‘The Star’: Producer DeVon Franklin on the Christmas Film’s Future

DeVon Franklin/The Star

Last year, The Star returned Christ to the Christmas-movie season — but when will it be back on the big screen?

Released in November 2017, the Sony Animation feature tells the story of the Nativity from the POV of the animals, along with Mary and Joseph. It’s earned 62.8M worldwide, and it’s available on DVD and for streaming on Netflix and other platforms.

Voice talent for The Star includes Zach Levi as the voice of Joseph; Gina Rodriguez as Mary; Steven Yuen as their faithful donkey, Bo; and Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan and Tyler Perry as the Wise Men’s camels.

Other voice talent includes Patrica Heaton (Edith the cow); Anthony Anderson (Zach the goat); Kris Kristofferson (old donkey); Ving Rhames (Thaddeus the dog); Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse); Kristen Chenoweth (Abby the pygmy gerboa); and Christopher Plummer (King Herod).

I recently had a chat with Christian executive producer DeVon Franklin, whose next faith-based movie, Breakthrough, is hitting theaters at Easter.

Franklin was pleased with The Star‘s performance in theaters, but said, “Animated films can be released in theaters, but they really find their audience in home video. So, so many people have come to me saying their families have watched it.”

But what about putting Bo the Donkey and pals back on the big screen?

Franklin said, “We were going to re-release it this year, but for a variety of reasons, we’re going to hold the re-release until next year, so that we actually have enough time to plan for it.

“But, as an anecdote, my nephew, who is four years old, my younger brother’s son, the only thing he wanted to watch a week ago was The Star. He was like, ‘We got to watch The Star!’ Kids love it.

“If Malachi Franklin loves The Star, that’s good enough for me.”

If your family has loved and seen The Star — or watches it because you read this — we’d love to hear what you think. Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

Merry Christmas, and remember to follow the Star (of Bethlehem, that is) …

Image: The Star …Sony Pictures Animation/DeVon Franklin … TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

The Joy of Rose on Advent’s Gaudete Sunday

Why is this one candle on the Advent wreath not like all the others?

Advent and its counterpart, Lent, are seasons of penitence and of waiting — one for Christ’s arrival, and the other for His Resurrection. On the Advent wreath, the three purple candles mark the preparation Christians undergo while waiting for the events of Christmas Day.

But, unlike dour Lent, Advent is usually a happy season, full of food, parties, shopping, music and lights. In the retail world, Christmas begins right after Halloween and then kicks into overdrive on the day after Thanksgiving. Many people mirror this, barely putting away the leftover turkey before putting up every Christmas decoration they own.

While this calendar is fine for secular society, it has nothing to do with the Child at the heart of the season. He won’t be here until Christmas Eve, and all the earlybird sales in the world won’t speed that up.

That’s why it’s traditional (though not required) to refrain from putting the Christ Child into a Catholic church’s Nativity scene manger until the appointed moment. Here’s Pope Francis at the big moment:

Some folks don’t even put Him there in their home Nativity scenes until Christmas.

So, why do we need a reminder to rejoice on the Third Sunday of Advent? It’s called Gaudete Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”) – in 2018, on Dec. 16 – and marked by lighting a rose-colored candle on our wreaths and having priests wear rose-colored vestments at Mass (as demonstrated by Kai from our online series Catholic Central, in a clip from an episode on “The Liturgical Year”).

Because the happiness that comes from fun and friends and a full belly is not the same thing as Christian joy.

During a spring Mass in 2013, at Casa Santa Maria in Rome, Pope Francis talked about the difference between happiness and joy:

“To be happy is good, yet joy is something more. It’s another thing, something which does not depend on external motivations, or on passing issues: it is more profound. It is a gift.

“To be ‘happy at all moments, at all cost,’ can at the end turn into superficiality and shallowness. This leaves us without Christian wisdom, which makes us dumb, naïve, right? All is joy … no. Joy is something else; it is a gift from the Lord.”

