Jesus: The Animated Movies

In my latest foray into my local movie store’s bargain bin, I managed to turn up an interesting DVD, titled “The Animated Passion”:

jesus
Of course, I had to pick it up. It is a Bargain Bin(ge) / (God)Awful Movies crossover!

It turns out that the DVD is actually two different short animated movies. They appear to be sort-of related, despite one having a 1988 release and the other 2004. They also look pretty much identical in style, with only minor differences. They are similar enough that I had trouble distinguishing them as different movies, especially given that “He Is Risen” occurs chronologically immediately after “Worthy is the Lamb”. With a little cutting, they could be the same movie easily. Seriously, tell me if these two clips look like they are from different movies:

Both movies are directed by Richard Rich, who is mostly known as one of three directors on “The Fox and The Hound”. Most of his career since that time has been dedicated to religious animated movies like these. Judging from the quality of these movies, I’m not so sure that was by choice. The biggest surprise I found, primarily because there is no promotion of it on the box whatsoever, is that “He is Risen” was written by acclaimed Sci-Fi / Fantasy author Orson Scott Card (of “Ender’s Game” fame). According the IMDb, he did a fair amount of that back in the 80’s. I suppose that isn’t so surprising given his much-maligned opinions on homosexuality, but I was still taken aback to see his name on screen.

jesus3
Yeah, fuck this guy

As soon as the first film (“Worthy is the Lamb”) started, there was a lengthy disclaimer on screen about the fact that people from multiple faiths would be depicted, and that no offense was intended to anyone. That sent up a red flag off the bat for me, as it would anyone. As it turns out, it was quite justified. The depictions of Jewish people in this movie are, to say the least, not good. The voice actors go way over-the-top, and the character designs / animations are not flattering. All of that said, the fellow voicing Caiaphas was one of the few highlights in the whole film. He was capital-A “ACTING”. The only people who ever came close to him in hammy-ness were the guys doing Pilate and Judas, fulfilling the age-old tradition of over-the-top bad dudes. In contrast, the guy voicing Jesus sounded like he was about 85 years old. He was soft-spoken, elderly, and was about the least charismatic voice in the cast. This seems to be a running problem with depicting Jesus in just about anything: he always comes off as incredibly boring. I guess that’s the Christian idea of perfection?

Helix has a pretty winning personality compared to your typical on-screen Jesus
Helix has a pretty winning personality compared to your typical on-screen Jesus

The animation in both of these movies is…sub-par. In particular, most of the male characters have identical beards/mustaches, which makes telling people apart nearly impossible. There were also a lot of moments where the motions seemed jarring, like they were cutting corners by skipping frames. There were instances where the animators clearly didn’t know what they were doing, such as when anyone’s feet were in motion on screen, or if any characters were depicted crying. There is also a horrifying moment where sheep are shown in a state of panic during an earthquake. The animators’ attempt to depict sheep mouths looks like nightmare fuel.

jesus1
While watching these, I specifically remarked that this is the worst animated feature I had seen since the Titanic animated movies. After doing research, it turns out that the voice actor for Caiaphas was in BOTH of those Titanic animated flicks. Even better, he was the rapping dog. Really.

titanic6
The next huge problem with these movies requires some context. Check out this passage from the back of the box:

Your family will enjoy these two movies, appropriate even for young children…These high-quality, scripturally accurate stories will completely captivate children

Let me break down the issue into two key phrases from that passage: “scripturally accurate” and “captivate children”. These movies pull scripture and dialogue straight out of the King James Bible. There are no colloquialisms here, and no attempts to make the features kid-friendly outside of not animating blood. These movies are pretty damn verbose, and astoundingly boring to boot. Outside of the unintentionally entertaining voice acting by the bad guys, this was a chore. I watched these with a couple of friends who I’ve been riffing on movies with for years, and the room was silent for most of the running time. If we couldn’t find much entertainment here, kids are going to tear their eyes out.

If you happen upon this DVD in a bargain bin, I can loosely recommend picking it up. Both features are pretty straight-forward at face value, but the voice acting and animation are bad enough to get some amusement. Also, there are some horrid sing-a-longs on the DVD that use the same animation. In fact, they seem to be discarded scenes from other features, because the characters move their mouths as if they should be speaking, but there is no dialogue for them. Instead, the sing-a-long track is playing, which at first made me think that the characters were singing. I suppose that is one way to make up for a lost audio track or a spare bit of footage? I think they are only on the DVD to fill up all of the empty space on the disc, because combined both features probably don’t crack an hour of run time.

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