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Animated, Movie Reviews

PAW Patrol: The movie

Animated / Children / Family 2021 / 86 min Rating: 8/10 While our kids had never seen the TV series this is based on, we'd all seen enough of the PAW Patrol lunchboxes, toys, and commercials to understand the premise: talking puppies, each with their own expertise, team up to help whenever there's an emergency. Puppies meant our daughters were sure to like it, so the only question was whether this was going to be good enough to keep the parentals awake. It turned out, yes – there was more than enough action and intrigue to keep me bright-eyed the whole way through. It even opened with a bang (and a screeeeeeeech, and an "oh no!"): a semi-truck driver narrowly misses a baby turtle crossing the road, but his emergency maneuvers cause him to veer all over the road and crash right over the edge of a bridge, leaving driver and truck dangling precariously over the bay hundreds of meters below. It's as tense as a G-rated film can be, and had our daughters on the edge of their seats waiting for the rescue pups to spring into action. What I most appreciated was when the story headed to Adventure City where a new cat-loving, dog-hating politician had just won the mayor's race... but only because the other contestant had to drop out. There's some political satire here, as the power-mad Mayor Humdinger tries to transform the city into his own vision of utopia, which, of course, goes disastrously. I don't know if the writers were purposely trying to mock big government but, regardless, they did a good job, as everything the arrogant mayor touches goes comically amuck. A major subplot has PAW Patrol's top dog, Chase, struggling with a crisis of confidence after he makes a mistake during a rescue – that's the story's drama. Comic relief comes from all directions, maybe most notably in the form of a sassy new Patrol member, named Skye. Caution A heads up if you have an adopted child: Chase's struggles are due in large part to a traumatic experience in the city right before he was rescued and then adopted by Ryder, the team's only human member. So if your son or daughter had traumatic experiences before their adoption, this might hit them too close to home. I'll also note, this is an action-packed movie, which makes it exciting, but maybe also a bit much for some younger kids. Other than that, the only caution would concern a "wedgie drone" as seen in the trailer below. It's just 15 seconds of questionable silliness, the end result leaving the mayor pantless, though wearing long boxers. There's nothing indecent in this scene, but the film could have been improved by its absence. Conclusion I was pleasantly surprised by just how much good old-fashioned fun this film was from beginning to end. I've read a review where this was said to come out of a "lightly Christian" worldview/morality, and I get why they would think so. I don't know if the producers were Christian, but they sure could have been. While this is just fluff – there's nothing all that deep here – there's also no poison pill mixed in with the cotton candy. It's just fun fluff all the way down. I'd recommend this for the 8-11 crowd – it is a children's film. But for a first viewing, this could be one for the whole family. Older teen children won't like it nearly as much as their younger siblings, but even if the film doesn't grab them, they should get a kick out of all the little ones' giggles and gasps. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Peppa Pig: The balloon ride

Animated / Children's 52 minutes/ 2014 Rating: 7/10 Peppa Pig is a lovable little pig, big sister to her toddling brother George, and daughter of Mommy and Daddy Pig. She's probably best known for her love of jumping in muddy puddles, which, of course, is natural behavior for pigs (and many a little boy too, especially after watching this show). Her adventures are of an ordinary kind, going on a bicycle ride with her parents, or trying to learn how to whistle. It's about as gentle and safe a show as parents could hope for, as of yet untouched by the LGBT lobby. In this collection, Peppa has a series of 12 short adventures, all about 5 minutes long, that see her take a hot air balloon, in a new car, and even lace up a pair of ice skates. For parents, the biggest attraction might be that the short stories make this an easy one to turn on for only a brief time. Cautions During the Covid lockdowns, some US children were developing British accents and using British words like "optician" instead of "eye doctor." Teleworking parents were turning to Peppa as an electronic babysitter. We probably don't care if our kids start sounding British – it might bring a little class to our dinner table discussions – but it highlights how a little Peppa is different than a lotta Peppa. The problem here is more with TV as a babysitter than with Peppa herself. No matter how "safe" the material, our young children need their parents to help them digest the stories they ingest. They need to be taught what to swallow, and what to spit out. So, for example, in large doses, Daddy Pig's occasional cluelessness starts coming off as yet another TV bumbling father. That's not a problem with parents around to point it out, but becomes an issue if our kids unknowingly take it in. Another example: in large doses, Peppa's occasional bossiness and bad sportsmanship aren't that occasional anymore. Another caution would involve select episodes that are likely to preach a secular perspective, such as their Earth Day episode. But I don't actually know how bad or harmless it might be, because our family skipped that one. Conclusion While a lot of Peppa might be too much, a little Peppa is delightful. The target audience here is pre-school children up to Grade 1 or so. This is too child-ish to be all-ages viewing for a family movie night but will be a great choice for young kids who don't like much tension or conflict. A lot of episodes are available for free on their YouTube channel here, and you can check out the trailer for this collection below. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Phantom Tollbooth

Animated 1970 / 89 minutes Rating: 7/10 This is a peculiar movie based on a peculiar book, and as such, will have only peculiar appeal – this is not for everyone. Things begin in "live-action" with Milo, a boy bored by everything, returning home from school to discover a mysterious package in his bedroom. It's a tollbooth – a talking tollbooth! – that invites him on an adventure if he has the gumption to go. So Milo hops in a miniature car, and the moment he drives through the tollbooth, the whole film switches over into animation, taking him to a weird and wacky world that couldn't be depicted any other way. Both the book and the film are a morality tale, but of a secular sentiment. The bored boy is going to learn that all those things he's being taught in school – numbers, and letters, addition and spelling, subtraction and writing – are far more interesting than he's ever realized. He'll make this discovery by visiting the kingdom of Digitopolis, where numbers rank at the top, and the kingdom of Dictionopolis where words are said to be supreme. But this is a topsy turvy world, where a watchdog actually has a watch inside him, and a spelling bee, is a bee that can spell! Some of that craziness is the way this world has always been, but things got worse after the kings of Digitoplosis and Dictionoplois banished their sisters, Rhyme and Reason. As the kings should have known, without Rhyme and Reason, things can get too silly, too quickly! That's why they task Milo with rescuing the princesses, equipping him to contend with the demons of ignorance that he'll meet along the way. These demons include the Terrible Triviam, who tempts people to do unimportant tasks now, instead of the thing they really should get to. Then there's the Demon of Insincerity, the Hideos Two-Faced Hypocrite, the Over-bearing-Know-It-All, and the Threadbare Excuse, all able to derail industry and the search for Truth. But Milo is ready to fight! Caution One caution would concern the demons, which might be scary for children. But these aren't Satan's minions – these are personifications of temptations (like in Pilgrim's Progress) that are trying to ensnare and delay Milo. The other caution concerns the princesses Rhyme and Reason. Logic is an outworking of God's character, but in this secular story, logic – Rhyme and Reason – are the "gods" of the film (though they aren't described as such) able to completely transform the kingdom and save the day. It will be worth pointing out to kids how logic is not itself foundational, but lies on the foundation of God Himself. Conclusion This will be of interest to any who've read the book. For those not already familiar with the story, the closest thing I can liken it to is Alice in Wonderland, not in plot, but – I'll say it again – peculiarity. If your family is the sort that would be up for the surreal Alice, then they may love this adventure too! That said, this takes a bit to get into - you might need to watch half an hour before you get a feel for what sort of movie this is. And also note, this is a film to be paused and discussed to be properly appreciated, whether to explain the wordplay to kids, or to point out to them the lesson Milo is learning. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Balto

