DVD Release Date: March 27, 2012 (Blu-ray 3D)
Rating: PG (for some mild thematic elements)
Genre: Animation, Family
Run Time: 87 min.
Director: Deryck Broom, Roger Hawkins
Actors (Voices): Ernest Borgnine, Anupam Kher and Sandi Patty
It all begins so well, with an Indiana Jones-esque title sequence and swelling soundtrack. The opening animated scenes have depth and beauty. When first we meet the motley crew of stable animals, they’re quite funny in an appropriately child-friendly way. . . and that’s pretty much the high point of the film, at least for adult viewers.
The friends meet a precocious young lamb named Judah (Georgina Cordova), who is apparently dropped off in their stable for the sole purpose of being introduced to the rest of the cast. Judah is convinced his destiny is to “set everyone free” with no clue of the sacrifice required to do so. When he’s boxed back up and carried off to Jerusalem moments later, the clueless, blabbermouth rooster Drake is accidentally trapped in the crate with the lamb and carted off with him.
With one of their number in peril, what’s a group of stable friends to do? High-minded rat Slink (Ernest Borgnine) cajoles the ‘cowardly lion’ of a horse, Monty (Anupam Kher), warm-hearted cow Esmay (Sandi Patty), and Horace the pig (Omar Miller) into going on a rescue mission. This despite the fact that they’re told “only the King can set you free.” Along the way they meet Jack, a rebellious young donkey, who ends up on their quest despite his best efforts to avoid it. (Press pause here for a brief rant: I realize this is a kids’ movie, but a pig in a Jewish stable? I don’t care how charming Horace may be, that is just not kosher.)
Eventually we learn these are not just any animals . . . they’re the same animals who were in the stable when Jesus was born. (For thirty-three-plus-year-old animals they’re in remarkable condition.) They meet others, of course, including a mafia boss raven who’s been seeing visions and a pair of sanctimonious birds who are so holier-than-thou they rebuild their cage rather than take proffered freedom. (Nice bit of symbolism there, though it’ll likely go over children’s heads.)
To its credit, Lion of Judah offers a number of lessons, from respecting others to the concept of substitutionary sacrifice to the meaning of ambidextrous, etc., etc. . . . and that’s a bit of a problem. It tries to cram so much into one story the end result is confusion. A shorter film with fewer messages would be easier to watch and understand. On the other hand, parents who purchase the DVD will get a plethora of lessons for their money and since kids often watch videos over and over they may eventually absorb them all. Maybe all those seemingly random bits and pieces stuck into the story count toward added value.
More minuses: Some of the dialogue is stilted, especially from Jack the disillusioned donkey; the problem appears to be a combination of writing and delivery. The animation seems to have been done by committee. The main animal characters aren’t bad; Drake the rooster is even rather lovely, though Judah has a weird, slightly repellent and totally un-lamb-like face. Although it opens well, as the film progresses the “peoplekind” appear to have stepped out of the pages of a coloring book, and the scenery goes flat. Note: this may be different in the 3D version; Lion of Judah is said to be "The First Faith-Based Family Animation on Blu-ray 3DTM."
On the plus side, there are many genuinely funny moments and some fairly sweet ones. It teaches biblical principles (and some Bible trivia) and depicts the Easter story from an unusual perspective. Parts of the soundtrack are so good you actually notice it.
All in all, Lion of Judah is a noble effort. It’s not great, but it’s certainly not awful, either. If you’re looking for an inspirational video for the child in your life, you could certainly do worse.
- Drugs/Alcohol: None.
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sex/Nudity: None.
- Violence: Quite a bit of cartoon violence—creatures getting conked on the head or dropped from great heights, and so on—with no perceptible lasting effect on them. The pig passes gas in the horse’s face (in response to a request for smelling salts). Rocks are thrown at birds. Jesus knocks over tables and cages in the temple. There’s a mostly off-screen and blood-free depiction of the crucifixion. The terrified teddy-bear-looking lamb is tied up by a priest who sharpens a large knife and clearly intends to use it, which may upset sensitive younger viewers.
- Spiritual Themes: Respecting others. A clear presentation of the gospel message. Some liberties taken with the biblical account (example: the animals are the only witnesses to Jesus’ death) but none that detract from the basic story. There is much exclaiming of “I’m free” which is a little vague under the circumstances, since they don’t go into the difference between spiritual and physical freedom.