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Halloween for Kids: Monsters, Kratts, Cat in the Hat & Veggie Tales

Wild Kratts: Creepy Creatures

Halloween prep for most families is well underway. This holiday provides a lot of opportunity for family bonding through decorating, planning costumes, visiting the pumpkin patch and watching Halloween-themed programming. However, for little kids, much of the available content can be too scary. Because of that, we’re providing a handful of viewing options that even the youngest of children can enjoy without worry …

Brand New!

Super Monsters Save HalloweenNetflix, began streaming 10/5

Created this year with the low “scare-threshold” of little kids in mind, Super Monsters Save Halloween is a sweet 24-minute special about getting everyone into the Halloween spirit and understanding that there’s really nothing to be afraid of.

Wild Kratts Halloween Movie: Creepy Creatures – Online and at the PBS KIDS Video App, began streaming 10/22

In an all-new movie special, the Kratt Brothers find themselves trying to figure out the best way to celebrate Halloween. In true Wild Kratts fashion, they decide that discovering some new creepy creatures is the best idea. But along the way, they run into some trouble that threatens to ruin Halloween.

Also check out all-new Halloween episodes of Ready Jet Go (started streaming 10/15, and online) and Pinkalicious & Peterrific (started streaming 10/22, and online) on the PBS KIDS Video App.

Returning Favorites

Room on the BroomNetflix, Amazon Prime

A kind witch, with her cat in tow, is on her broom and in search of a few lost items. In this 25 minute movie (released in 2012, but based on the 2003 book by Julia Donaldson), the good witch offers rides to a dog, a bird and a frog, who help her along the way. Though her cat is annoyed, everyone learns the benefit of including others when all the creatures band together to overcome a serious obstacle.

The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About HalloweenAmazon Prime, the PBS KIDS Video App

First released in 2016, this one-hour special from the The Cat in the Hat Knows A lot About That! series, takes main characters Nick, Sally and their friend Fish on a crazy adventure (with mom’s permission!) to find Halloween costumes. Tackling the subject of being scared, the Martin Short-voiced Cat teaches the kids about its benefits and some antidotes too.

Religious Pick

VeggieTales: Where’s God When I’m ScaredYouTube

Though the animation is simplistic and will look dated to you, this VeggieTales episode provides a great lesson and a new game plan for young children who are having trouble dealing with the scary sights and sounds of Halloween and spooky things in general.

Here’s the whole thing:

Image: Courtesy PBS Kids

Korbi Ghosh Biggins is a former full-time TV blogger, writing for sites such as E! Online and Yahoo! She is now a full-time mom of twin boys. In her free time, she moonlights as a Marriage, Family & Individual Therapist.

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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.

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Ken Burns to Receive Christopher Life Achievement Award

Ken Burns may be America’s premiere documentarian, but he’s also one of its greatest storytellers, tackling, over a career spanning nearly four decades, such diverse subjects as the Civil and Vietnam Wars, baseball, jazz, national parks, cancer, Prohibition, the Roosevelts and radio.

He’s a mainstay of PBS, which gives a place of prominence to his elegant documentaries, some of which are (occasionally very) long series. They’re serious works on serious subjects, offering oral and visual histories based on interviews and research.

Now, The Christophers — founded by a Catholic priest and dedicated to encouraging people to make a positive difference in the world — are presenting Burns with The Christopher Life Achievement Award at the 69th annual Christopher Awards ceremony on May 17 (click here for info on the other winners).

Several of Burns’ projects have been honored with Christopher Awards, including “The Statue of Liberty,” “The Civil War,” “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,” “Jazz,” “Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip” and “The War.”

Interestingly enough, among the previous winners of The Christopher Life Achievement Award is author/historian David McCullough (“1776,” “John Adams”), who, in January 2017, also received the first Ken Burns American Heritage Prize, handed out by the American Prairie Reserve.

Said Burns at the time:

The Prize we present together to David acknowledges the historic role that the Great Plains played in helping to shape America’s character. It’s that same character, courage and fortitude which David’s tremendous work elucidates. This indomitable American spirit is alive and well today, in David and in the men and women in many arenas whose work reminds us that our lives serve a greater purpose.

In honoring Burns, Tony Rossi, The Christophers’ Director of Communications, said:

One of the most admirable aspects of Ken Burns’ approach to filmmaking is that he doesn’t approach history as dry facts. Instead, it’s about stories, human connections, and the emotions and experiences that bind us together by transcending time and place.

