faith.

Available on DVD and online, “Catholicism” not only became a mainstream media phenomenon but a catechetical one as well, with many Catholic educators using the show to teach both children and adults.

Emphasizing the scope, history, beauty and faces of the Church past and present, “Catholicism” set a gold standard for portraying the Catholic Church in the mainstream media. Beautifully shot all around the world and carefully researched, it’s leagues beyond many sensational popular documentaries and movies that often trivialize, sensationalize or outright misrepresent the Church, her teachings and her history.

From the original press release for the PBS debut:

“The filming of the Catholicism series was one of the most exciting and rewarding periods of my life,” said Fr. Barron. “Our team traveled the globe to capture some of the beauty, truth, and texture of Catholicism. I am thrilled that people across the country will have the opportunity to share in the series,  and I hope to engage the imaginations of both Catholics and non-Catholics.“

“This series changed the way I think and act. The global settings were stunning, but it was Fr. Barron s brilliant insights on life s most challenging issues that shook me to the core,’ admitted [executive producer and filmmaker] Mike Leonard. “Whatever your belief or background, there is much to gain from this deep and profound excursion into spirituality, logic and the human experience,” he added.

In this sweeping documentary, Father Barron tells the story of Catholicism around the world using art, architecture, literature, music and all the riches of the Catholic tradition. The production crew travels to some of the most magnificent and sacred sites in Jerusalem, Rome, Krakow, Warsaw, New York, Istanbul, Ephesus, Lourdes, Mexico City, Athens, Corinth, Mexico City, Uganda, Manila, Sao Paolo, Auschwitz, Kolkata, Philadelphia, Chicago, and beyond.

The team was granted exclusive access to film privately in many locations inaccessible to the general public. Highlights include some of the world s architectural and artistic masterpieces and most sacred places: The Dome of The Rock, the Hagia Sophia, the tomb of Mother Teresa, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, rare views of the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Pope’s private gardens, Chartres, Notre Dame, and Cologne Cathedrals, as well as one of the largest religious celebrations on the planet, the feast of the Ugandan martyrs.

To mark the occasion, now-Bishop Barron and executive producer Steve Grunow of Barron’s Word on Fire apostolate have released this video:

Word on Fire has also made the whole 10-part series free for viewing online for a limited time.

Click here to learn more.

Images: Courtesy Word on Fire

 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.

Family Theater Productions Partners on NEXT LEVEL, Featuring Teen Social Stars

Lauren Orlando (left) and other NEXT LEVEL stars read the movie’s script at the Family Theater Productions offices.

Family Theater Productions serves a youth audience with our Catholic Central online series, and now we’re moving out to an even wider swath of teens with Next Level, a new film described as “‘Fame’ meets ‘High School Musical.'”

Currently filming in Los Angeles, Next Level features several young performers with sizable social followings. Lauren Orlando (@laurenorlando on Twitter; @laurenorlando88 on Instagram) and Emily Skinner (“Andi Mack”) star as two teen girls competing for the final top spot at an intensive summer performing arts program.

Entertainment-news site Deadline.com noticed, writing:

Dance Moms alum Chloe Lukasiak, social media star Lauren Orlando, and Emily Skinner (Andi Mack) are set to star in YA dance feature, Next Level, along with Chloe East, Brooke Butler, Hayden Summerall, Will Simmon, and Ellarose Kaylor. The film is being directed by Ilyssa Goodman, producer of A Cinderella Story film series.

The script was written by Byron Kavanagh (Disney’s Gamer’s Guide to Pretty Much Everything and Nickelodeon’s Kickin” It). Kristi Kaylor and Lisa McGuire of The Loft Entertainment are producing the pic with exec producers Family Theater Productions and Beverly Hills Teddy Bear.

Below: Next Level stars gather to read the script …

Stars (from left) Ellarose Kaylor, Emily Skinner and Lauren Orlando read the NEXT LEVEL script at the Family Theater Productions offices.

Director Ilyssa Goodman (head of table) and executive producer Kristi Kaylor (right, laughing) read the NEXT LEVEL script with stars at the Family Theater Productions offices.

FTP Senior Producer Tony Sands oversees production on set in Los Angeles …

Images: Family Theater Productions

 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.

‘Masterpiece’: ‘Les Miserables,’ Jane Austen and Big-Screen ‘Downton Abbey’

Long a TV haven for beautifully produced drama — frequently, but not universally, suitable for middle-schoolers and up — PBS “Masterpiece” has more great literature and family drama in the pipeline.

Just don’t expect any of these to appear soon.

