A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus is a European production, in English, that tells Jesus' story based on the New Testament Gospel of Luke using sophisticated stop-action puppets (Claymation) techniques. Jesus' teachings, the miracles he performed, his ultimate recognition as the son of God, and the brutal treatment he and his converts receive from the Romans are the film's focus. Violent scenes (the crucifixion, the whipping of "Mad" Mary) are handled with care; minimal blood and pain are shown. Illness, with some characters on the brink of death, and some references to off-camera deaths are an integral part of the story of Jesus as a healer. The puppets have a wide variety of skin tones -- light, dark, and darker -- which accurately reflects the racial makeup of the Holy Land during Jesus' lifetime. Over five years in the making and originally aired on television in Great Britain, the movie attracted a roster of major actors and actresses. Many of the concepts and the teachings, as well as the miracles performed, may require some explanation or discussion with younger kids. Even older ones will benefit from having some previous knowledge of the biblical events and religious precepts depicted in the movie.
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What's the story?
THE MIRACLE MAKER: THE STORY OF JESUS opens with Jesus' journey to Galilee, where he preaches to its citizens, inspires them, performs miracles, and challenges the ongoing Roman occupation. The story stays basically true to the Gospel of Luke, as Christianity begins to flourish in the region. Classic events such as Lazarus rising, the exorcism of Mary Magdalene (portrayed here as "mad," not as a prostitute), the loaves and fishes, and healing the sick and dying are included, as are a number of fundamental parables that define and illustrate Jesus' teachings. As Jesus gathers his disciples and his congregation multiplies, various factions fear the consequences of such untraditional ideals and messages and begin a campaign to get rid of this professed Messiah. The Romans have the upper hand, and, with the help of Judas' betrayal, Jesus is taken captive, judged, and crucified, only to rise to complete his journey and lead his constituents into righteousness.
Is it any good?
For young viewers, the film's complex themes, life-and-death situations, and climactic crucifixion scenes may be too intense. And, as an introduction to the teachings of Jesus and the precepts of Christianity, sharing with grown-ups is recommended even for older kids and tweens.
This production garnered an A-list of voice actors in principal roles, including Ralph Fiennes as Jesus, along with Julie Christie, Miranda Richardson, William Hurt, Alfred Molina, and Ian Holm as supporting players. The animation, painstakingly created over several years, is a stellar example of the stop-action genre. The filmmakers' intention of making this movie true to Luke's Gospel and family-friendly at the same time is obvious; leaving out the sexual nature of Mary Magdalene's transgressions and creating the character of Tamar, a young girl, as the centerpiece in Jesus's healing powers certainly will help those intentions. The integrating of traditional cell animation to depict past events and parables may be confusing to some; others will find that it enhances their experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about which audiences the filmmakers were trying to reach with this film. Does the fact that they created the character of Tamar for this movie help answer this question? How does the girl's narration make the movie more relevant for young viewers?
How did you feel about seeing two kinds of animation in one movie? Did the addition of the 2-D (or traditional cell animation) for flashbacks and parables make the Claymation scenes seem more or less real? If your answer is "more real," can you explain why?
Look up the history of Claymation (or of stop-action or animation). Find out what it takes to create the puppets, their movements, their expressions, and their speech. Try to make one puppet out of clay or another molding material to get a sense of what the art entails.
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