And while Ken knows that America and its citizens have sometimes fallen short of their own ideals, his films ultimately convey a spirit of hope that we learn from our mistakes to become better as a people and a nation.

For that reason, The Christophers are honored to present Ken Burns with our 2018 Christopher Life Achievement Award.

Contacted for comment, Burns had this to say:

I cannot think of a greater honor than receiving this life-time achievement award. The Christophers have long celebrated what is unique about each person and inspire us to contribute to the public good.

In our work, we look to tell the larger arc of our country’s history through the stories of individuals. By recognizing the actions of individuals I think we can better understand the issues of the past and the present, and hopefully do so in a way that is respectful of people’s lives, even when we tackle topics that are often hard to understand.

I’m inspired by The Christophers’ work and encourage others to embrace their belief that everyone can make a difference.

Burns’ next major project for PBS is “Country Music,” coming in 2019 — which was announced way back in 2014. Great things take time!

From Burns’ Website:

Country Music will chronicle the history of a uniquely American art form, rising from the experiences of remarkable people in distinctive regions of our nation.  From southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking western swing of Texas, from California honky tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, we will follow the evolution of country music over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.

It will be directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.

Speaking of taking your time, also in Burns’ pipeline is a two-part, four-hour profile of boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. Production began in early 2016 for a 2021 premiere.

From an early 2017 story at Deadline.com:

In the announcement, Burns described Muhammad Ali as “maybe the most iconic figure of the 20th century,” explaining, “He arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring.”

“But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”

In November 2017, Ken Burns accepted the Muhammad Ali Voice of Humanity award from the Society of Voice Arts & Sciences, at the 4th Annual 2017 Voice Arts® Awards at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Fredrick P. Rose Hall.

Take a look:

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Courtesy Ken Burns, 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.

5 for Friday: Mr. Peabody, Tolkien, Holiday Baking, Minions and Narnia

Don’t tell me there’s nothing suitable for the whole family to watch this weekend (including Monday). I trolled through TV listings just for you and turned up a quintet of offerings that parents and kids can enjoy together.

Mr. Peabody and Sherman (2014) — Friday, 8 p.m., FXM (Fox Movies)

Like its TV predecessor, this animated movie works on two levels, with a lot of the jokes aimed at adults (and going right over small kids’ heads). Genius dog Mr. Peabody (Ty Burell) and his adopted boy, Sherman (Max Charles), use Mr. Peabody’s time machine to visit the past. According to the parents’ reviews at CommonSense Media, the issue of adoption could have been handled better.

But it’s not all bad.

From CommonSense Media:

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is an uneven production of highly entertaining visuals and semi-educational historical tidbits mixed with so-bad-they’re-occasionally-funny puns and physical comedy. There are jokes (and all the puns) obviously aimed at parents, and sight gags clearly targeted at the kids. But not all of the characters are easy to root for or even like. Penny (voiced by Modern Family star Ariel Winter) is a highly unlikable character for most of the movie, during which she’s petulant, bullying, and selfish — demanding to do risky and dangerous deeds. Eventually she redeems herself, but she’s too much of a mean girl for little kids to understand.

The father-son angle, however, is quite sweet. Mr. Peabody may be a genius dog that can master everything from cooking to rocket science to all forms of music, but parenting is the one thing he can’t just learn out of a book. The various ways that Mr. Peabody and Sherman protect, defend, and teach each other is a good lesson in what’s important about parent-child relationships (trust, communication, unconditional love). Baby boomer-aged adults will enjoy revisiting their childhood with this adaptation, but even those completely unfamiliar with the source material will find the story amusing if not remarkable.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring/The Two Towers — Saturday, 5 p.m., AMC

Pop a big bowl of popcorn for this Tolkien-fest, as two of the “Lord of the Rings” movies air back-to-back, with “The Two Towers” lingering on to 12:30 a.m. This might be the perfect lineup for a teen sleepover, as the monsters and frequent, extended fight sequences might be too much for little ones.

But if you love dwarves and Hobbits and elves and orcs, your Saturday is set.

Holiday Baking Championship — Saturday, 5 pm., Food Network

The 2017 edition of this reality-competition show premieres Monday, so Saturday is devoted to the 2016 first season, in marathon form. Host Bobby Deen challenges nine bakers to a variety of Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed culinary challenges.

The night begins with “Signs of the Season,” followed by “Grandma’s Thanksgiving Favorites,” “Thanksgiving Joy,” ‘Hearth and Home,” “Sweet Surprises” and “Christmas Morning.”

