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During his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth made good use of parables to get across moral and spiritual points, but the same cannot be said of his followers in the filmmaking community that continue to make movies for the American faith-based market that lack storytelling skills. The latest, The Lion of Judah, is a lame and puzzling animated film that attempts to re-interpret the Easter story through the eyes of goofy barnyard animals. The story falls flat amid tired slapstick, repetitive dialogue, dull, clichéd characters and the lack of a clear narrative line.
The film comes from a new company, AMG Films and its animation arm, Animated Family Films, which is releasing the film in a surprisingly slapdash manner. Not only has it missed Easter by six weeks, but also the 3D animation promised in its press releases isn’t ready for the initial rollout June 3. A spokeswoman said 3D will get added for a further theatrical expansion later in June but by then it may be too late. The film is reviewed here in 2D.
The filmmakers lined up an impressive voice cast headed by Ernest Borgnine, Michael Madsen, Scott Eastwood, Georgina Cordova and Omar Miller but story and animation betray them at every step. It’s even hard to describe coherently the storyline. A young lamb, Judah (Cordova), who thinks he’s a lion — shades of Babe the pig who thought he was a dog— is sent to Jerusalem to be sacrificed for Passover. So his stable mates set out to free him.
Yet somehow the animals know that only “the King” can actually set Judah free. Indeed several were among the animals in that Bethlehem manger 30 years earlier when the King was born. The confusion over the exact mission on earth of God’s only son — is it to free people or sacrificial animals? — gets lost amid the wearisome slapstick among the animal characters that want to be cute but aren’t.
The leader of the pack is Slink the rat (Borgnine), who goads his fellow critters into following him. These include Monty (Anupam Kher), a horse that faints frequently; Jack (Eastwood), a stubborn and sullen donkey; Esmay (Sandi Patty), a very feminine cow; Horace (Miller), a clumsy pig; and Drake (Alphonso McAuley), an acrobatic rooster.
The only really successful character is Madsen’s Boss, a raven mobster who is runs the bird mafia in Jerusalem since Madsen’s spirited performance jives nicely with the only clever dialogue in the screenplay by Brent Dawes.
Director Deryck Broom and his co-director, Roger Hawkins, must have missed the last two decades of CG-animated releases for none of its influences are evident. This is about as rudimentary as you can get. The animation, from South Africa’s Character Matters Animation Studios, features overly rounded animals, crude humans and static backgrounds. The rock/pop songs that pad the 87-minute movie are serviceable but this is no Jesus Christ Superstar.
Opens: June 3 (Rocky Mountain Pictures)
Production companies: Animated Family Films/Sunrise Pictures/ Character Matters Animation Studios
Cast: Ernest Borgnine, Scott Eastwood, Michael Madsen, Georgina Cordova, Sandi Patty, Omar Miller, Anupam Kher, Alphonso McAuley
Director: Deryck Broom
Co-director: Roger Hawkins
Screenwriter: Brent Dawes
Producers: Phil Cunningham, Jacqui Cunningham, Sunu Gonera
Executive producers: Johan Sturm, Verplmoque Strum, Robert Kohn, James Schramm, Daniel de Liege
Director of photography: Deryck Broom
Music: Greg Sims
Editors: Gareth Ahrens, Roger Hawkins
Rated PG, 87 minutes
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