If joy is a gift from the Lord, then the Lord Himself is our first and greatest gift, and the only one that will never tarnish or break or fade. Gaudete – said “Gow-DAY-tay” – Sunday reminds us that the gift has not yet arrived, but it’s very near.

It takes its name from the first word of the Introit, “Gaudete in Domino Semper,” which is Latin for the beginning of Philippians 4:4-7, Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

So even though you may be having happy times during Advent, Gaudete Sunday is a moment to stop and reflect on the source of true joy. And if the Advent season has brought causes for stress and sorrow into your life, then lighting the rose candle is an opportunity to take heart and refocus on what the Mass of Christ is all about.

Perhaps you’ll have the same revelation that came upon the pinched and petulant title character of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” as he stood atop Mount Crumpit with all the Whos’ Christmas goodies piled high on a sleigh, ready to be dumped.

But up from Whoville, divested of all its festive finery and fine food, came not howls of anguish nor shouts of anger but the sound of sweet singing.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow

Stood puzzling and puzzling, ‘How could it be so?

‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

‘It came without packages, boxes or bags!’

And he puzzled three hours, ‘till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.

‘Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!’”

Or, as the Whos reminded us …

Here’s a lovely version of the traditional Advent carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from a cappella group Pentatonix …

Blessed Gaudete Sunday!

(Adapted and updated from a column I originally wrote for CatholicVote in 2013.)

Image: Shutterstock

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

5 Christmas Movies Streaming Now, Filled With Cheer, Innocence & Fun

The Star/Sony Animation

Is it just me, or does it seem like there is a glut of standard, made-for-TV-type Christmas movies on Netflix and the like right now? And they all kind of seem to blend together in a haze of mediocrity and Santa Clauses?

Well luckily, there is also a fairly good selection of newer and classic Christmas movie offerings streaming right now, for those of us who like a little more substance and meaning (and maybe production value!) in our Christmas entertainment programming.

Here are 5 Christmas movies on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime that are filled with actual Christmas themes– you know, like the birth of Christ! With a bit of life’s meaning and innocent fun thrown in as well!

The Star (2017)

A computer animated movie from Sony about some animals involved in the Nativity of Christ. Funny, entertaining, and it even gives some screen-time to the actual human characters in the story as well — Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, Herod, and Baby Jesus. It’s rated PG for some thematic elements, but this one is a great choice for the whole family. It’s currently streaming on Netflix.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

The black-and-white Jimmy Stewart classic about a desperate man who wishes he’d never been born, and the angel who shows him what that life would have actually looked like for everyone he loves. Filled with Christmas-y atmosphere and worthwhile themes about the impact of one’s life and actions on others, this one has staying power for good reason. It’s available to stream on Amazon Prime right now.

White Christmas (1954)

A Bing Crosby musical about two war buddies with a song-and-dance act who meet two sisters who have their own song-and-dance act. The two duos work together to put on a Christmas show that will hopefully save a failing lodge in Vermont. This one is mostly just old-timey fun with a lot of Christmas cheer thrown in, but it’s innocent and sweet as well. You can stream it on Netflix.

A Christmas Carol (1984)

The timeless Charles Dickens story about the miserly, friendless Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) learning how to care about others, when three ghosts visit him on Christmas Eve. This one — originally produced for CBS and one of the better versions — is rated PG and might be a little scary for younger viewers (a bit more intense than the Mickey Mouse version!), but it’s a great choice for those beyond the nightmare years. It’s currently on Amazon Prime Video.

The Nutcracker (1993)

If you’re thinking of going to see the new Disney adaptation of this classic Christmas ballet that’s in theaters now, you might want to check out the older version of the wonder-filled story about a little girl who dreams of her toys coming to life on Christmas Eve. Macaulay Culkin (of Home Alone) actually plays The Nutcracker in this one, and it’s pretty kid-friendly. It’s available to stream on Netflix right now.

Happy viewing!

Image: Sony Animation

Adrienne Thorne is a Catholic mom, blogger and screenwriter.

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Golden Globes: Our Father Vince Examined Four Nominated Films

Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

The Golden Globe nominations were announced today, Dec. 6 — and a happy St. Nicholas’ Day to all the lucky nominees.

Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., our own producer-at-large and USC film-school grad, earlier took a deep dive into a quartet of nominated films, comparing them to earlier versions of the stories.

Click here for the full list of nominations, but here’s a look at the top awards, with links to Fr. Vince’s posts …

Best Motion Picture — Drama

Black Panther

BlacKkKlansman

Bohemian Rhapsody

If Beale Street Could Talk

A Star Is Born

Father Vince look at both BlacKkKlansman (click here) and A Star Is Born (click here).

Of Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman, he wrote:

Real-life encounters between Zimmeran’s “Stallworth” and Klan members are well-executed by [Adam] Driver. He quite capably feigns a racist persona for the sake of the investigation. Both characters, in effect, do as Christ did, not fighting ugliness with more ugliness, but absorbing some of the worst parts of their enemies and turning it against them, exposing evil for what it is. “Infiltrate hate,” the tagline goes of the film goes. Not “flee” or “fight” hate as the world often demands.

And of A Star Is Born (and the earlier versions):

The rise to fame of the four female leads enthralls, to be sure. But celebrity stars are more akin to what we see in the night sky: some stars may have died out long ago — the lack of light having yet to travel to our corner of the universe. So, our cinematic and cosmological fascination may not lie in when stars are born, but when, in fact, they mysteriously die.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Drama

Glenn Close, The Wife

Lady Gaga, A Star Is Born

Nicole Kidman, Destroyer

Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Rosamund Pike, A Private War

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Drama

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Willem Dafoe, At Eternity’s Gate

Lucas Hedges, Boy Erased

Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

John David Washington, BlacKkKlansman

Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Crazy Rich Asians

The Favourite

Green Book

Mary Poppins Returns

Vice

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Emily Blunt, Mary Poppins Returns

Olivia Colman, The Favourite

Elsie Fisher, Eighth Grade

Charlize Theron, Tully

Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy

Christian Bale, Vice

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Poppins Returns

Viggo Mortenson, Green Book

Robert Redford, The Old Man & the Gun

John C. Reilly, Stan & Ollie

Click here for Father Vince’s take on Redford’s new movie; here’s a taste:

I feel the director, himself the son of a college professor from the robustly Catholic University of Dallas, did the main character and story better justice in filling in the origin story — even if that origin details the abandonment of faith. The film admittedly, states in its tagline: “based on mostly a true story.” The director’s embellishing of Tucker’s lack of faith, nonetheless tells a truer story about the nature of crime than Grann’s first-hand interviews of the criminal himself.

Best Motion Picture — Animated

Incredibles 2

Isle of Dogs

Mirai

Ralph Breaks the Internet

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Director — Motion Picture

Bradley Cooper, A Star Is Born

Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Peter Farrelly, Green Book

Spike Lee, BlacKkKlansman

Adam McKay, Vice

Best Television Series — Drama

The Americans (FX)

Bodyguard (Netflix)

Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Killing Eve (BBC America)

Pose (FX)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama

Caitriona Balfe, Outlander (Starz)

Elisabeth Moss, The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

Sandra Oh, Killing Eve (BBC America)

Julia Roberts, Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Keri Russell, The Americans (FX)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Drama

Jason Bateman, Ozark (Netflix)

Stephan James, Homecoming (Amazon Prime Video)

Richard Madden, Bodyguard (Netflix)

Billy Porter, Pose (FX)

Matthew Rhys, The Americans (FX)

Best Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Barry (HBO)

The Good Place (NBC)

Kidding (Showtime)

The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Kristen Bell, The Good Place (NBC)

Candice Bergen, Murphy Brown (CBS)

Alison Brie, GLOW (Netflix)

Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video)

Debra Messing, Will & Grace (NBC)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series — Musical or Comedy

Sacha Baron Cohen, Who Is America (Showtime)

Jim Carrey, Kidding (Showtime)

Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method (Netflix)

Donald Glover, Atlanta (FX)

Bill Hader, Barry (HBO)

Surprisingly, after being nominated and winning Globes the last two years, NBC’s This Is Us was snubbed this time around.

