How would you react if you found out that the wonderful, thoughtful, fun, quiet someone you were dating was secretly royalty? That's the premise, in this fun-for-the-whole-family Hallmark outing. Emily Taylor is a young talented clothes designer, who comes by her skills from growing up in the family's tailor shop. Leo James is her long-time boyfriend – it's been almost a year now! – who suddenly reveals that he is actually the crown prince of the tiny kingdom of Cordinia. And he's inviting Emily to come visit the kingdom for Christmas.
The one hitch? Queen Isadora (played by Jane Seymour of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is dead set against her son marrying a commoner. So will Emily win over the frosty queen? Will she find a way to fit in with dukes and countesses? Can she learn the ways of royalty without losing the spark that makes her special? And will the lonely queen find someone to love?
If you've seen any of these kinds of films before, you can already answer all of these questions. But that doesn't make it any less fun to watch.
One caution would be a passing mention that years ago the prince once went skinny dipping with a duchess. It was a weird inclusion, and totally not in keeping with the tone of the rest of the film (maybe it was something innocent when they were just little kids?). The only other concern is that this is yet another movie with "Christmas" in the title that makes no mention of the reason for the season, Christ. Not surprising; still disappointing.
When I came up with my own film rating scale, what I had in mind for a 7 was a typical Hallmark film, one that was entertaining, but where the acting wasn't all that noteworthy in either a bad or good direction. That's exactly what we have here. A Royal Christmas was enjoyed by all in our household, from 9 all the way up to mom and dad. Shucks, if grandma and grandpa has stopped by, I'm sure they would have liked it too. It's very nice, and also nothing more.
This is the immigrant experience, set to music, and seen through the eyes of a 19th century Jewish animated mouse family who decide to come to America after they’d been driven out of their Russian village by rampaging Cossack cats.
I should end the review right there; what more do you need? But I can’t help myself, because this is as brilliant as it is utterly unique! After escaping the Cossack cats, the Mousekewitz family takes a slow boat to their new land, surrounded by fellow immigrants from other countries. All of them have sad stories to share, usually involving how a cat ate their papa, or mama, or in the case of one Irish lad, his one true love (and all that was left of her was her tail!).
After each story is shared the mice join together to sing of how much better they expect it to be in their new country:
But there are no cats in America,
And the streets are paved with cheese
Oh, there are no cats in America,
So set your mind at ease!
They’re all so very hopeful, and that’s when the storm hits. Little Fievel, the Mousekewitz’s boy, is washed overboard and presumed lost, and his family is forced to continue on without him. Thankfully (I don’t think I could have taken it otherwise) Fievel has survived. He’s battered, but unbroken, and travels the rest of the way in a bottle, arriving only a short time after his family. Will he be able to find them? There are so many mice in New York! And it doesn’t help that they aren’t even looking for him.
Fievel soon discover that there are cats in America. Fortunately there are also mice here willing to fight for their freedoms. So it is, that Fievel, and unbeknownst to him, his family too, help with an audacious plan to force the cats onto a boat heading for Hong Kong. But even as they work on the same plan, Fievel and his family never quite cross paths. Fievel is making friends though, whether it’s a French pigeon helping with the construction of the Statue of Liberty, or a streetwise teen mouse who has Fievel’s back, or even a cat who loves broccoli a lot better than mouse burgers.
There’s a lot of cats chasing mice throughout the whole story, and these cats are mean and scary. That, along with a brief counter Fievel has with some creepy cockroaches, make this fare for children ten and up.
Also, theres’s a minor character, the politician Honest John, who always seems drunk. Fortunately, he’s onscreen only briefly, and only a few times.
I was struck by how this had, for me, the feel of a 1940s wartime flick. Just like in those films, this celebrates America as a beacon of hope. The darkness it opposes isn’t Nazis this time, but something not too different; An American Tail was made during the Cold War, when the USSR was at its most intimidating, and it’s no coincidence that the main characters are coming from an oppressive Russia to find opportunity in America. While the Mousekewitzs discover that the streets aren’t paved with cheese – that’s too good to be true – there were opportunities in this new land that didn’t exist in the old one. An American Tail is a surprisingly nuanced celebration of the immigrant, showing that it wasn’t easy for those early settlers, whether man or mouse.