The new season launches Monday at 9 p.m., with “Holiday Party Delights” and “Christmas Family Fun” (in which the bakers must create a giant cookie puzzle based on a Christmas carol).

Here’s a dessert suggestion from last season:

Despicable Me (2010) — Sunday, 7 p.m., Disney Channel

The animated movie features the voices of Steve Carell (a Catholic, BTW), Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Julie Andrews and Will Arnett in the story of Gru, a supervillain trying to steal the moon, who meets his match in three orphan girls who want him to be their dad. Bonus: This is the movie that introduced the Minions.

From Catholic reviewer Deacon Steven Greydanus:

Despicable Me, from newcomer Illumination Entertainment, is the best of the lot so far. It’s slicker and better-paced than all of the non-DreamWorks entries, and it has more energy than any of its predecessors except Monsters vs. Aliens. Best of all, it’s got heart and sweetness eluding all the earlier entries.

Heart? Sweetness? (In villainous European accent) Don’t make me LOL! Heart is for eating at breakfast time! Sweetness is only flavor of revenge! That’s how I roll!

But the moppets, generic as they are, really are super cute. (In an early scene, they offer a heartfelt prayer to be adopted.) Their interactions with Gru, e.g., tucking them in and reading them bedtime stories, slowly become genuinely lump-in-throat inducing. On the family-film spectrum of sincere and sentimental (Pixar, most of Blue Sky) to snarky and ironic (most of DreamWorks), Despicable Me leans solidly toward sincerity and sentiment.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) — Monday, 8:25 p.m., HBO Family

Based on the beloved first installment of C.S. Lewis Christian-allegory fairy-tale series “The Chronicles of Narnia,” this 2005 entry follows four British children who are swept into a wintry wonderland inhabited by talking animals and an evil White Witch.

From Steven Greydanus:

As an ensemble story of 20th-century British schoolchildren caught up in a world of magic and danger, it evokes the Harry Potter stories, though without the moral debates about witchcraft and rule-breaking and the like.

And with its central motif of a divine being who faces down a chilling icon of evil and brings salvation by laying down his life before triumphing over death and evil, it recalls The Passion of the Christ, but without the troubling arguments about antisemitism or the almost unbearable brutality.

At the same time, Andrew Adamson’s film — the director’s first solo effort and first live-action film (Adamson’s only prior credits are co-directing Shrek and Shrek 2) — is neither as daring nor as visionary as [Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” movie or Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”].

Nor is the screenplay, by Adamson and three credited co-writers (none with any notable credits), as faithful to the source material as the Harry Potter films (at least before the books broke 500 pages). Nevertheless, the film brings Lewis’s story to life with sufficient fidelity and movie magic to make it one of the best and brightest family films in some time.

Image: Courtesy DreamWorks

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.

Roma Downey, Mark Burnett and MGM Launch Lightworkers.com to “Make the World a Better Place”

Back in July, “Touched by an Angel” star turned producer Roma Downey announced that her LightWorkers brand would be launching a new platform, featuring “original video series, compelling editorial and thoughtfully curated content,” intended to uplift and entertain.

Here’s the video, shot at Downey and Burnett’s Malibu home:

Now, it’s here (actually, click here).

So, what’s it all about?

From my inbox:

LightWorkers.com has a robust offering of emotional, shareable and impactful content that highlights entertainment, lifestyle, faith and family. The content, social media and real-life activations aim to offer visitors achievable ways to make positive changes in their communities, both online and off. It will also create new advertising and sponsorship opportunities for brands, including video franchise sponsorship, custom branded videos and original branded series that align with a shared mission of doing good.

LightWorkers.com already has a hit with “37 Seconds of Good News” which spotlights ordinary people doing extraordinary things in this world. Originally launched on social media, the series has already surpassed 21 million views on Facebook. LightWorkers.com will also showcase a wide range of content from new and established personalities, including bestselling author Michelle McKinney Hammond telling it like it is in advice series “Tough But Fair”; Brooklyn Wagner, who brings her blunt and boisterously random perspective to “Welcome to Brooklyn”; and Julianna Strickland and Natasha Feldman who’ll take your thoughtful gift-giving game to the next level with “Giftable.” There are also moving profiles of athletes and influencers in our premium docuseries “I Struggle. I Rise.” and celebrity interviews with friends of the LightWorkers family – Van Morrison, Jeff Probst, Cindy Crawford, Ali Landry, Niecy Nash, Brooke Burke and more – opening up like never before about how they’ve persevered through challenges in their own lives.