First Man, about Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, also didn’t fare well, only picking up nominations for Clare Foy, for her supporting role, and the original score. And as anyone in Hollywood knows, when almost the only positive thing someone says is they liked the music, it’s not good news.

Father Vince wasn’t impressed with First Man either. Click here for the whole piece; below find an excerpt.

Maybe [Apollo 13 director Ron] Howard made the smarter decision, to a pick a failed success mission where the astronauts bypassed their moon landing. Because when we arrive at the moon in First Man, it feels staged, like we never leave the green screen of the Hollywood stage at which it was shot. The real Neil Armstrong, facing the incredulity of moon-landing deniers, said the only thing harder to do than landing on the moon would be to realistically fabricate it. The Oscar winning director of La La Land proves just how difficult that task indeed is.

Movie awards season is officially underway. Let the games begin …

Image: Joe Shlabotnik/Flickr

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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Chris Pratt Talks Love, Fatherhood and God at Disneyland Candlelight Ceremony

Chris Pratt at Disneyland’s Candlelight Ceremony (YouTube)

Actor Chris Pratt is at it again, spreading the hope and love of God – plus a rousing “Merry Christmas!” — whenever he gets a public forum, this time on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Disneyland in Southern California.

In many ways, Disney has yielded to the culture and to so-called “progressive values,” in its TV and movie offerings, and at its theme parks. But — according to Robert Niles at the ThemeParkInsider.com — since its opening in 1955, Disneyland has offered the Candlelight Ceremony processional and performance at Main Street USA’s Town Square.

The invite-only affair plays just four shows over two nights on the first weekend of December, featuring nearly 700 musicians, including a live orchestra, Disney cast members and local school, church and community choirs (non-invited park attendees can view the procession itself down Main Street USA).

Among the song selections are such sacred favorites as “Away in a Manger,” “What Child Is This?” and “Silent Night.”

The finale was the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.

Pratt, star of the hit Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World movies, was on hand this year to read the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke, and to deliver a personal message.

Wrote Niles of the “Hallelujah Chorus”:

That moment of silence before the final chords? Chills. I loved this work as a choir geek growing up and continue to adore the power and spectacle of it performed live. And with nearly 700 musicians performing it at Disneyland? Amazing.

Pratt followed the curtain call with some clearly heartfelt words, referencing his own recent fatherhood to talk about his new-found appreciation for a father’s love.

Pratt pointed out his son in the audience, calling him “this precious little creation of mine,” and spoke from the heart as a father, saying:

I watch the ways in which he tries to please me, I just fill with a love that I feel is so pure, and unending. The way we love our children, the more we love our children, the more we will understand the capacity for our Father in heaven to love us. Each and every one of us a precious creation, and he just marvels in the ways that we can try to please Him. That should give us a great deal of comfort. I know it does for me.

This holiday season, let us embrace every one of our tomorrows with hope and love. And through this holiday spirit may we continue to spread peace and goodwill throughout the world. Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Pratt fans know that Jack, his son with ex-wife Anna Faris, was born two months premature in 2013. Pratt has often spoken how immersing himself in prayer while Jack was fighting for his life brought him closer to his Christian faith. Although his marriage has since dissolved, Pratt’s commit to faith, and willingness to talk openly about it, has continued.

Whether it’s at the MTV Awards or the Teen Choice Awards or through social media, Pratt encourages young people to connect with God and prayer.

