In time to celebrate Easter, an animated adaptation of the enduring John Bunyan allegory “Pilgrim’s Progress” reaches movie theaters April 18 and 20.
The epic adventure, written some 340 years ago while Bunyan was sitting in prison for preaching the gospel, is a metaphorical tale about the obstacle-laden yet spiritually-rewarding path of those who follow Christ.
This well-produced screen version tells the story of an anguished man named Christian meeting spiritual guide Evangelist, who urges him to leave the City of Destruction and head to the Celestial City. Christian is told that he will find salvation there. Along his journey, the wayfarer has several adventures and thwarts many obstacles.
The new movie is a compelling, family-friendly rendition that never condescends to its intended audience – full of life lessons for children and some eye-openers for accompanying adults, it is a tribute to those who have stepped out on faith in order to find purpose, redemption and a connection between man and his creator. It’s a film that should resonate with older moviegoers who desire to evangelize in an era when the culture often stands against them.
Tragic elements in the film – while incorporated to reveal the darker side of man’s nature – are never presented in a way meant to disturb little ones. That said, the trek that Christian undertakes has its scary moments. Mom or dad should be there to reassure and later explain the story’s theological points.
Presented by Fathom Events, the production stars the voices of John Rhys-Davies (“The Lord of the Rings”), hymn writer and recording artist Kristyn Getty and Ben Price (“America’s Got Talent”).
In 17th-century England you had to be licensed by the Anglican Church in order to preach, or face the possibility of imprisonment. Many Puritans fled to America to escape this religious persecution, but John Bunyan chose to remain incarcerated for more than a decade, knowing his beliefs were justified though not in line with the doctrines of the state-controlled church. It was during his confinement that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress to express the trials and temptations that often detour a Christian’s walk of faith.
Bunyan was released after 12 years and remained in his country, embracing a calling to further the gospel of Christ. His endeavors and this classic saga live on: Through the centuries, the book has been translated into more than 200 languages. The film also has been translated and re-voiced into 26 languages and will be donated to missions organizations operating in countries where Christians are being persecuted.
What’s more, as reported by the press, on Easter weekend, this animated parable will be aired on the second-largest network in Iran – with an estimated audience of 6 million people. (Keep that in prayer!)
While viewing Pilgrim’s Progress, two additional films made for young audiences came to mind. You may find them suitable for your children during Easter break.
For younger children: “The Miracle Maker” (2000)
Claymation and graphically striking two-dimensional animation were combined in this American-British-Russian coproduction that brought the story of Jesus to television on the ABC network on Easter Sunday back in 2000. (It’s now on DVD from Family Home Entertainment.)
In this re-telling, 12-year-old Tamar (voiced by Rebecca Callard) encounters Jesus in different stages of His life. Fascinated by the spiritual strength of this charismatic man, she becomes a follower, but her father and others in authority are troubled by Jesus’ ability to inspire the people. Plotting against Him, the rich and powerful Ben Azra (Antony Sher) arranges the murder of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist (Richard E. Grant), and stirs up the authorities against Jesus.
Using little Tamar as a composite of different people who experienced Christ’s healing powers, The Miracle Maker related the story of Jesus to little ones without sacrificing the integrity of the gospels. Like the new animated Pilgrim’s Progress, this compelling adventure used state-of-the-art production values and sound theological references to help children grow closer to a loving Savior.
TV-G (Christ is crucified, but the scene is handled with discretion).
For older kids and teens: “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005)
Not since Dorothy landed on the yellow brick road have young and old alike entered such an enchanted world. The movie’s story and dialogue are compelling for adults while its magical look is spellbinding for younger viewers.
Both the C.S. Lewis novel and the Walden/Disney film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe are a step above most children’s fables – full of evocative analogies and spiritually iconic images. Although adventures, not sermons, take center stage, the story serves to open a rewarding dialogue between parent and child about the Christ-like symbolism in the pivotal character, Aslan.
There is no blood-letting and the filmmakers avoid excessive brutality, but this parable of good versus evil does include some violence. You will find a few jolting scenes and several scary moments but the young central characters learn life lessons, and the production is filled with spiritual insights that are distinctly biblical.
Happy Easter, everyone. And thank you, Jesus, for its meaning.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Phil Boatwright is the author of MOVIES: The Good, the Bad, and the Really, Really Bad, available on Amazon.com.)