So who’d enjoy this? I suspect it’s so unique, so unusual, that excellent though it is, it might not appeal to the whole family. A Jewish Russian American mouse musical? Yup, that is odd, and maybe even weird.
Jace Newfield is the "new kid" and he's blind, but what's causing him the most difficulties is his snark. He used to live in New York City but his dad's new job means now they have to live in the podunks of Utah. So, on his first day the first thing this big city kid does is alienate all his classmates by joking that they're backcountry hicks. He digs himself under even deeper with an attention-seeking drum solo that doesn't impress his music teacher, Mr. Wyatt.
Fortunately there are a couple of kids willing to overlook his rough start. Vincent "Fly" Shue tells him the only way to fit in is to be a jock, so Jace decides to try out for the wrestling team... corralling the lightweight Fly to join up too.
Jace discovers that in wrestling blind athletes can wrestle against the sighted. The only concession given is that the two athletes start with a hand on each other. Jace isn't the biggest guy, and a total newcomer to the sport, but this is the chance for him to be just an athlete, rather than "that blind guy." Sports movies are predictable so no one will be surprised to see Jace losing in the early going, and (I don't think this is giving too much away) triumphing, at least in part, in the epic slow-motion finale. But this does have a few fresh twists to keep it interesting.
The only caution concerns how children might misunderstand the moral to this story. Jace proves he can excel on the wrestling mats, so kids might think that's how he's proven he's just as valuable as anyone else. However, that's a worldly idea – that it's what we do that makes us valuable – and it is a dangerous idea. This is the idea behind the devaluation of the unborn: the world says they are worth less than you or me because they can't do what we can: they don't have a heartbeat yet, and can't survive on their own. This "able-isn" is the basis for euthanasia too, which is kept from the able-bodied, but offered up to the disabled and elderly who are valued less because they can do less.
Christians need to share that our worth comes not from our abilities, but from our Maker. We are all valuable, because we are all made in the very Image of God (Gen. 1:27, 9:6). So our kids need to hear that Jace would be valuable whether he could wrestle or not.
This is a 1990s Disney channel TV movie, so I was only hoping for a family-friendly sports story. I was pleasantly surprised to get a lot more. The acting is solid, and the sighted Andrew Lawrence does a convincing job playing Jace. Wayne Brady, as Mr. Wyatt, is a sympathetic but hard-nosed mentor, who gives Jace the kick in the butt he needs. It's sweet, surprising in spots, and solid throughout: this is a fun film.
Twenty years back when it first hit the airwaves, this sure was a crowd-pleaser in Christian households. Based on the real life of deaf F.B.I. agent Sue Thomas, it combined the intrigue of police investigations with the unique comic pairing of the courageous but somewhat naive Sue and her lovable but not-always-so-well-behaving hearing dog Levi. The shows were generally tame, but not lame; a Christian series where the acting might not have been Oscar-worthy, but was never cringe-worthy either.
In the pilot episode Sue starts her new job in the FBI and concludes that she was just a diversity hire, and isn't happy about it. But her lip-reading abilities soon catch the attention of agent Jack Hudson who realizes that Sue has just the skill-set their surveillance team needs.
When Jack Hudson first learns Sue can read lips, he challenges her to tell him what one of his colleagues 50-feet away is saying. It turns out he is making weekend plans with the woman he is sitting with. But, as Jack shares with Sue, that woman is not his girlfriend. This two-timing is a minor plot element, but makes what might otherwise be an all-ages show something better suited to older teens and adults.
I've only previewed the first episode to this point, but found it utterly charming, and look forward to watching the other 56 episodes. Canadians and Americans will be able to watch the pilot episode below (unfortunately, the video won't work outside of North America) and find more on Encourage TV on YouTube here (you'll have to use their search function to find the others).
You can also watch it for free on RedeemTV here, though you'll need to sign up for a free account. The advantage to doing so is that it is much easier to sort through the episodes there.
What is likely the most influential novel of all time was written by a man of little education, though with a lot of free time on his hands. John Bunyan may have written his most famous work, The Pilgrim's Progress, during his 12-year stay in prison for preaching in an illegal church. For those that aren't familiar with it, the book is a metaphor for the Christian life, with a pilgrim traveling from the "City of Destruction" to the "Celestatial City" and along the way having to contend with all sorts of trials and temptations personified (like a giant named Despair, or a judge named Hate-Good). Bunyan, by his own account, was not a nice young man, so he understood temptation. And once he became a Christian, he paid a price for it, so he knew trials. And this animated account gives a great, engaging overview of it all.
However, the film does indulge in creative license, taking as literal the opening lines of The Pilgrim's Progress, where Bunyan wrote "...as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags..." They portray the book as being inspired by Bunyan's dreams during his time in jail, and while that might even be true, it's disputed when exactly Bunyan first started writing his bestseller, so the facts are harder to come by than it might seem here.
So one caution might be that younger viewers should be told not to make much of the little details, which may or may not be true.
The other caution concerns age-appropriateness. This is animated, so parents might think it is for little children. But a battle scene when the young Bunyan is a soldier shows a man next to him getting killed by a musket ball. The scene is made all the more dramatic when the distraught Bunyan cries out in grief, reaches for his now dead friend, and discovers that his own hands are now covered in blood. This wouldn't bother a ten-year-old, but some younger children will be disturbed. There's also a dream sequence with a dragon attacking Bunyan. Again, not overly scary by teen standards, but it could be a bit much for preschoolers.
I've rated this an 8, but that's only for an audience that's read Pilgrim's Progress – those that don't already know the book, won't be too interested in learning about the man behind it. But if you do know it, this will be an engaging half-hour's viewing. Our family, from eight all the way up, quite enjoyed it.
Watch it below for free (with some commercial interruptions).
While watching Matt Walsh criss-cross the country, asking his title question to gender experts of all sorts, a very different question popped to mind: "Don't any of you know how to google?" I was amazed, not that this stone-faced assassin could dismantle professors and doctors and counselors with ease, but that, despite their many years of study, they'd all agreed to sit down for an interview with someone they hadn't even bothered to look up on the Internet.
Boy, smart people sure can be dumb.
And that, right there, is the reason our young people need to see this documentary: to see the wisdom of the world exposed for the arrogance that it really is. When our kids head off to college or go straight to the workforce, smart people they meet might say bizarre things like "men can have babies too." It'd only be natural, if they have any humility in them, to start to wonder, Am I the only sane one...or is everyone else right? What an encouragement it'll be then, to see someone stand up against the nonsense, and do so completely unflustered.
Walsh's deadpan delivery turns many a moment from simply illuminating to downright hilarious. How can you not laugh when Walsh poses his "What is woman?" question to a lady identifying as a gay man (i.e., a woman attracted to men, who is pretending to be a man attracted to men). She was scoffing at him right from the start for even having the gumption to ask such a question of her... since she said she was a he.
Confused woman (CW): "You should be asking women what it means to be a woman..."
Walsh: "I'm asking all kinds of people. Can't anyone have an opinion about it?"
CW: "Only people who are a woman. Gay men don't know nothing about what it means to be a woman."
Walsh: "...So you're saying if you're not a woman you shouldn't have an opinion?"
CW: "How does a guy get a right to say what a woman is? Women only know what women are!"
Walsh: "Are you a cat?"
Walsh: "Can you tell me what a cat is?"
Faced with either pretending she didn't know what a cat was, or backing down on her notion that one can only identify something if you are that something, she chose C and hoofed it out of there.
This is how Walsh dismantled the opposition, with pointed questions, and it's a tactic worth noting. When your opponents are spouting nonsense, the very best thing you can do is ask them to explain themselves. This is also an apologetic tactic with a long pedigree: by one count Jesus, though He was the very source of wisdom Himself, still asked more than 300 questions in the Gospels. He wasn't asking because He was looking for information; His questions were designed to uncover others' ignorance.
While He liked asking questions, Jesus did also offer answers. The one glaring flaw to this film is that Matt Walsh doesn't, or at least, he doesn't give viewers the answers they most need. Fortunately, what Matt won't explain, God does. In the Bible's first chapter we hear that God assigns gender, and no one else (Gen. 1:27). Further on we read that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10a). That, there, explains these dumb geniuses – they've rejected God's Truth, so all they have left to offer is foolishness.
Why doesn't Walsh offer God's Truth? As he has explained elsewhere, Walsh doesn't believe it's effective to offer biblical answers to people who don't hold to the Bible. However, the Left has no interest in hearing Walsh's words and yet he keeps talking to them. Why does he bother then?
In Romans 10: 14, we see that the Apostle Paul knew how to use pointed questions too, as he asks:
How then are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?
The world is caught up in some crazy lies, but how can they ever turn to God's Truth if we aren't willing to share it with them? This isn't about screaming Scripture at people. What it would involve is acknowledging God – Walsh could have improved his film immensely by adding as little as a line or two to the effect of "Our sex is assigned by God, and when you deny that fundamental reality, then you descend into all these sorts of insanity." It's not enough to expose the lie; the world needs to be pointed to the Truth!
Other cautions are of a more minor sort. There's some language, with a horde of women at the National Women's March chanting "Asshole, asshole" at Walsh. There's also an interviewee on a street corner in San Francisco who is wearing only a strategically placed sock. After the initial distant wide-angled shot, the rest of the interview is mercifully shown closer and higher up. There's also a page of sex-ed material shown from a distance that includes a cartoonish image of two naked guys on top of each other (this is part of a curriculum meant for kids 10 and up).
Finally, the overall topic matter is often... perverse. While the evil being done is generally discussed with restraint, it's still to much for our younger children to hear. This is only for adults and older teens.
Walsh balances out the perverse with some comedic moments. These are laugh out loud, whether it's Walsh at the National Women's March futilely canvassing the crowd of thousands for someone, anyone who might be able to tell him what a woman is, or his interaction with African tribesmen who want to be polite, but don't know what's wrong with the clueless American who doesn't even know what a woman is.
By the end of the film, Walsh has only gotten a handful of answers to his title question, but one of the best comes from Jordan Peterson. What is a woman? "Why don't you marry one and find out?" It's a fantastic acknowledgment of the wonder that is the male/female divide. God made us different, then has the two become one, and tells us it is a great mystery (Eph 5:32). Sure, we have different chromosomes and genetalia but what a woman is, is so must more than just that. That there is mystery means marriage is an opportunity for investigation, discovery, and more wonder. But that there is mystery doesn't mean there's any confusion about whether a man can become a woman, or vice versa.
Why watch? So our young people can understand just how much of what we're up against is simply intimidation and scorn. There is nothing substantive to transgenderism, and the other side can only win the debate by avoiding it at all costs. Young people heading off to university need to know that though your professors might be brilliant, that's no guarantee that they are wise.
What is a Woman? is only available to "Insiders" at The Daily Wire (DailyWire.com). I became an Insider, chose the monthly billing option, paid my $14, watched the film, and now I'll cancel before I get billed again for next month. I figured $14 isn't too bad (it's the price of an in-theater film and very few of those rate a 9 out of 10). You'll probably want to watch it again with friends, which makes that $14 all the more palatable.
What do Elsa and Anna, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Pollyanna, and even Huey, Duey and Louie all have in common? If you said, they’d all been featured in Disney films, you’d be right, but that’s not the answer I was looking for. They all lack – and what many a children’s story protagonist lacks is – parental supervision. Dead or otherwise departed parents are pretty common in children’s fiction and films, and it isn’t as nefarious as it might seem. Parents need to be out of the picture because otherwise the story would end before it even got going. How could Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan have explored the wardrobe if they’d been back in London with mom and pop? Parents still home when the Cat in the Hat stops by? He’d never make it past the front door. And Jack and Jill would never have tumbled if their mom had been there to tell them: “You’re not old enough to climb the cliff face– it’s dangerous! How many times do I have to tell you to use the path on the other side of the hill?”
In The Incredible Journey the parents are once again missing, but this time there is a twist: the Hunters aren’t so much parents, as owners, and their “children” are two dogs and a cat. While the Hunters are heading to Oxford, where dad is going to teach for a semester, family friend John Longridge has volunteered to take care of their pets back at his own cabin, some 200 miles away. But then he leaves too, heading out on a long hunting trip, and entrusting the animals’ care to his housekeeper Mrs. Oakes. Then, when the note he leaves her falls into the fireplace and gets burned up, she thinks he has the animals. The result: when the trio head out on their own, no one is missing them.
Luath, a Yellow Labrador, is the leader of the group. He wants to go back to their family, and convinces the other two, Siamese Cat Tao, and Bodger, an English Bull Terrier, to start off with him. While Luath knows the right direction, he doesn’t realize that home is more than 200 miles, and a mountain range, away. That’s the setup for their incredible journey. On the way, they have to contend with hunger, whitewater, bears, a lynx, and, unfortunately for Luath, a porcupine!
The big caution here would concern the tension. At one point it seems like that cat has been swept away by the river to her death, and the two dogs are left mourning. The only way my kids could get past that was with the reassurance that the dogs were wrong and the cat would actually be okay.
There’s a 1993 remake, where the animals are voiced by big-name celebrities. I like this version better, where a narrator explains what’s going on in the different animals’ minds. It’s a more realistic approach, almost akin to a nature documentary, where we’re observing something that could really have happened. Despite what you might read elsewhere, this didn’t happen – it is not based on a true story. There’s been some confusion on that point because the author of the book that inspired the film said the pets were based on her own – they are based on true pets – but her pets never went on any such journey.
What makes this such a wonderful film is the loyalty the animals have for one another. Bodger is old, and a drag on the group, but that only means that he gets to set the pace – Tao and Luath would never think of leaving him behind. Our whole family, from 8 on up really enjoyed it. The appeal for the kids is the pets – our girls love pretty much any story with dogs or cats in it – while the appeal for the adults was the uniqueness of it. This is an old-school Disney film, so it was easy to predict that everything would turn out fine in the end, but these animals took us on quite the journey with twists and turns that weren’t so easy to predict. And that sure was fun!
We know John Newton (1725-1807) as the former slave ship captain who repented and then wrote the amazing hymn Amazing Grace. In this Torchlighters episode, we get to hear the rest of his life story from the man himself. When an anti-slavery bill is brought to the British Parliament, one of the members goes to Newton to ask him to speak out on the issue. In response, an old Newton starts to share his dark history.
It is a story of constant rebellion – this was a sailor so salty that the other sailors complained about the filth coming from Newton's mouth. It is also a story of a transformation wrought over many years: when Newton first became a Christian he stayed in the slave trade, going on to captain two slave ships for three voyages, transporting thousands of slaves in shameful conditions. This, it turns out, is why the Member of Parliament (MP) has come to Newton: since Newton captained slave ships as a Christian, the MP thinks he can convince Newton to speak out in favor of slavery. The MP has another reason to think Newton might help his cause: after attending the church that the older Newton now served as a pastor, the MP had never heard Newton preach against slavery.
Newton realizes that not only can he never speak for slavery, he must now, finally, begin to speak against it... no matter what it might cost him and his church. His congregation was made up of many who had ties to the slave industry.
While the brightly-colored animation style might have parents thinking this is all-ages viewing, the topic matter means it is not so. The toughest scene is right at the start, where we're shown a happy African village, and then the slavers come to kill and steal. It's brief, lasting only a couple of minutes, serving as the visual background to a parliamentary speech given by Christian politician William Wilberforce on the evils of slavery. Man-stealing – a crime God punishes with death (Ex. 21:16) – is so brutal there's no way to entirely mute the wickedness of it, so parents will need to watch the first few minutes to best judge whether their children will be able to handle it. I wouldn't show this to my under tens.
There is one picture of Jesus briefly shown, in a book the Member of Parliament is reading.
I'll also note the video leaves viewers with the impression that a young Wilberforce and the older Newton both saw the end of slavery in Britain. They did, together, help end British involvement in the slave trade – that happened in 1807 – but it wasn't until 1833, many years after Newton's death, that the slaves in Britain were finally freed.
My favorite part was the William Wilberforce speech, which bookends the presentation, beginning and ending it. Would that we could one day hear a Christian politician give such an impassioned speech in Parliament in defense of the unborn! This is one to watch with the family, or with a class, and discuss how we can and must rise to the defense of the unborn, never being afraid to raise their plight in the public square.
You can watch The John Newton Story for free at RedeemTV.com though you will have to sign up for an account. Check out the trailer below.