And we thank God he does!

Here’s the whole Candlelight performance; Pratt is introduced at the 50:41 mark:

Image: YouTube screenshot

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

Kenneth Branagh Plays Shakespeare (Himself) in ‘All Is True’ [UPDATED WITH TRAILER]

All Is True/Sony Pictures Classics

Belfast-born British actor and filmmaker Kenneth Branagh is possibly the best friend the Bard of Avon has in movies today — and now he’s actually playing the playwright.

As director and star, Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations include Henry V, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Loves Labour’s Lost, As You Like It, Othello and Macbeth.

Now, quite quietly, he went about directing and starring in All Is True, a new period drama about the final years in the life of William Shakespeare, just acquired for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. Right before Christmas, the film will get a brief theatrical run in New York and Los Angeles — so it qualifies for awards — then sent to more theaters in 2019.

Taking on the daunting task of writing about possibly the greatest writer in the English language is comedian, screenwriter and author Ben Elton, better known for such funny stuff as The Young Ones and Blackadder (and for an acting role in Much Ado About Nothing).

From Deadline.com:

Penned by Ben Elton in his first original drama, All Is True is set in 1613 when Shakespeare is acknowledged as the greatest writer of the age. But disaster strikes when his renowned Globe Theatre burns to the ground. Devastated, Shakespeare returns to Stratford, where he must face a troubled past and a neglected family. Haunted by the death of his only son Hamnet, he struggles to mend the broken relationships with his wife (Dench) and daughters. In so doing, he is forced to examine his own failings as husband and father. McKellen plays the Earl of Southampton.

And, from EmpireOnline.com:

Sony Pictures Classics picked up rights to distribute it worldwide. “We have known and worked with Ken for 25 years,” the company says in a statement. “We feel this is a movie he was destined to make. He conjures up for us the depth and dramatic richness of a character about whom we have always been fascinated. What we have seen has confirmed our excitement to plan a qualifying run at the end of this year and to open the movie fully in the new year. We believe audiences will embrace the freshness of All Is True.”

In 2017, the fanciful drama Will had a brief run on TNT, diving into oft-discussed Catholic background of Shakespeare. But, the 1998 comedy-drama Shakespeare in Love avoided the subject entirely.

Catholic writer and Shakespeare scholar Joseph Pearce has long defended the Bard’s Catholicism. In an April 2018 piece for the National Catholic Register, he writes:

Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that Shakespeare had “so little of a Protestant about him that Catholics have been able, without extravagance, to claim him as their own.” Hilaire Belloc, echoing Newman, insisted that “the plays of Shakespeare were written by a man plainly Catholic in habit of mind.” G. K. Chesterton, reaching the same conclusion, stated that Shakespeare’s Catholicism was “a thing that every Catholic feels by every sort of convergent common sense to be true.”

Newman, Belloc and Chesterton drew their conclusions from their deep understanding of Shakespeare’s work, not having the benefit of the wealth of biographical evidence for the Bard’s Catholicism that has emerged in the past century or so. Today, those who claim that Shakespeare was a Catholic can employ the historical facts of his life and times, as well as the textual evidence to be gleaned from his poetry and plays.

Today it is widely accepted, albeit reluctantly by many, that Shakespeare was raised in a devoutly Catholic family at a time when the practice of the Faith was illegal.

Raised the son of working-class Protestant parents in a divided Belfast, Branagh — despite having directed what Bishop Robert Barron called a “very Christian Cinderella” — has not shied away from what faith exists in his Shakespeare films, but is not a man known for bringing up the subject himself.

And, writer Elton is not religious (but he doesn’t seem hostile to the notion of a Higher Power).

So, is the Shakespeare of All Is True a Catholic or a Protestant, or is it just not discussed? We shall see …

Here’s a peek …

Image: Sony Pictures Classics

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.