Family /Animated 1995 / 78 minutes Rating: 7/10 In 1925, the city of Nome, Alaska was hit by an outbreak of diphtheria, a coughing sickness that is deadly to children. While that might not seem the best topic for a kid's animated movie, they went and did it anyway, and made something special! You see, the diphtheria was treatable, but the doctor was out of serum to treat it and the closest train could only bring a new batch to within 700 miles. No problem, that's what bush planes are for. But then a severe storm front grounded the bush planes. That left only dogsled teams to bridge the gap. They had to make a more than 1,000-mile round trip, through the most severe of weather, which made getting lost an easy and deadly thing to do. Many sled teams, and more than 100 dogs, were involved, but the very last team, the one that brought the medicine right to the hospital door, was led by a dog named Balto. And this is his story. Or, rather, this is sort of his story. The facts were exciting enough but Hollywood still felt they had to make tweaks. So in the animated version, Balto is now half-wolf, which makes him an outsider among the town's other dogs. He also has a goose and two polar bears as friends. And he and his villainous rival Steele are both interested in the same girl, a sable-colored dog named Jenna. In reality, Balta was a Siberian husky that didn't hang around with geese or polar bears. And no details are available about his love interests. Oh, and he couldn't actually talk. But aside from historical quibbles – no one should learn their history from Disney films anyway – this is a great film. Parents will appreciate how Balto shows himself to be brave and giving, willing to risk his life for a town that has never shown him love. In a peril-filled film, we get comic relief from  Balto's friends: two polar bears afraid of water, and a goose with a Russian accent. They're also incredibly loyal, willing to stand alongside Balto no matter what he's facing, whether bullies or an enraged black bear! Cautions The big caution for this film is its level of tension. There's really no letting up  – Balto goes from having to face a bully twice his size to having to face a bear ten times his size. Then nature throws its worst at him, including giant icicles dropping down at him from a cave ceiling. One online reviewer said it was a bit much for their three-year-old daughter, but she could just close her eyes at the scary parts. I'm wondering: What kind of three-year-old could manage to not be freaked out by this? If her eyes were closed for the scary parts, did she miss three-quarters of the film? This is pretty much non-stop peril! For example, Balto and his friends fight that enormous black bear. While all the other animals in the story can talk, this is simply a beast, raging at them. When Balto fights him on a frozen lake, it looks like Balto is going to drown to death, as he disappears below the ice and it closes up over him. Adults know it will turn out all right, but little kids don't, so this is going to be super tense for them. There's also the very different sort of tension brought about by the diphtheria outbreak. In one scene, Balto and his friend Jenna peer through the hospital windows at all the sick coughing little ones. Sensitive children could certainly get worried about what will happen to all these kids. So no, this isn't for three-year-olds, and I think some ten-year-olds would have a hard time of it. But it does all have a happy ending, so kids who understand that's the direction it's heading will find this exciting, rather than scary. The only other caution would concern an odd moment where Balto, after falling off a cliff, sees a white wolf come out of the mist. I think the point of this is that Balto has to embrace the very part of himself that others are mocking - his wolf half – as it's only that toughness that will get him through. But is it a vision, or a real wolf? No words are spoken, and the scene is very short. So...odd. Conclusion For kids who can handle the tension, this will be a super-exciting movie with lots of actions but also lots of laughs. But this is not an all-ages film, as it is certain to be too tense for many kids. ...

Animated, Lists, Movie Reviews

Batman as a cucumber? The best of Veggietales...