“LightWorkers has sparked a movement on social media, where we’ve been able to engage across different platforms sharing positive messages of hope and encouragement. We need these inspirational messages now more than ever,” said Downey, President of LightWorkers Media. “My motto has always been that it’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness. My hope is that LightWorkers.com will invite others to do the same, inspiring them to shine their own light within their communities to remind us that there are good people doing extraordinary things everywhere.”

Talking to the Los Angeles Times, Downey explained how the idea began — and can’t we all relate to her answer?

Downey said she came up with the the idea for LightWorkers.com after being overwhelmed by negative stories while watching the news. The former “Touched by an Angel” star wanted to create a site to highlight people who were doing good in the world, she said. The company started testing the idea with 37-second videos highlighting heartwarming stories, such as a community in India that set up a fridge offering free food to the poor. Those clips garnered more than 20 million views, bolstering the company’s confidence in the concept.

“I have worked on big epic productions, and I believe this is the future,” Downey said. “I’m very excited to be ahead of the curve on this.”

So, congratulations from all of us at Family Theater Productions to Downey, Burnett and everyone at LightWorkers. As Downey says in the introductory video, “Be a LightWorker, and shine a light. Together, we can make the world a better place.”

Image: Courtesy LightWorkers/MGM

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.

‘Garage Sale Mystery’ Takes Over August Sundays on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

Solving crimes has never gone out of fashion on television, but these days it’s often laden with sex, violence and deep dives into depraved lifestyles. And then, there’s “Garage Sale Mystery” on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

Based on novels by Suzi Weinert and presented in two-hour movie installments since 2013, it’s a TV version of what’s known in mystery fiction as a “cozy mystery,” which feature a (frequently, but not always) female amateur sleuth. She’s got brains and keen observational skills, along with great instincts and knowledge of human nature. Sometimes she’s married; sometimes she’s not.

But when the local police need a bit of extra help in solving the unusually high rate of murders that happen in her (often small) hometown, the cozy-mystery sleuth is there.

Cozy mysteries offer viewers a chance to puzzle through clues and the vagaries of human behavior without having to wallow in the darker side.

From “Murder, She Wrote” to “Father Brown,” the cozy remains a TV constant, but has been largely supplanted by mystery dramas centered on police or military investigators. Those have their place, but there’s nothing like watching a bright but dedicated amateur show the pros how it’s done — especially one, like Jennifer, who doesn’t flinch at the prospect of a morgue visit.

Last week, I attended a screening of “Murder by Text,” a “Garage Sale Mystery,” at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, California, attended by Hallmark executives, fans, friends and stars, including “Garage” star Lori Loughlin.

She plays antique-store owner Jennifer Shannon, a wife and mother of two teen children, whose eye for detail and knack for deductive reasoning entertains her family and helps local Detective Lynwood (Kevin O’Grady) burnish his cases-closed stats.

With side plots involving the family and Dani (Sarah Strange), who works in Jennifer’s store (an actual antique shop in British Columbia, Canada, where the show is shot), “Garage” tells an entertaining story that keeps it light, humorous and interesting.

“Murder by Text” also features Jennifer’s husband (Rick Ravenello) and daughter in a dispute over his company’s plan to turn a local historic building into condos, without raised voices or slammed doors. While I thought daughter Hannah (Eva Bourne) still acted like a bit of a brat — you don’t slap bumper stickers on people’s cars without their permission — the issue resolved with good sense and good humor.

How refreshing.

While the murder element of the show may disturb young children, “Garage Sale Mysteries” is perfectly suitable for preteens and up.

Here’s what’s coming up in August:

Garage Sale Mystery: The Beach Murder (August 6, 9 p.m. ET/PT): Jennifer wades into a murder when a young internet entrepreneur drowns in the ocean, the apparent victim of a surfing accident.

Garage Sale Mystery: Murder by Text (August 13, 9 p.m. ET/PT): After a bass player sends a cryptic suicide text, Jennifer suspects the apparent suicide was actually murder. Meanwhile, Dani deals with a visit from her sister, who may have hidden talents (and a secret).

Garage Sale Mystery: Murder Most Medieval (August 20, 9 p.m ET/PT): Jennifer finds a dead body in a suit of armor purchased for her client.

Garage Sale Mystery: A Case of Murder (August 27, 9 p.m. ET/PT): A tape inside an old recorder Jennifer purchases may hold the sound of an actual murder.

And courtesy of Parade magazine, a clip from “Murder Most Medieval”…

Image: Courtesy Hallmark Movies & Mysteries

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects