Come Sunday (2018)

Available on Netflix on April 13, 2018

Not Rated. Running Time 2 hours 20 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 0; Sex Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

But what does it say?

“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”

(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

Romans 10:8-10

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:1-2

Carlton Pearson once preached on Sunday’s to thousands in his church and over TV. (c) Netflix

Can a preacher credit God with having too much love? Director Joshua Marsto’s adaptation of a 2005 episode of NPR’s “This American Life” about Carlton Pearson (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a famous Church of God in Christ bishop, raises this and other perplexing theological questions that go to the heart of the Christian gospel. The struggle with these by him and the people in his church, and his subsequent fall in popularity, make for compelling drama. Mr. Ejiofor, one of the busiest actors in Hollywood these days, turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as the conflicted pastor (or, in Church of God in Christ parlance,” bishop”) in this Netflix drama.

By the early 1990s in Tulsa Carlton was at the height of his career as pastor of the city’s largest charismatic congregation, Higher Dimensions. A major reason for the attention it drew, aside from the size of his Sunday audience—6000 in church and hundreds of thousands in the TV audience– was that it was racially integrated. Several of the associate pastors were white, including his co-founder and manager Henry (Jason Segel). Black members of his staff included chief musician Reggie (Lakeith Stanfield), and senior staffer Nicky (Stacey Sargeant). A graduate of Oral Roberts University, Carlton was a favorite of founder Oral Roberts (Martin Sheen), who refers to him as “my black son.” His television broadcasts enhanced his fame, so he traveled frequently to speak around the country. His Azusa Street conferences drew thousands to the city to hear famous speakers.

Then Carlton hears a voice calling him to re-examine his belief that those who do not consciously accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell. He and his young daughter had been watching an account of the genocide unfolding in Rwanda, during which the question of the destiny of the millions killed arose—not having heard the gospel preached, would they be damned to hell by God? Thus, he re-examines the Scripture passages, such as the Romans passage that seem to teach “Yes.”

Looking at 1 John 2:1-2 from a fresh perspective, he interprets “the whole world,” which the writer had seen as separate from believers, to mean that Christ had saved everyone by dying on the cross, which means there is no hell. As we see, this does not go over well with many of his people when he preaches this the next Sunday.  His question “Are we more merciful than God?” is not really dealt with amidst the shouting and arguing that follows, and the last straw for many teetering on the brink of leaving is his declaration, “The God that we worship, from the parts of the Bible that we focus on, that God is a monster … worse than Hitler.”

Henry and the other pastors confront him in his home, declaring that they must leave and start their own congregation. He pleads with them, but to no avail. Along with the huge drop in attendance is the withdrawal of speaking invitations and his removal from the board of Oral Roberts University. His old mentor professes his love for him, again referring to him as “my black son,” but he must oppose him publicly because his position puts the souls of believers in peril. This private meeting with his mentor is one of the most moving scenes in the film, Roberts revealing his agony over the suicide of his oldest son. He tells Carton he still loves the son but must affirm that he is in hell nonetheless. (Although I have never been an admirer of the televangelist, this scene awakened in me a kinder feeling toward the tormented man.)

Carlton’s wife Gina (Condola Rashad) stands by him, but not most of his members, nor, in a powerful confrontation, the council of bishops that rule his denomination. Cast out, the low point of his spiritual journey is his witnessing the auctioning of his congregation’s church building and its furnishings.

The upward arc takes in the theme of Carlton’s recognizing the legitimacy of the faith of gay people, with him meeting with his former music director Reggie, to whom he could not minister when earlier the musician had revealed that he was a closeted homosexual. Carlton assures Reggie, now afflicted with AIDS, that he too is included in God’s love, and at the end of the film we see the bishop joining in a worship celebration at a church that accepts gay members.

The film can lead to a good discussion in which participants are challenged to examine their own beliefs about God, salvation, heaven and hell. I have always felt challenged by Frederick Faber’s great hymn, the first stanza being, “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy/like the wideness of the sea;/there’s a kindness in God’s justice, /which is more than liberty.” Check out your hymn, and you’ll see that the other verses could easily lead one to adopt a universalist view of God and salvation, though Faber, as an Anglican convert to the Roman Catholic Church, never did.

Many questioned Carlton’s trust in what he believed was the voice of God, including Oral Roberts. The bishop’s defense of the voice he heard, as well as his opponents’ suggestion that the voice might have been Satan’s, reminds me of scenes from the various Joan of Arc films, especially Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc. She was badgered by her captors to renounce her voices as emanating not from the saints or God, but from Satan. Like the French saint, Carlton refuses to renounce his one-time experience, especially when he re-examines the Bible and finds support there for his position. His life and struggle are part of Christianity’s long history stretching back to the ancient church and such theologians as Origen. It will be interesting how this Netflix film contributes to the never-ending debate. For some the film will be welcomed as a tract for tolerance during a time of great intolerance, but for others it will be considered an assault on accepted Christian teaching that will weaken the faith. This is clearly a film that goes way beyond the boundary entertainment.

 

This review with a set of questions will be in the April 2018 issue of Visual Parables.

 

 

You can hear the episode of  This American Life that the movie is based on ay https://www.thisamericanlife.org/304/heretics. There is even a link to the transcription.

New! Visual Parables Journal for April 2018

Click the image to preview the April issue.

LOVE MOVIES? Want to spark discussion with friends? Subscribe to Visual Parables Journal. The April 2018 issue is packed with complete study guides, including: Paul, Apostle of Christ, Ready Player One, A Fantastic Woman, Isle of Dogs, I Can Only Imagine, The Party, Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool, Red Sparrow, The Death of Stalin, Summer in the Forest, and many more. Visit our Visual Parables store to subscribe.

Summer in the Forest (2017)

Not Rated. Running time: 1 hour 48 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 0; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.

Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

John 13:34

Jean Vanier pays tribute to L’Arche residents Celestine & Fred.        (c) Abramorama Film

As Randall Wright’s leisurely paced documentary unfolds we hear the words, “The big human problem is just to accept all people as they are.” This might sound like something Fred Rogers would say, but it is actually the Canadian philosopher/humanitarian Jean Vanier speaking. Fifty-four years ago, when in a psychiatric hospital in France he saw how terribly developmentally handicapped people were being treated, he decided to do something—he invited two such men to come and live with him in a house in Trosly-Breuil, a village at the edge of a beautiful forest. There he could offer them the love and acceptance he thought they deserved. From this small beginning grew what became a series of 147 L’Arche Communities located in 35 countries.

The Forest in the title refers to the forest north of Paris where Vanier established the first L’Arche community and which the octogenarian still calls home. We see him interacting in loving ways with the residents, setting the example for the young staff who also treat those in their care with patience and love. Wheel chair-confined Sebastian is so disabled that he can do almost nothing for himself. Right after a medical exam Vanier tells him, “Dearest Sebastian, you are beautiful, very, very beautiful.” Sebastian’s face beams.

We spend time with several others who more mobile, so that they can either walk or ride to visit others. Michel, haunted by memories of World War II and beaten at the institution where he once lived, observes, “Jean Vanier is a man who loves us very much. He loves me very much. He taught me about calm.” Andre wants a date; David, imagining himself a superhero, thwarts a pretend attack on his friends; and Patrick, practices to be an artist. Once labeled “idiots” and “retards,” Vanier observes that they can also give, “These are people at the bottom of the ladder of social status. They have taught me about what it means to be a human person – to learn to love and let the barriers down.”

We also visit the L’Arche community in Bethlehem where the group is singing a song as Vanier walks in. Instantly they are applauding and gathering around him for “Welcomes” and hugs. Though living in France, he obviously has paid many such visits to these people. The final sequence consists of the engagement party for two residents, Celestine and Fred, for whom it appears that Vanier has played Cupid. Standing between them as he holds their hands, he pays loving tribute to each of them, telling them they will be committed to each other for life when they marry.