The VeggieTales phenomenon began back in 1993 with the release of their first video, Where’s God When I’m Scared? which, like all that would follow, starred Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. While it was childish fare, there was a nod to parents in how this duo was patterned after the classic comedic pairings of Laurel & Hardy and Abbot & Costello. Bob was the easily exasperated straight man to Larry’s energetic innocent goof. Together they'd introduce each video by reading questions from children. The questions range from asking how to handle peer pressure, to wondering if it’s important to share toys with little brothers. They'd be answered with stories acted out by a host of other Veggies, including Junior Asparagus, Jean-Claude the French Pea, Pa Grape and Laura Carrot. Afterward Bob and Larry return to discuss what kids have learned, and then look up a relevant Bible verse on the computer Qwerty. That first video was followed by 47 more, and two television series, two feature films, innumerable books, a handful of CDs, and, of course, plush toys. And today, nearly 30 years later, the series is still going strong. But while VeggieTales at their very best, are downright brilliant, there is a danger in being silly while teaching Scriptural lessons – sometimes the goofiness extends to how they handle Scripture. So the quality of the videos runs the gamut from brilliant to bad, with the best being spoofs of cultural icons (Batman, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes...) and the worst being their careless Bible story retellings. With the near 50 videos out there, I haven't watched them all, so here's just a selection of the best, followed by a few examples of how their biblical stories fall short. The best Larry-Boy and the Fib from Outer Space 30 minutes / 1997 Rating: 8/10 This is our first glimpse of Larry the Cucumber’s alter ego, Larry-Boy, a super-hero with suction cup ears. This Batman spoof is complete with his own Larry-mobile, Larry-cave, and butler named Alfred. In this first adventure, a tiny alien named Fibrilious Minimus (“You can call me Fib for short”) encourages Junior Asparagus to lie to get out of trouble. But one lie quickly leads to another and before he knows it Junior finds that his little friend Fib is now 20 stories tall. Can Larry-Boy stop the Fib from outer space? Actually, no. Bumblyburg’s resident superhero is completely confounded by the giant Fib. In the end only Junior can stop the Fib, by finally confessing to all his lies. In his further adventures, Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed (1999), Larry-Boy and the Bad Apple (2006), and VeggieTales: The League of Incredible Vegatables (2012) our spandex-clad cucumber consistently shows himself to be a rather ineffective super-hero. It's only with the help of his friends, that good does eventually prevail. In addition to the previous four videos, Larry-Boy also has his own 4-episode, 2-d animation series called Larryboy: the Cartoon Adventures. It's an old-school "flat" animation look, as opposed to VeggieTales' typical computer-animated, 3-d look, but it's every bit as fun. Because this is a Batman spoof, there are villains to fight, and consequently more action, and more tension than normal. So in our house, these weren't really appreciated by the pre-school crew, but that changed as they got a bit older. Madame Blueberry 37 minutes / 1998 Rating: 8/10 Madame Blueberry is a story about a very blue berry who thinks she needs more stuff to be happy. She already has quite a lot, but some of her friends have more than she does and that makes her very blue. Fortunately for Madame Blueberry a new Stuff-Mart has just been built next door and the store’s salesmen are quite eager to help her shop. Their sales pitch is far from subtle, “Happiness waits at the Stuff-Mart – all you need is more…stuff!” but it convinces Madame Blueberry. On the way to the store though, she notices a poor family celebrating their little girl’s birthday. They have hardly anything and yet they’re happy and thankful to God. But how could that be? When Madame Blueberry encounters a little boy happy to own a single red ball she finally realizes being greedy never makes you happy, but that “a thankful heart is a happy heart!" I can't find a trailer for this one, but here's a clip... Lord of the Beans 51 minutes / 2005 Rating: 8/10 This is for parents who've seen Lord of the Rings, and for kids who are too young to see it. On his 122nd birthday, Billboy Baggypants decides to leave everything behind, including his magic bean, which can give its owner anything they want. Billboy is leaving because, despite the bean's power, he is still unsatisfied. So off he goes, bequeathing the bean to his nephew Toto, who goes on a quest to find out how he should use it. Toto is accompanied by Ear-a-corn the ranger, Randalph the Wizard, Leg-o-lamb the elf, and Grumpy the dwarf who will protect him from the fearful "sporks." If you haven't seen the Lord of the Rings, or you have, and nothing in preceding paragraph strikes you as amusing, then this isn't for you. But it is a spot-on spoof, with the lesson this time being that we should find out how to use the gifts God gives us. Sheerluck Holmes and the Golden Ruler 52 minutes / 2006 Rating: 7/10 There are two stories in thi sone, the first a spoof on Don Quixote and the second, longer one a fun take on Sherlock Holmes. Holmes (Larry) relies heavily on the insights of his friend, Dr. Watson (Bob), but doesn't share any of the credit for the crimes they solve. So when one of the United Kingdom's greatest treasures is stolen – the Golden Ruler – Dr. Watson decides to let Holmes solve this one on his own...and that doesn't go so well for him. The Golden Ruler is a play off the Golden Rule, with Dr. Watson simply wanting Holmes to treat him as Holmes would want to be treated himself. It's another brilliant spoof that mom and dad will enjoy too. MacLarry & The Stinky Cheese Battle 45 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 What if Rome was right next to Scotland? And what if the leaders of these two nations were former friends caught up in an epic pranking battle with one another? That's the premise, with Larry playing the son of the Barber-barian leader Chug Norious (think Chuck Norris) who just doesn't fit in. While everyone else likes pranking, he likes inventing. The lesson here is to appreciate other's gifts, even when they are so very different from your own. Veggies in Space: The Fennel Frontier 48 minutes / 2014 Rating: 8/10 This whole episode is a series of Star Trek and Star Wars reference (along with some quick 2001, Doctor Who, Planet of the Apes, and even Back to the Future references) that the kids won't really notice, but mom and dad may enjoy spotting. There are the silly/clever jokes for the parents that they'll only get, like an actual wooden bridge acting as the captain's bridge, and a crew member using a floating piece of wood to record his diary...aka his log. Such dad humor abounds! Larry and Bob are basically Kirk and Spock, and the lesson they need to learn is sharing. That's a lesson that many a kid can benefit from, so parents can appreciate the leap off this episode offers to have some good discussions on the topic. There's more action than normal, with giant robot fights, but nothing too scary. One language concern: a character's use of the phrase "holy guacamole." Tomato Sawyer & Huckleberry Larry's Big River Rescue 49 minutes / 2008 Rating: 7/10 This time Bob and Larry offer their own take on Mark Twain's Huckleberry Fin. It's another good spoof, though the moral of the story – to help others – is more than a bit heavy-handed this time. How so? Bob and Larry play America settlers who need to stay on their plot of land for 5 years to be able to claim it and as our story begins they have just a few days to go. Then an escapee prisoner, Big Jim, arrives – he's been framed for a crime he never committed and he needs their help to find his mama. And that would mean leave their land claim. Thus Bob and Larry (or rather Tom and Huck) face the dilemma of helping Big Jim or keeping the land they've been working 5 years for. But Christians don't have to casually abandon everything they are doing and working towards to help someone in need; they can work through their options and possibilities. So why, for example, couldn't they bring Jim back to their land claim and help him find his mama after they secure their land? It's not unChristian to try for a win/win situation. That said, it is just a cartoon. The "biblical" bunch Some years back Reformed commentator Gary Demar wrote a booklet called Meaty Tales: Should Talking Vegetables Be Used to Teach the Bible? His answer was an emphatic no, with his criticism focused specifically on the VeggieTale biblical adaptations. He argued these accounts were "trivializing and truncating the Bible’s message." “Talking vegetables teaching a lesson about lying by using a giant fib from outer space? That’s cute. And a dancing cucumber serenading little tikes with songs about his hairbrush and his water buffalo? How charming. But making the story of King David and Bathsheba into King George and the Ducky . . . is everyone else ok with that?” The Bible stories began with an adaptation of Daniel in the Lions' Den in their very first video, Where’s God When I’m Scared? And as Demar puts it, we could see from the start that "The VeggieTellers are way too liberal in the use of their literary license." Sometimes that "liberality" is hard to understand: the Veggie version has Daniel (played by Larry Cucumber) interpreting Darius' dream when the Bible tells us it was Nebuchadnezzar. Why this change? Other times the alteration might be understandable, though no less problematic. The Veggie version has jealous wisemen (played by green onions)  plot Daniel's doom via a song and dance number – they trick Darius into signing a decree that forbids bowing to anyone other than the king. Daniel breaks this new law by praying to God, and is thrown into the lions’ den. Afterwards, when he emerges unscathed, the wise men run away. In reality, these wise men were thrown into the den, and “before they reached the floor of the den the lions overpowered them and crushed their bones” (Dan 6:24). Not only are the wise men punished in this horrible fashion, even their wives and children were consumed by the lions. In a cartoon intended for kids it might seem sensible to make this G-rated substitution for what would otherwise be an R-rated event. But that the real events would be unsuitable for a children's cartoon isn't a reason to recast reality in a "nicer" light – it's a reason not to make a cartoon about that reality. This isn't the only time VeggieTales has felt free to insert a “nicer” endings to a biblical tale. In Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen Haman plots against the Jews but instead of trying to kill them he attempts to banish them to the "Island of Perpetual Tickling." Are nicer endings really such a problem? Well, just consider how many Christians would be shocked to read an Old Testament passage in which God demands the slaughter of women and children. In a quest to embrace the God of love many Christians prefer to forget that He also demands justice and in fact can be wrathful as well. By inserting these “nicer” ending VeggieTales actually hide the true character of God from children. And since children are likely to view these videos repeatedly, and read the corresponding Bible passages infrequently, that is real damage being done. Even when the Veggie version is fairly faithful – as happens in Dave and the Giant Pickle – it's still going to be comical – here we have a cute David, played by Junior Asparagus. How often is cute and comical going to be a good match for the tone of the biblical text? King George and the Ducky is, as Demar noted, based on King David’s sordid fling with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11&12). To pull off the G-rated version, the object of the King's covetous lust, Bathsheba, is replaced with a rubber ducky. Yup, you read that right, a rubber ducky. The king already has several hundred rubber duckies, but he wants Thomas’s rubber ducky so he sends Thomas off to the “Great Pie War.” Demar comments: "Putting aside the issue of whether it’s appropriate to turn Bible characters into vegetables, the VeggieTales rendition of the inspired Bible stories are inaccurate and hopelessly trivial. If my Bible memory serves me, Uzziah was killed when David sent him to the front lines of the war, and Bathsheba lost her baby that was conceived through her adulterous affair with David. To tell the stories in any other way is unbiblical. Children can understand the basics of unfaithfulness and murder without resorting to the use of bathtub toys." Perhaps the worst of the Veggie versions is Josh and the Big Wall, a "lesson in obedience." If you read Joshua 4-6 you’ll see this is one of the few stretches where Israel obeyed God without question. However, the Veggie version pretends the Israelites are questioning God at every opportunity. The VeggieTellers could have chosen almost any other point in Israel’s history to highlight Israel's rebellion, but instead the exception, when Israel is on its best behavior. And since there is no rebellion at this point, the writers simply make it up. They also contradict Scripture when Bob the Tomato comments that, “God never said it was going to be easy – no, the people of Jericho hit them with everything they had.” Actually, God did say it was going to be easy. All they had to do was walk around the city for seven successive days and God would knock the walls down for them – there was no need for a siege; God had given the city into their hands. In this whole story the scriptwriters don't just play fast and loose with Scripture; they shamelessly turn it on its head. Based on the producers' mishandling of other biblical tales, and the impossibility of cracking wise while still giving God's Word its reverent due, I'd suggest giving their other bible stories a miss too. They include: Noah's Ark Jonah: A VeggieTale Movie Abe and the Amazing Promise – about Abraham and Sarah The Ballad of Little Joe – about Joseph and his multi-colored coat Babysitter in Denile – about baby Moses left in the Nile Moe and the Big Exit – about Moses and the Exodus Gideon – Tuba Warrior Other lowlights Beauty and Beast has always been a creepy story, what with the father willing to leave his daughter behind to save his own skin. The Veggie version, Beauty and the Beet, improves on the original by improving the dad – this time he doesn't leave his daughter behind, but instead acts as the manager of their family band, the Veggietones. But then the story gets creepy in an entirely different way. The main song the Veggietones sing, "Show You Love," is all about ignoring friends and family's advice and dating the boy they think is no good, and attributing this foolish stubbornness to a directive from God. How did anyone think this was a good song to pitch to preteens? Overall cautions I'll mention one overall caution for the series: no one takes God's name in vain, but the Veggies do, with some regularity, say "Gee." This is not Jesus' name, but it is close enough that, like "Geez" we don't want our children saying it. And because it is close, I just wonder why Christian writers can't steer clear. Conclusion While the writers too often jump straight from reverence to irreverence, they've also crafted a collection of videos that are wonderfully and unabashedly brilliant. It's when they steer clear of Bible stories, and make use of material that doesn't demand the same reverence, that their comic genius is genius indeed....