Let’s take a look …

“Les Miserables” (currently in production to air in 2019)

Victor Hugo’s classic novel has already been adapted into a hit musical, which also became a hit movie — both of which maintained the Catholic core of the 1862 story, which culminates in the 1832 anti-monarchist June Rebellion in Paris (not the French Revolution, that was from 1789-1799).

The six-part BBC/”Masterpiece” production stars Dominic West (“The Wire”) as Jean Valjean, whose minor misdeed runs him afoul of the authorities — especially the relentless policeman Javert (David Oyelowo). But the kindness of a bishop, which the desperate Valjean repays by stealing from him, sets Valjean on a winding path that ultimately leads to his transformation and redemption.

Also starring are Lily Collins as Fantine, whose child Valjean later adopts.

The writer is Andrew Davies, who has adapted many classic novels for the screen, including the BBC’s acclaimed 1995 version of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

The BBC has released some pictures. In order: Collins, West and Oyelowo.

Lily Collins as Fantine. Credit: BBC

 

Dominic West as Jean Valjean. Credit: BBC

 

David Oyelowo as Javert. Credit: BBC

“Sanditon” (begins filming in Spring 2019)

Andrew Davies is also adopting Jane Austen’s “Sanditon,” left unfinished at her death at the age of 41. He’s expanding the 11-chapter fragment into eight 60-minute episodes, produced by “Masterpiece” in partnership with ITV, and distributed by BBC Studios.

From PBS:

Written only months before Austen’s death in 1817, Sanditon tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming (and slightly wild!) Sidney Parker. When a chance accident transports her from her rural hometown of Willingden to the would-be coastal resort of the eponymous title, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success. The twists and turns of the plot, which take viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, expose the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love.

ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill commented: “It’s a rich, romantic, family saga built upon the foundations Jane Austen laid. There is no one better to adapt her unfinished novel than Andrew who has an incredible track record for bold and original adaptations. We’re delighted to commission Sanditon from Belinda Campbell and her team at Red Planet Pictures.”

And, said Davies on assuming the task of channeling Austen:

Jane Austen managed to write only a fragment of her last novel before she died – but what a fragment! Sanditon tells the story of the transformation of a sleepy fishing village into a fashionable seaside resort, with a spirited young heroine, a couple of entrepreneurial brothers, some dodgy financial dealings, a West Indian heiress, and quite a bit of nude bathing. It’s been a privilege and a thrill for me to develop Sanditon into a TV drama for a modern audience.

“Downton Abbey” (feature-film sequel planned; not in production yet)

All the major stars from “Masterpiece’s” megahit “Downton Abbey” are returning for the planned feature-film version, including Maggie Smith (Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham) — just confirmed by People on July 16; Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary Crawley); Laura Carmichael (Lady Edith Crawley); Joanne Froggatt (Anna Bates); Hugh Bonneville (Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham); and Elizabeth McGovern (Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham).

Directing is Brian Percival, who directed the series’ pilot; plot details are unknown. The writer is British Catholic Julian Fellowes, who’s also writing a 10-part series for NBC called “The Gilded Age.” Set in 1880s New York City, it follows the conflict as the city’s old-money families have to deal with a sudden influx of social-climbing nouveau riche.

Said Fellowes in the U.K. Guardian:

To write The Gilded Age is the fulfilment of a personal dream.

I have been fascinated by this period of American history for many years, and now NBC has given me the chance to bring it to a modern audience. I could not be more excited and thrilled.

The truth is, America is a wonderful country with a rich and varied history, and nothing could give me more pleasure than to be the person to bring that compelling history to the screen.

We’ll have to wait and see how many of these productions will be suitable for the whole family, but at least we know they’ll be intelligently written — and these days, that’s something.

Image: PBS/BBC

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.

‘God Bless the Broken Road’: Catholic Screenwriter Jennifer Dornbush’s Movie Releases a Trailer

This September, “God Bless the Broken Road” hits theaters, telling the faith-based story of a young wife struggling with her husband’s death in Afghanistan.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

In the film, a young mother (True Blood and Hatfields and McCoys‘ Lindsay Pulsipher) struggles to hold onto her faith as she raises her daughter (Steve Jobs‘ Makenzie Moss) in the wake of her husband’s death in Afghanistan.

In the preview, her character is heard saying, “I tried putting my faith in God. I don’t understand why he would do that to us. If he wants me, he knows where to find me.”

Meanwhile, her daughter is convinced a mustard seed she planted in Sunday school will grow and she meets one of the men who served alongside her husband (played by Arthur Cartwright), who tells her that her husband’s faith “gave him the courage to do the impossible.”

The cast also includes former NFL star LaDainian Tomlinson, Jordin Sparks and Andrew W. Walker.