This is a good film to watch between all those fast-paced action films playing on screens next to it. John Harle’s quiet music is as beautiful as the forest around the community. At a time when our news media are full of stories of political folly and corruption, this film can help keep alive faith in humanity and a hopeful future.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the April issue of Visual Parables.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017)

Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 45 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 2.

Our star rating (1-5): 4

Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity…

The people of long ago are not remembered,
nor will there be any remembrance
of people yet to come
by those who come after them.

Ecclesiastes 1:1, 11

The 28 years difference does not dim the passion of Gloria Grahame or Peter Turner. (c) Sony Classics

They might not die in that English port, so far from the stage lights of London or Hollywood, but they do get sick there, as we see in director Paul McGuigan’s heart-felt romantic film, based on the real-life romance chronicled in Peter Turner’s 1986 memoir.

Born in Los Angeles of an English mother, Gloria Grahame (Annette Benning) rose to Hollywood fame, starring in several film noirs and winning an Oscar for her almost 10 minutes-long screen time in The Bad and the Beautiful. However, her career declined for numerous reasons, one of them being her scandalous behavior—she romanced and then years later married the teenage son of her husband, director Nicholas Ray. After years of supporting roles on TV and then contracting cancer and seemingly beating it when it went into remission, she had come to England in 1979 for stage work. One character observes that the aging star “was a big name in black and white film.”

At the theater where she was starring in The Glass Menagerie, she was drawn to the struggling young actor Peter Turner (Jamie Bell). Like many relationships, theirs does not get off on the right foot, as the following exchange shows: Peter: Has anyone ever told you that you look like Lauren Bacall when you smoke? Gloria: Humphrey Bogart. And I didn’t like it then either. Despite this and the 28-year difference in their ages, the pair enter into a passionate affair lasting about two years until her death in 1981. Gloria was also drawn to Peter’s compassionate mother Bella (Julie Walters). When the cancer attacks again, causing her to drop out of the play, she refuses medical care, asking that she be taken to the Turner house instead. Jamie, in the face of his lover’s refusal of medical care, is torn by his decision about contacting her American children, which results in their final separation.

The story may have its tawdry side, but the excellent cast make us care intensely about the fate of these star-crossed lovers. Both the principal actors are superb, with Ms. Benning perfect as the faded star, aware of the pain of her past yet still seeking love and acceptance as she strives to keep her acting career alive. Jamie Bell has come a long way as an actor from his role as the dance-loving boy in Billy Elliott, though there is one scene in which again he gets to exercise has dance skills. Vanessa Redgrave and Frances Barber are scene stealers in their one scene wherein they play Gloria’s dysfunctional mother and sister.

If you liked 2011, My Week With Marilyn, or films about movie stars and moving making in general, this is a film for you.

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the April issue of Visual Parables.

 

Parable (1964)

Not Rated. Running time: 22 min. 12 sec. Our content ratings: Violence 3;

Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.

Our star rating (1-5): 5

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5

But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;  and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

Ephesians 4:20-24 (KJV)

Parable is Rolf Forsberg’s nonverbal film about Christ that was almost too far ahead of its time—1964—so different that it stirred up almost as much controversy as the 1988 release of The Last Temptation of Christ. Commissioned by the New York City Protestant Council of Churches for their New York World’s Fair pavilion in 1964, Forsberg knew that the usual, formulaic short films used by churches would never attract a crowd. While at a consultative retreat in Wisconsin he came across the Baraboo World Circus Museum and was inspired to set his story in a traveling circus that represented the world and featured a white-faced mime drawing both disciples and enemies from among the circus denizens.

The film starts out in darkness, and a narrator speaks the only words we will hear, explaining that Christ taught in parables, and that a parable today might be like a circus in which a man dared to be different…As the front titles come on we see it is dawn. The camera moves in on a circus wagon and then inside, revealing a man stirring in bed. On the walls are posters with large photos of his face, announcing that he is Magnus the Great. Cut to the outside where, to the accompaniment of ponderous music, the horse-drawn circus wagons parade down a country road. Many of the towering wagons represent the nations of the earth, France, Great Britain, America, their elaborately carved sides painted in bright colors. Marching along are two elephants and a baby. Some Native Americans wearing ceremonial war bonnets ride by, and a South American one on foot leads a llama. A woman plays a small pipe organ; a Roman charioteer proudly holds the reins of his horses. Then as the last large wagon rolls by we see the white mime astride a humble donkey.

The first episode of helping involves an elephant caretaker, bored with his task of fetching water for the elephants; the second a black man sitting on a seat suspended over a large tub of water while, separated by an iron latticed fence, a scowling white man gathers up and throws baseballs at a round target, the purpose obviously to hit it and plunge the black man into the water. The third episode is at a side show where a barker, accompanied by staccato music imitating his spiel, implores the pretend crowd to buy one of his tickets to the attraction featuring a sinister-looking man piercing a large box with a sword, Inside the container hunkers a scantily clad Indian woman. The camera cuts to the mime, wincing at the possibility of the woman’s endangerment.

Each of the above incidents involves the mime taking the place of the oppressed person. The coming of the Mime is announced by a piercing brass theme, the tempo becoming spritely as the Mime goes about his mission of helping. The freed persons follow in his wake. But so do the exploiters.

Magnus emerges from his home wagon, fully attired in his militaristic-style costume, heading toward the big top. On the side of his wagon is a picture poster of “Magnus and His Living Marionettes.” While Magnus makes his way to the arena, three performers are in a dressing room donning their make-up and costumes as the Living Marionettes. There is no smiling or sense of joy, either as they prepare nor in their performance high above the heads of the on-lookers.

The audience consists of children, all dressed in multicolored hooded sweatshirts. Magnus manipulates the three marionettes who are held aloft by their harnesses. As he pulls on various strings, the three gyrate in grotesque, jerky motions. The Mime enters the large tent, gazes up at the marionettes, and then takes a whiskbroom and starts to sweep the feet of the children. They giggle as he moves about cleaning their feet, and soon the three people whom he has set free follow, also taking up small brooms. The children also join in, now totally distracted from Magnus’s act.

Magnus is upset that he has lost his audience. The music grows more frantic and then ominous as he jerks about his marionettes in a vain effort to recapture the attention of the giggling children. What follows is one of the most memorable “crucifixion” scenes ever filmed, the loud, agonized cry of the tortured mime piercing earth and sky, perfectly expressing Mark 15:34. Then a quiet Easter sequence that the groups with whom I’ve worked, sometimes a bit puzzled, always enjoy discussing.

When I first rented the film around 1966 or 67 in North Dakota, I was so taken with it that I convinced 9 other church pastors to pool $30 each (the cost of one-time rental) so we could buy a 16mm print and share it—for youth groups, men’s and women’s fellowships, church school, and especially for confirmation classes. I did this also in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the film proving such a valuable resource for exploring the role of Christ.

I didn’t know then that the powerful New York City-based politico Robert Moses had tried to ban the film from the World’s Fair when he first heard about it. Fortunately, the New York City Council of Churches had the courage to resist, even when Billy Graham denounced the film (without having seen it). The film proved so successful in drawing enthusiastic crowds that the media picked up on it, touting its virtues so much that it became possibly the most watched short film in thousands of churches during the 70s and 80s, eventually distributed on VHS tape, making it both cheaper and easier to show. When DVDs pushed out VHS tapes, there was a period when it was unavailable, and then EcuFilm came to the rescue with their DVD release, much to the relief of the film’s fans.

As the years passed, Parable, slowly faded from public consciousness as a new generation of pastors and educators arose. EcuFilm, the only source that I knew for the film, almost folded, and thus was not able to promote its small catalogue of films. (Indeed, it did close in 2011.) Thus, when film producer Bob Campbell called me recently to tell me about the various projects he has been involved in under the umbrella of Gospel Films Archives, I was delighted to learn of the film’s new lease on life. And as a fantastic bonus, three other Forsberg films are included, one of which I had seen and used—The Antkeeper; and in addition, Ark; and One Friday. (I will be reporting on these memorable films in future issues.)