Animated, Movie Reviews

Adventures in Odyssey: The Knight Travellers

Animated / Children's 17 x 27 min episodes / 1991-2003 Rating: 7/10 Back in 1987, Focus on the Family started a radio drama series for Christian families called "Adventures in Odyssey," and it is still running today, more than 900 episodes later. It also spawned 17 animated episodes, the first of which is The Knight Travellers. It's clear from the start of the first episode that viewers are expected to have some familiarity with the radio original, as main characters John Avery Whittaker ("Whit" for short) and Eugene Meltsner aren't really introduced. For those that don't know, Whit is a lovable grandfatherly figure and an inventor and Eugene is his geeky, cheerful, and probably early twenties, assistant. In this first episode, some bad guys have stolen his "Imagination Station" invention which Whit designed to allow people to travel back in time, at least in their imaginations, to find out what life was like back then. However, the bad guys have turned it into a "Manipulation Station" so they can use it to control people's minds and get rich. As regularly happens, Whit gets some pint-sized help, this time from 10-year-old Dylan Taylor and his dog Sherman (who aren't from the radio dramas). Cautions If you are familiar with the radio show, then it won't surprise you that these videos can have some tension to them. In this episode, Dylan has to contend with a crocodile, a giant boa constrictor, and a smooth-talking, and iron-mace-swinging, evil knight. In the next episode, Dylan and the new neighbor girl have an ongoing argument that continues on through the episode and ends in a hospital trip. In Episode 3, Dylan's disobedience leads to a runaway mower destroying some prize flower gardens. Everything turns out alright in the end, and, of course, lessons are learned. But the sibling arguments, the menacing villains, and the narrow escapes, will be too much for some sensitive viewers. This series is meant to teach lessons, and there are a couple morals to the initial story. The first – that true treasures are not found in toy catalogs or toy stores but come from God – is true enough. But the second moral is problematic. Whit tells the main bad guy that: "Our hope lies in something you can never control or conquer. Our _______" If you would have filled in that blank with "Our God" then you understand why Whit's answer – "Our faith" – is misdirected. Without God to preserve us, our faith would be conquerable. It is Jesus who is unconquerable. That's a point worth raising with your kids. Also problematic, is the third episode, where Dylan is initially irresponsible, so the lesson here is responsibility. What goes unaddressed is how Dylan, in an attempt to make up for past mistakes, risks and almost loses his life to save some bird eggs. This is presented as brave, but in treating his life as of no more importance than that of a bird's, Dylan is actually being irresponsible. These instances underscore how, even though this is a Christian show, there is a real need for parental guidance and discussion – they can't be treated as "hit play, and walk away." Conclusion I've watched the first half dozen episodes, and the animation and writing is comparable to Hanna-Barbera productions like The Flintstones or The Jetsons. While this is too childish for teens, parents who remember Adventures in Odyssey from their youth will enjoy this for the nostalgia, and their younger kids - those who can handle some tension - will too. I'd rate all of the episodes we've seen a 7 out of 10. There were two "seasons" to the animation series, and while it doesn't seem too important to watch them in order, The Knight Travellers does introduce us to Dylan so it is probably the best place to start. The episodes all seem to be 27 minutes, so in total there's about seven hours worth of viewing. Original Series (1991-1998) 1 – The Knight Travellers (1991) 2 – A Flight to the Finish (1991) 3 – A Fine Feathered Frenzy (1992) 4 – Shadow of a Doubt (1993) 5 – Star Quest (1993) 6 – Once Upon an Avalanche (1994) 7 – Electric Christmas 8 – Go West, Young Man 9 – Someone to Watch Over Me 10 – In Harm's Way 11 – A Twist in Time 12 – A Stranger Among Us 13 – Baby Daze Series 2 (2000-2003) 1 – The Last Days of Eugene Meltsner 2 – Escape from the Forbidden Matrix 3 – The Caves of Qumran 4 – Race to Freedom You can see The Knight Travellers trailer below. You can find the show on DVD or as a download at Apple TV and Christianbooks.com. And it is also streaming on Amazon.com. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Torchlighters: the Eric Liddell Story