Here’s the official trailer:

Director Harold Cronk (“God’s Not Dead”) is listed as one of the screenwriters, along with Catholic screenwriter, author and forensic specialist Jennifer Dornbursh.

Last year, Dornbush spoke at Family Theater Productions, and beforehand took a few minutes to sit down with us for an interview. Take a look:

Image: Courtesy 10 West Studios/A Really Good Home Pictures

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.

‘Last Man Standing’: Tim Allen Returns to America’s TVs on Sept. 28

Tim Allen returns to TV this fall — it’s ABC’s loss, and Fox’s (and America’s) gain.

TV networks are slowly realizing that if they want to be broadcasters — appealing to a broad audience — in an increasingly crowded marketplace of niche-programming suppliers, they’ll have to learn how to speak more to the middle of the country (or at least all those bits that aren’t major cities and university towns).

CBS has always kept a focus on that, but it’s been more of a challenge in recent years for the other three networks, who have worked harder appealing to young, hip and urban viewers.

With its cancellations of “The Middle” and its reboot of “Roseanne” (which is being reconfigured without its controversial star; we’ll see how that goes), ABC is having a particularly tough time. It didn’t help that the network also canceled Tim Allen’s popular comedy “Last Man Standing,” which ran from 2011 to 2017, despite high ratings.

The fall of the ax shocked Allen and his many loyal fans, who began with him in ABC’s “Home Improvement,” and came back to see him play Mike Baxter, a traditional man with conservative views, who works at a Denver sporting-goods store, and has a wife and three daughters at home.

The cancellation happened in part because the show is a production of Twentieth Century Fox Television, instead of one of ABC’s affiliated studios. But, Fox Broadcasting Company stepped in and picked up its sister studio’s show, which returns to the airwaves on Friday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Here’s how Allen reacted in a statement back in May:

“Excited? Team LMS was in the sixth inning, ahead by four runs, stands were packed, and then for no reason, they call off the game. It leaves you sitting in the dugout, holding a bat and puzzled. Now we get the news from Fox that it’s time to get back out on that diamond — hell yes, I’m excited!

When I heard the offer to create more episodes of Last Man Standing, I did a fist pump so hard I threw my back out. It’s the fans! I could not be more grateful for the fans who wrote petitions and kept up the passion and incredible support for the show. And a fist pump, ouch, for [Fox Television Group CEOs] Dana Walden and Gary Newman at Fox for not only listening to the fans, but for making the bold move to bring Last Man Standing back.

I’m sure audiences will be curious to see what we look like after all these years. Oh, has it only been one year? Well, just goes to show you — a lot can happen in a year.”

There will be some changes. Molly Ephraim and Flynn Morrison, who played Mike’s middle daughter Mandy and grandson Boyd, respectively, opted not to return. Both roles are being recast, but no word yet on the replacements (since production usually begins for the fall in July, they’d better hop to it).

The rest of the core cast is back, lead by Nancy Travis as Mike’s wife. Also on board is Hector Elizondo, whose competing pilot, “Guess Who Died,” got a pass from NBC. Show-runner/executive producer Kevin Abbott is also back.

“Last Man Standing” reflected Allen’s own conservative views, but it was known for presenting many different viewpoints.

From Tony Rossi of Catholic organization The Christophers:

One of the strengths of “Last Man Standing” is that it manages to give valid arguments to both its liberal and conservative characters. Not each one is right all the time – and it is a comedy so laughs are paramount – but the writers ably walk the fine line of political debate that still respects the humanity of its characters. In that sense, it’s a more successful entity than the United States Congress and many online comments threads. As a viewer, I appreciate the fact that I’m not being hammered with an agenda, but rather being told an entertaining story with some implicit relevance to today’s times.

The show is also faith-friendly. Mike Baxter is a churchgoer and a man of faith, as is Allen, in his own way.

Here’s Allen, who was raised an Anglican, in the transcript of an ABC News interview, quoted in this blog last June:

Allen’s father died when he was hit by a drunk driver when Allen was just 11. The comedian says that after that, he questioned whether if he had prayed harder or had been with his father that fatal day, he could have prevented his death.

“For years, I just did not like this idea of God, church,” he said. “(I was) still a churchgoer, but constantly a cynic.”

But the cynicism didn’t last. Today, he calls God, “The Builder.”

Allen also told Parade magazine that he and his second wife, actress Jane Hajduk — with whom he has a daughter — attend church on Sundays, and added:

On a philosophical level, I’m very religious. I call myself an intellectual Christian.

Here’s a Father’s Day video from last month with Allen, in character as Mike Baxter, talking about fathers and sons …

Image: Courtesy ABC/20th Century Fox Videos

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.