This must be the most expensive documentary ever made by creationists and it is certainly the best looking. Creation Ministries International (www.Creation.com) spent more than $1 million staging and filming key events in Darwin’s life, including his time on the HMS Beagle and his visit to the Galapagos Islands. The production values are simply astonishing: solid acting, slick computer graphics, gorgeous close-up shots of the Galapagos wildlife - and a narrator with the perfect classical British accent.
The producers wanted to make this as good as anything you might see on the Discovery Channel, or on a PBS or CBC documentary because they aimed to get it shown on public TV around the world. However, that aim also impacted how they presented the content. If they wanted to get it shown on a channel like CBC they certainly couldn’t make it explicitly Christian(!) so rather than being a defense of Biblical Creation, the documentary limits itself to critiquing Darwinian Evolution.
The end result, then, is a persuasive, gorgeous, tactful, hour-long takedown of Darwin – the lie is exposed. The downside is that there isn’t much here pointing people to the Truth. Some have criticized this as a job only half done. That might be, but the half that it does do, it does brilliantly.
You can watch the trailer below, and buy it on DVD, or search for it on your streaming service.
The producers bill this as "High School Musical meets Napoleon Dynamite" but I'll have to take their word for it, not having seen either. I do know it is laugh-out-loud, tears-in-your-eyes funny in parts.
When the vice principal charges Lewis Grady with building up school spirit, he decides to start a guys-only dance...thing (he isn't quite sure what it is, but he knows it isn't a dance team because that's what girls do). His two quirky friends are happy to help, even if they've got some misgivings about dancing in front of the whole student body. The three buddies bribe, beg, and bargain their way through the recruitment process, ending up with a group of a dozen or more. But it's one thing to get a group together, and another to get that group dancing together, especially when the guys have more than their share of left feet. But with a little help from mom and some friends on the school's award-winning girls' dance team, they start figuring things out.
Right before their first public performance, Lewis rallies the troops with an inspirational speech that is comic gold. He reminds them of the dream most every student has had, of showing up to school in nothing but your underwear. "This is that day," he tells them: "The majority of the kids out there feel like they're showing up to school half-naked every day. Today is for the nobodies, for the average, I-don't-even-matter kids." Lewis wants his group to be an inspiration to the ordinary guys and girls out there in the audience, showing them you don't have to be awesome at something to do it, you just have to be willing to ignore the peer pressure and embrace the joy.
The villain of the piece is the teacher who runs the girls' dance team. She thinks the boys are making a mockery of dance, and she wants them shut down, and she's used to getting her way. While that adds some drama to the story, this is mostly just goofy dance numbers, and quirky friends, showing how fun can be had when you ignore the mockers and set out to be encouragers.
The biggest caution would just be the film's name. Unitards are a one-piece garment that dancers (especially ballet) often wear, but there is also an implicit, never made explicit, reference here to "tard," short for retard, with the joke being that any boys in a dance group are sure to have that word directed their way. It's in bad taste, but that it isn't made explicit makes it easier to overlook.
While the dancing is modest by worldly standards, there is a lot of it, and it isn't the formal sort you might see in a "Pride and Prejudice" film. This is more the jump and bounce and shake and wiggle type of dancing toddlers through teens do. That includes some butt-wiggling moves that are a brief part of one or two of the dance productions. It's slightly sexually suggestive, but incidentally, rather than provocatively so. And when paired with the students' generally modest dress, it is quite tame.
Director Scott Featherstone combined elements of his own school experience with what his son Sam (who plays Lewis Grady) and friends were experiencing to come up with the script. Then he held auditions at his son's school to get all the actors. That's why the acting is solid enough, even though these are not professional actors. What they are is high school students playing high school students so it's not a stretch. And because the director and scriptwriter was a parent who knew the actors, some of these kids are almost certainly playing versions of themselves.
What makes this worth watching is just how sweet it is. High school can be a tough time for many, and what we have here is a prescription for how your kids can make it better for others, and maybe themselves. Lewis Grady's friends poke fun, but they don't tear down. The guys do look goofy dancing, but they're also being brave, and some of the school's girls are smart enough to appreciate and encourage that bravery. This is high school as we wish it could have been, and would still like it to be for our kids: full of challenges, yes, but not full of naysayers, mockers, and killjoys.