Animated / Family 2007 / 31 minutes Rating: 6/10 Eric Liddell is best known for the stand he took to not compete in the 1924 Olympic 100-meter race. He was among the United Kingdom's best chances at a medal, but he didn't want to run because doing so would require him to run in a heat on Sunday. Despite enormous pressure to compromise for the sake of his country, he still refused, pointing to the 4th Commandment's call to "remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy." His country was important to him, but it came a distant second to his God. Eventually, a different sort of compromise was struck, which had Liddell run in the 200 and 400-meter races instead, winning a bronze and a gold. His firm convictions, and his outstanding athletic performances, were the subject of the 1981 film (and Oscar winner for Best Picture) Chariots of Fire. However, Hollywood indulged in a bit of artistic license. They made it seem as if Liddell only found out about the Sunday heat on the boat ride to the Paris Olympics, but the truth, as shown much more accurately in this animated video, is that Liddell knew months before. While both film and video cover Eric-the-athlete, this video covers his later years too, as Eric-the-missionary. Liddell was born in China, to Scottish missionary parents, and while educated in Scotland, actually spent most of his life in China. He returned there after the Olympics, serving as a missionary from 1925, until 1943, which is when the Japanese invaded. He could have fled, and he did send his family away, but Liddell stayed to continue telling the Chinese about God. That cost him, as he ended up in a Japanese internment camp, but even there he remained a faithful witness until his death in 1945, likely due to a brain tumor. Cautions This would have gotten at least a 7/10 if not for the choice the creators made to have Chinese characters speak broken and stilted English – their inarticulate language skills make them look a little dumb. Liddell was raised in China, which means his Mandarin was likely excellent, and for important conversations, they likely would have all used the language they all knew well, and his Chinese friends could have been shown speaking clearly and articulately in their native language. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they were all trying to learn English, and so that's the language they all spoke all the time, some better, and many worse. But I doubt it, and that's why I knocked a star off what is otherwise a solid account of a faithful and fascinating man. Also, as noted earlier, Liddell does die in a Japanese camp, and while that is not depicted, if you have some sensitive younger souls, you might want to give them a heads up early on, so that ending doesn't come as a shock. Conclusion This is more educational than entertaining, but I think families could enjoy watching this together – that it is a true story does make it compelling. To say it another way, this might not be the sort of video your kids will ask mom and dad to put on, but if you start it going, and the whole family is watching together, I don't think there will be many complaints. So sit back and be inspired by a man who knew that God was worthy of all honor, and most certainly came before fame and before his own safety. You can watch The Eric Liddell Story for free below, with commercial interruptions. For an ad-free presentation, you can sign up, also for free, at RedeemTV.com. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Wright Brothers (Animated Hero Classics)

Animated 27 minutes / 1996 Rating: 7/10 As an educational tool, this is amazing, and it's a pretty solid family movie too. In just the first 15 minutes we get to see the history of aviation develop from disastrous first attempts at gliding to the Wright brothers' first successful powered flight. But it doesn't stop there. In the second half we see aviation take its first faltering steps - the Wrights continue to refine their design, but others are flying now too. And because the Wrights are content to do their work in private, their achievement is disputed. Even the American press doesn't believe they've flown. And when the Brazilian-born Alberto Santos-Dumont gets his own plane up in the air, he claims the title "first man to fly." It seems as if the Wrights "have lost their place in history." It's all here: tension, amazing inventions, and loads of historical detail packed tightly into just a half-hour package. On top of all that, this is entertaining too. Our whole family loved it, though for different reasons. My wife and I were fascinated by the history, and our children, from 2 to 6, were swept along by the story. This would be an unmatched resource for schools, and it's also good fun for the whole family. The Wright Brothers is good enough to send parents and teachers looking for others in this "Animated Hero Classics" series so I wanted to add a warning. Not every film in the series is good: other gems can be found, but stinkers too (we were all quite bored by the one on Leonardo da Vinci). So don't buy others without doing your research (especially since they are quite expensive). ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Lost and Found

Animated / Family 24 minutes / 2013 Rating: 8/10 This short film made my girls cry and that's okay. It is a classic boy meets penguin tale, a tale of loneliness felt, and friendship found, and a beautiful tale throughout. This is what made my girls cry – the beauty of it – and that gave mom and dad an opportunity to explain to these two little misses that crying is not always linked to sadness, and that beauty can indeed by tear-inducing and then it is something, strangely enough, to be enjoyed. This lesson wasn't entirely lost on them and also not entirely understood but it was a good first exposure to this curious truth. The story itself is simple. Lost penguin arrives on boy's doorstep. Boy briefly tries to get others to help penguin, but then decides to do it himself. He builds boat and rows to the Antarctic, where he then drops off the penguin and heads back home, only to realize that the penguin wasn't lost after all, but had shown up at his house because he was lonely. Boy returns to the Antarctic, penguin hops in boat, and the two head together for what looks like the beginning of a wonderful friendship. The only caution would be that a storm scene may be a bit scary for the under 6 set. Our whole family loved it. I would recommend it for anyone 6 to 106. You can stream it – rent or buy – from Amazon (or ask your public library to pick up a DVD copy). ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Two Martin Luther animated shorts

If you're looking for some longer Martin Luther-related films, check out our "Martin at the movies" post on three films that are all currently available for free online. But for something shorter, here are two kid-friendly Martin Luther shorts. The Story of Martin Luther (5 minutes) The very clever Playmobil animation is also available in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. And if you want to see how this film was made you can with this 5-minutes behind the scenes peek. Martin Luther - The Animated Movie (11 minutes) If you have any friends in or from France, Quebec, or Sweden, this is also available in French and Swedish....

Animated, Movie Reviews

Larryboy and the Fib from Outerspace

Children's / Animated 30 min / 1999 RATING: 7/10 Larry-Boy is no ordinary hero: first off, he's a cucumber, and secondly he's got super suction cup ears. And to complete the Batman spoof, he also has his own Larry-mobile, Larry-cave and asparagus butler named Alfred. In this, his first adventure, a tiny alien named Fibrilious Minimus ("You can call me Fib for short") encourages a kid named Junior Asparagus to lie to get out of trouble. But one lie quickly leads to another and before he knows it Junior finds that his little friend Fib is now 20 stories tall. Can Larry-Boy stop the Fib from outer space? Actually, no. Bumblyburg's resident superhero is completely confounded by the giant Fib. In the end only Junior can stop the Fib, by finally confessing to all his lies – a good message wrapped in great jokes. If you like this video you may like a number of other "Veggietale" videos as well: Larry-Boy and the Rumor Weed, Madame Blueberry and Sheerluck Holmes. But not all the episodes in this Veggietales series are as admirable, with some tackling Bible stories in a way that just doesn't show the respect due God's Word. (For more on Veggietales see the Feb. 2001 RP article "Goliath is a Pickle?") You can get a taste of Larryboy by watching the official theme song video below. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Secret World of Arrietty

Animated / Family 2012 / 94 minutes RATING: 8/10 This is a Japanese animated adaptation of the much loved English book series, The Borrowers. Arrietty is one of the Borrowers – the tiny people, just inches high, who live in our houses, in between the walls, under the floorboards, and in the ceilings. Now that she's 14, she's old enough to accompany her father on his "borrowing" expeditions. It's vital that these little people are never discovered, so even as they are creative sorts, turning leaves into umbrellas, sewing needles into swords, and clothespins into hairclips, they can't make their own goods. To create factories or farms would risk being discovered by the big people, the "beans." That possibility so scares the Borrowers that if a human ever sees them, then they will leave that house, never to return. But on Arrietty's first expedition, to get a single sugar cube, a young boy in the house discovers her. Shawn is a nice boy, newly arrived to the house because he is sick and needs care that his parents can't seem to provide. While he would never hurt Arrietty, or share the secret of her existence with others, the same isn't true of the housekeeper when she also discovers the tiny people, and hires an exterminator to help track them down. CAUTION The only caution relates to the "borrowing" that goes on. What do we call it when someone borrows without asking, and with no intention of ever giving it back? Stealing. In defense of these fictional thieves, they can't ask for permission because then they will be discovered, and they can't make these goods on their own for the same reason. Also, what they take is so negligible as to never be noticed. Still, this "borrowing" is a point parents should raise. In the Curious George TV shows it's noted that George is a monkey so he sometimes does things that we shouldn't. That seems a good warning about the Borrowers too. CONCLUSION While The Secret World of Arrietty was originally done in Japanese, Disney was so entranced by the film they took charge of the English release and did a wonderful job with the dubbing. It is a gorgeous film that many a parent will absolutely love too, especially if they read the Borrowers books in their childhood. And the slower pacing is perfect for any children who find other films too frantic or scary. Yes, there are some tense moments, but there is a lot of beauty and calm in-between as we explore the world as it looks through a set of tiny eyes. ...

Animated

The Gruffalo

Animated / Family 27 min / 2009 Rating: 8/10 How can a mouse meet up with a hungry fox, snake, and owl, and live to tell the tale? It helps that he has a monstrously big friend who is just about to meet him. And a fox, or a snake, or an owl, wouldn't dare eat a small mouse who has such a big friend! But...what if they found out what the mouse knows: "There's no such things as a Gruffalo"? Or is there? This short film, based on the book of the same name, is a clever tale about a mouse who thinks his way out of trouble. It is beautifully rendered, visually and musically, with the only concern being that everyone wants to turn this little mouse into a little morsel. So in our household the pause button had to be used a few times to calm some anxious viewers. For those under eight, especially if they don't watch much TV, there is a little bit of tension here. In fact, kids under three might find it just too scary. But it does all work out in the end, and reassuring any little ones of that might help them make it through. So, two thumbs up for this short, fun, and clever story. Who could ask for more? There is a sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, about the title character heading off to search for the "big bad mouse" that so terrified his father. But it loses the charm of the original because now it is a father who lies to his child, rather than, as in the original, a mouse lying to predators. While we can justify lying to predators it is quite another thing for a parent to lie to their child. Also, the moody music, and the uncertainty about who we should be cheering for (the Gruffalo child, all on his lonesome searching through the woods, or the mouse that he is, basically, hunting?) make this one a good bit scarier than the original. That's why our family is going to give it a miss. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Boxcar Children

Animated / Children's 2013 / 81 minutes Rating: 7/10 The Boxcar Children is the first title in a popular and still expanding children's series of books. And just like the book, the film is about four children - three brothers and one sister - who have lost their parents, and have been told they will have to live with their grandfather. But Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny don't know their grandfather at all, and imagine that, because he never came to visit, he must be a cruel man. So they run away. The first part of the story is about how they get by, day to day, all on their own. It's when they find an old, long abandoned, railway boxcar that things start looking up for them. Then the older brother can go into town to do odd jobs, and the other three can start setting up the boxcar as a real home for them. This is a children's story so, of course, it has a happy ending. And I don't think I give away too much to say it involves their cruel grandfather not being cruel at all. CAUTIONS The only cautions would concern language: in one instance a character says "holy mollie" and in another someone utters "oh my gosh" but that is the extent of it. CONCLUSION While there are a few moments of tension – especially early on when they are being chased by a couple who wants to put the children to work in their bakery – this is a pretty gentle movie. The plot is also simple, and I say that not as a criticism, but only to note this is more of a children's film than something the whole family will enjoy. Mom and dad won't mind too much, but I don't expect teens will enjoy sitting through it. But if you children who have been reading the Boxcar Children series, then this will be a treat. The first book in the series, The Boxcar Children, was published in 1924, but the series really started gaining in popularity in 1942, when it was reissued. The author, Gertrude Chandler Warner, went on to write a total of 19 stories about the four siblings (and I've been told that these 19 are much better than the more than 100+ that have followed). There's no Christian content in the book or the film but as you might expect from a story written almost 100 years ago, there's nothing all that objectionable either. So it is a good safe film that kids will love, and parents won't mind. And now there is a sequel, The Boxcar Children: Surprise Island, which we review here. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle

Animated / Children 81 Minutes / 2015 Rating: 7/10 We might wonder why it hadn't happened sooner. The third film begins with the unflappable man in the yellow hat finally getting tired of the trouble George keeps getting himself in. He wants everyone's favorite monkey to learn a new word: "caution." But when an opportunity comes up for George to head up into space on a rescue mission, caution goes out the window. Off he goes up, up, up into space, and then, when the space capsule has an equipment malfunction, down, down, down he falls, crash-landing in the jungles of Africa. While the man in the yellow hat thinks "jungles are no place for a monkey," George has a great time meeting all sorts of animals and making friends of them all. Those friendships will serve him well when George and his best friend join forces and have to make their way through the forest's most treacherous areas. CAUTIONS There is a brief scene in the museum where, in the background, we see a display touting the evolution of man. It's a line up with a model of a modern man on one side, a large monkey-like creature on the other, and a few caveman-like creatures in-between. My children didn't understand what it was all about, but George does bring it to notice by jumping into the line-up, falling in behind a large monkey creature. The whole thing lasts just a few seconds. Another more notable caution is a scene in which the man in the yellow hat takes the role of "dumb dad." This is a pretty common theme in film and on TV, with the kid (or, in this case, monkey) portrayed as wiser than his parents who just don't get it. But unlike some films, in which this disrespectful (and running right up against the fifth commandment) attitude is a key element in the whole movie, this is just one scene. I brought it to my kids' attention because this is a mild example of something they'll see again and again, which made for a good teaching moment. CONCLUSION This is quite a good film, but not a great one, striking me as being more like an extended episode of the TV series than a feature film. But if your family loves George then they are sure to love this too. It's a rollicking, silly, goofy adventure – very much the typical Curious George fare. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Winnie the Pooh

Animated / Children / Family 63 min, 2011 Rating: 8/10 Our favorite silly little bear starts his newest adventure in bed, waking up only at the insistence of the narrator. Winnie-the-Pooh "has a Very Important Thing to Do" today, so he simply must get up! Just what that important thing is, the narrator does not specify, so Pooh decides his first priority is going to be to take care of his tummy. And that requires some "huny." When he discovers he is all out, this bear of very little brain comes up with a sensible enough plan - he goes in search of "friends out there with honey to spare." Once out of his little house Pooh proceeds to have a series of adventures. The first involves Tigger and a balloon, and the second, a fearsome beast (or as fearsome as a Pooh cartoon can be) named the Backson. The longest adventure of all is a search for Eeyore's tail... or for some substitute that could serve in that role. This is a gentle family-friendly gem. Disney has produced a score of Pooh films but this is the first since 1977's The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh to fully capture the charm of the books. Adventures remains the best of all the Pooh films, with this a very close second. Some reviewers were critical about its length, or rather, lack of length. Winnie the Pooh is listed as being an hour long, which is only about half as long as a regular feature film (and when you subtract the credits, it would be more accurate to say this is just over 50 minutes). It's a legitimate beef. I know I would feel a little put out if I spent ten bucks per head for my family and we were marching out of the theatre before I even finished my popcorn. But on DVD this length is more palatable, especially when its intended audience, and their limited attention spans, are considered. There are only two cautions to note. The first concerns language. After the film ends, and ten minutes of credits run, there is one final, very short scene in which the word "gosh" is used twice. I'm not a fan of this "substitute expletive" but this is not God's name, and thus is not taking his name in vain. The only other caution is about Pooh himself. In this rendition, Pooh is a little more self-absorbed and selfish than usual. As an example, when the group sets out to trap the Backson, Pooh is content to let his little friend Piglet do all the work while he supervises. Pooh's shallowness (including his obsession with honey) is the central "conflict" in the story, and one that parents should point out to their children - the "hero" of this little story is not being a good friend right here. Of course, Pooh does get his priorities figured out by the end of the film. When faced with the choice of finally getting some honey, or bringing Eeyore his missing tail, Pooh chooses friend over food. The story concludes with Christopher Robin congratulating Pooh for the "Very Important Thing" he did today: "Instead of thinking of your tummy you thought of your friend." ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

The Lord of the Rings animated "trilogy"

Peter Jackson wasn't the first to put J.R.R. Tolkien's books on film. Two decades before the first of Jackson's live-action/CGI films hit theaters, three animated versions were crafted in the space of three years, and by two different animators. The first two are well worth checking out. The third is not. THE HOBBIT Animated 77 minutes / 1977 RATING: 7/10 The Hobbit was the first Tolkien book to be filmed, in 1977. Director Authur Rankin chose a particularly cartoonish style of drawing that made it clear from the start that this was intended as a children's film. But his work had some humor to it – just as the source material does – which makes it pleasant enough viewing for adults too. Our hero Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, creatures that look much like humans, though they are half as tall and have far hairier feet. Normally Hobbits like nothing better than to stay close to home, but when the wizard Gandalf brings 12 treasure-seeking Dwarves to his doorstep Bilbo signs up for the adventure. And with the help of a magic "ring of power" Bilbo finds, he helps his new friends fight Orcs, Elves, and even a dragon. At 77 minutes long, readers of the book may be disappointed as to just how much the film condenses the story. However, as children’s films go it is quite a nice one, and a good introduction to Middle Earth. That said, for a children's film there are some fairly scary bits, including attacks from Orcs, giant spiders and a "Gollum" so this isn't suitable for the very young. Parents will want to preview this to see how suitable it is for their children. I know I can't show this to my girls yet, but will when the youngest hits about nine or ten. THE LORD OF THE RINGS Animated 133 minutes / 1978 RATING: 7/10 A year after The Hobbit was released, another animator, Ralph Bakshi, decided to try his hand at The Lord of the Rings.  The story begins with an aging Biblo Baggins passing on his magic ring to his nephew Frodo. Shortly after the wizard Gandalf shows up to warn Frodo of the ring's danger. It turns out this ring is so powerful that whoever holds it could use it to rule the world. This is why the evil Sauron wants it, and why the good Gandalf knows that it must be destroyed – this all-encompassing power is too much of a temptation for even the best of men to contend against. It is up to Frodo, who as a little Hobbit is far less tempted by the pull of power, to take the ring deep into the enemy's lands to destroy it in the lava of the mountain where it was first forged. And on the journey he has the company of hobbits, men, an elf, a dwarf, and a wizard to help him. Animator Ralph Bakshi used a style of animation that involved filming scenes with real actors and then tracing over each frame of film to create a line-drawing picture of it. This "rotoscoping" allowed Bakshi to incorporate the endless possibilities of animation with the realism of live-action. The realism also meant that this is a scarier film than The Hobbit. The lurching Ringwraiths (see the picture) are freaky, and some of the combat scenes, especially at the very end, are quite bloody. Though this is animated, it is not for children. There is one major flaw with the film: it is only half of the story! The director planned it as the first part of a two-film treatment, but the second film was never made, so things wrap up abruptly. While it lacks a proper ending, the story it does tell is intriguing. THE RETURN OF THE KING Animated 97 minutes / 1979 RATING: 4/10 This is sometimes treated as a sequel to Ralph Bakshi's film, but it isn't. Arthur Rankin directed, and he returned to the cartoonish animation style of The Hobbit. And while the events in this story do, loosely, follow after the events of the Bakshi film, Rankin seems to have been envisioning this as a sequel to The Hobbit, so he begins with an overview of everything that took place between it and The Return of the King. Or, in other words, it begins with a quick summary of two 500-page books – as you might expect this overview doesn't do justice to the contents of these enormous tomes, and the continuity of the story is completely lost. If a viewer isn't already familiar with the books he'll have no idea what's going on. Things don't get any better once the overview is complete - there is no flow to the story. Huge plot elements are skipped over, and random snips of scenes are stitched to other scenes with stilted narration and cheesy ballads. In addition, Frodo Baggins twice calls on God to help him. Some might argue this could be an appropriate use of God's name, but in the context of a fantasy world in which God is never otherwise mentioned, this seems a misuse. In short, The Return of the King is a dreadful film that is not worth anyone's time....

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

Jungle Beat - fun for the kids that will have the adults laughing too

Family / Animated 600+ min RATING: 10/10 I'm always on the hunt for films or shows my kids will enjoy that I'll enjoy too. There aren't many that fit that bill, but Jungle Beat sure does. This is comic genius at its best! The videos are all 5-minute stand-alone pieces featuring one jungle creature. Our favorite is probably the giraffe, or the turtle, but the bee, monkey and hedgehog are popular too. While the videos do have sound, they remind me of the very best silent film comedies from Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin, because they are entirely dialogue-free (after all, animals don't talk, right?) so all the humor is physical. Let me give you an idea of some of the scenarios: What's a poor turtle to do when it gets an itch, but its shell won't let it scratch? Maybe it should just slip off its shell? But like a pair of tight pants, his shell comes off easily, but doesn't go back on nearly so quickly. This leads to some hi-speed hijinks when the turtle has to surf on his shell to evade an eagle that wants to eat the now-exposed turtle. What's a poor firefly to do when it wants to catch some sleep, but its own light is keeping it awake? What's a poor giraffe to do when he accidentally head-butts the moon and knocks it to the ground, where it breaks to pieces? Each of the stories has a creative set-up, and all come with a happy ending. I don't know if Jungle Beat's creators are Christian, but I suspect so, because they've gone to great lengths to make sure this is family-friendly. I really can't say enough good things about this series. It is so very clever, and other than a few moments of peril, which might have our two-year-old a little nervous, it is entirely safe. And for the perfect finishing touch, they've even included coloring sheets at their website: www.junglebeat.tv. Two thumbs very enthusiastically up – I give this a 10 out of 10! So far there are three seasons, with each season made up of a dozen or so short videos. Each season's videos have been combined into full one-hour-long compilations which you can find below. And if that isn't enough, you can find two seasons of the Munki and Trunk series – focused on Jungle Beat's two most popular characters – just below. That's almost nine hours of animated fun! The only caution I will mention is that these do include commercials, and while YouTube generally keeps kids' show commercials tame, nowadays you just don't know what they'll show. So even with these very G-rated videos, parental supervision is a must in case of PG-rated commercials. Americans with Amazon Prime can skip the commercials by watching Jungle Beat Season 1+2 here and Monki and Trunk Season 1 here. Canadians with Amazon Prime can do the same by clicking here and here. I'll also add that these are a lot more fun in short 10 or 15-minute chunks than they are watching a whole hour's worth at a time. So gather round the family – you are in for a treat! JUNGLE BEAT SEASON ONE (65 minutes) SEASON TWO (66 minutes) SEASON THREE (60 minutes) SEASON FOUR (79 minutes) MUNKI AND TRUNK SEASON ONE (79 minutes) SEASON TWO (80 minutes) SEASON THREE (80 minutes) SEASON FOUR (81 minutes) THE EXPLORERS PART ONE (14 minutes) PART TWO (12 minutes) This review was first published on ReelConservative.com...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Curious George: Royal Monkey

Animated / Children's 2019 / 86 minutes RATING: 7/10 In this homage to The Prince and the Pauper, our monkey friend George accidentally switches places with his simian look-alike Philippe, the kingdom of Simiana's "royal monkey." While the two could be twins, they couldn't act more different: George is all fun-loving and childish irresponsibility, and Philippe is reliable and downright somber. This is the fourth Curious George feature film (though there is no number, the events take place right after Curious George 3) but it's second only to the original in charm. The one criticism I'd have is pacing. It is a bit slower than some of the other films, so even as my kids absolutely loved it, I would have enjoyed seeing George get himself into a few more tight spots. However, even a relatively calm George is a very fun George, making this one that the whole family, young and old, will be sure to enjoy. As they often explain in the also charming TV series, George is a monkey so sometimes he does things we shouldn't. That's a good way of letting kids know they better not do what George does, but our youngest will still sometimes get quite stressed at George's antics because she understands that, well, if she were in George's shoes, what he's doing would be quite naughty! So I appreciated how in this film the writers managed to so arranged things that the trouble George gets into isn't his fault (at least for the most part). While watching TV, George spots a commercial for a new theme park called "Castleland" where every guest is "treated like royalty" and the man in the yellow hat tells George that if he's good, he'll arrange for a visit. So when, after the monkey mix-up, George ends up with the Simiana royal family, he isn't surprised that people start treating him like royalty. And he isn't at all naughty going off with this other family, because he thinks this is the visit that the man in the yellow hat had arranged. If you know the Prince and the Pauper then you might be thrown just a bit by the one-sidedness of the lessons learned here. George teaches the royal family to be less uptight, and the man in the yellow hat teaches Phillipe to be less uptight too. Was there a lesson for George to learn? If there was, our monkey friend missed it. Oh well. I guess that just means there'll have to be a Curious George 5. I'm looking forward to it. For a preview of the film's first ten minutes, check out the video below. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Minuscule: Valley of the Lost Ants

Animated / Family 2014 / 89 minutes Rating: 7/10 In this utterly unique film, a lost ladybug teams up with a colony of black ants to fight off a horde of red ants who want their sugar stash. A couple of things set this film apart. First, it seamlessly meshes animation and gorgeous nature footage, with the overall look more like a Planet Earth episode than a kid's cartoon. Another unique element is the lack of dialogue – other than  20 seconds of scene-setting narration, no one speaks. Or, rather, when they speak, it is only in Antish and Ladybuguese (I had the English subtitles on, but shucks, no translation was provided). Our kids had to decipher the storyline from strictly physical cues which had them paying very close attention. It also meant that their Dad had to occasionally "narrate" the action to help them figure out what was going on. Cautions This is G-rated film, free of any language, sexuality, or violence concerns (there is a big battle scene but no injuries are shown, and the rest of the "violence" is of the slapstick variety). But while the action was muted compared to many an animated film, Miniscule's brilliant use of sound and music really amplifies the tension. If you have younger viewers – maybe 9 and under - you can help them through these sections by either turning down the sound (minimizing the music's impact) or, by doing what we did. While we were still early in the film, we ended up showing our girls the last ten minutes of the film so they could know that it all turned out alright. They still sometimes forgot so we'd have to remind them, but each reminder helped a lot. Their response reminded my wife of how when we as adults have our own tense moments, we're also comforted by knowing a happy ending awaits – that's one reason why God has "given away the ending." It might also help youngsters to know that the only actual bad guys in the film are the red ants and, briefly, a large fish. Any other seemingly villainous sorts turn out to be friends. Finally, the music also adds impact to the Ladybug's wistful recollections of his lost family. Early in the film, as a young bug, he gets separated from his parents and siblings, and in two brief recollections afterward our 6-year-old was in tears feeling bad for him. Conclusion This is film kids will appreciate for the story and mom and dad can enjoy for its beauty and the brilliant way it tells a story without words. I've spent a lot of space warning about how some particularly sensitive or very young children will find the tension troubling, but overall this is quite the gentle movie. Our family really enjoyed it, even with the tense moments. Americans who subscribe to Amazon Prime can watch it for free. ...

Animated, Movie Reviews, Remembrance Day

Sgt. Stubby: an unlikely hero

Animated / Family 2018 / 84 minutes Rating: 8/10 I read a review by a parent who arrived at the movie theater with his four-year-old and picked this film based solely on the smiling ever-so-cute doggie he saw on the movie poster. One problem: while this is about a charming, incredibly clever dog named Stubby, it's also about life in the trenches of World War I. And that's not 4-year-old material. Why, oh why, don't more people read movie reviews! But, as we mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the "Great War" this is a movie that many a ten-year-old and up will enjoy and should watch. It's based on the true story of Sgt. Stubby, the most decorated dog in American history. The story begins with the homeless dog attaching himself to a unit readying itself to be shipped overseas. First, he charms his way into the heart of one Private Robert Conroy, the main two-legged character in the film. Then, one by one, from the lowest private to the general in charge, he wins over everyone. Well, not everyone. Some folks just aren't dog people, and Private Elmer Olsen just doesn't understand what's so special about Stubby. When the unit heads overseas, Stubby manages to sneak aboard the ship, and he too is heading to the fight. From this point onward there's one perilous scene after another, but to make it appropriate for (nearly) the whole family, the filmmakers decided to make this an entirely bloodless film. Even as bullets are whizzing, no one gets shot. German bombardments send both soldiers and dirt flying, but the soldiers get dug out and emerge both unbruised and unbloodied. While parents will appreciate the nonexistent blood and gore, by muting the violence and death the film ran the risk of also muting the sacrifice that these soldiers made. But as the film draws to a close there is one death – to a secondary character, Private Olsen – that drives home, even to the younger audiences, what these men risked and what they lost. Without giving it all away, I'll note that the death happens off screen and we don't even see the body. It is the soldier's absence that is noted – while his friends are looking for him after the last big battle, Stubby brings them his helmet. That'll get some kids crying, and even moisten the eye of many an adult. But it is necessary. And it is done with great care and restraint. As you'd expect with an energetic pooch as its star, there is a lot of fun in the film. Kids are sure to enjoy Stubby training along with his fellow soldiers, getting chased by the cook, and winning over the Colonel after Conroy teaches his little buddy how to salute. In another treat, Gérard Depardieu makes an appearance as a large, wise French soldier, who along with Conroy and Stubby is tasked to spy out German positions. These "three musketeers" become fast friends, saving each others' lives. Cautions There are only a couple of concerns, including a little bit of language. The worst of it includes one character saying "What the devil?" and another exclaiming "I'll be darned." There is also just one bit of "naughty" comedy as the drill sergeant lectures his men on they should imitate the never-complaining, always-ready-to-roll Stubby but he makes this speech just as Stubby decides to lick his nether regions. That gets a laugh out of the sergeant and his men as they are presented with proof-positive that Stubby has some traits that aren't worthy of imitation. The big caution would concern the near constant peril. This is not a film for four-year-olds. But most ten-year-olds will be sure to enjoy it. Conclusion This was such a pleasure to discover. Before this, I couldn't have imagined a war film that would be appropriate for the very young and yet still be a treat for their parents. This would be a great one to watch with the family for Remembrance Day, Memorial Day, or Anzac Day. You can find out more about the film at its website: StubbyMovie.com. ...

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