Mr. Campbell reports that during the last few years of filmmaker Rolf Forsberg’s life his group worked with him to produce short introductions to each of the four films on this DVD, making the disk even more valuable. I loved watching the filmmaker discuss how and why he made Parable, one tidbit being that through a mask system Forsberg’s original was a widescreen film, and not the standard 16mm screen size (3by4) seen by all of us who used the 16mm version. Now the images fill your computer or phone screen.

I cannot recommend this film enough. See for yourself why the film was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

More information available at the Rolf Forsberg website: http://www.lostandrare.com/rolfhome.htm. Price is $19.99 + postage or $9.99 for digital down load at http://www.lostandrare.com/order.htm

Do you subscribe to Amazon Prime? The film is free for you to stream, along with other Fosberg films.

 

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the March 2018 issue of Visual Parables.

LIVING BIBLICALLY (2018)

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series CBS

Pilot Episode

CBS. Monday, February 26, 9:30-10:00 (EDT)

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,

piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow;

it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

The fictionalized TV series is based on Esquire Magazine writer A.J. Jacobs’ bestselling book about the impact of the Bible, The Year of Living Biblically. The series follows the misadventures of Chip Curry (Jay R. Ferguson), a critic at a New York City publication. He is married to Leslie, a pregnant medical technician.

Following a series of setbacks that includes the death of his best friend, Chip decides to set his life straight. Part of this decision is occasioned by the dead friend’s mother after the funeral telling Chip and his wife Leslie (Lindsey Kraft) that her wayward son is not in “a better place,” that because he stopped going to church, “his area code is 666”—and, when Chip says he too no longer attends, she says she is sure he (Chip) will see him again. This launches Chip into a funk, from which he is extracted when his wife returns from the medical clinic where she works to tell him she needs him now more than ever—she is pregnant. He promises her he will improve so he will become a worthy father. At a book store he adds to his tall stack of self-improvement books a Bible that he has pulled from the shelves. He almost puts it back but decides to buy it anyway—a decision that will change his life.

The next day Leslie is somewhat surprised by his announcement that after reading in the Bible the previous night, he has decided to live its commandments literally for the 9 months of her pregnancy. The daughter of a flaming atheistic mother, she raises some mild objections, but agrees, as long as it does not spoil her fun. He assures her that it will improve their marriage.

The following questions can be used in a group discussion, or a clergyman or teacher might find them as helpful in identifying incidents or issues for use in a sermon or lesson:

For Reflection/Discussion

Relevant Scriptures: Deuteronomy 20:10; 22:11; John 8:1-11; Matthew 17:2

  1. What must Chip been like before the death of his friend? Do you know people like him who are too busy to give any thought to the Bible or God? Has the death of someone or another hard knock caused you to think about or turn to the Bible or God?
  2. What did you think of the remark of the mother of the deceased–that she assumes her son is going to hell—or that Chip is headed that way too? What must be her view of God? Do you think this is pretty wide-spread? Where have you heard people remark, “I must have done something bad, everything has gone badly this week,” or just the opposite? How widespread do you think is the view of a vindictive God among TV evangelists?
  3. What seems to be, then, the motive for Chip to re-order his life? Fear? How do we see this change in the episode—for example, what does he tell Leslie that his decision might do for their marriage?
  4. How do we see that Chip has committed to changing his life when he shows up at work? What is he wearing? (White suit) What has he brought, which a co-worker earlier had accused him of never doing? (Not one, but TWO boxes of donuts) How does his conversation with his friend Vince also show he is committed to change? (i.e., does Chip join in Vince’s dissing of their obnoxious co-worker Gary?)
  5. What do you think of Father Gene’s reaction to his decision at church the next day? What about his pointing out that Chip is already breaking a commandment by wearing clothing of mixed cloths?
  6. How is Fr. Gene’s anagram “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth” a good description of half of the Bible, the half that often gets lost in the preaching of those who see the Bible only as a one-way ticket Heaven? (Check out all the prophetic books—though Pie-in-the-sky preachers do use the Torah passages pertaining to homosexuality.)
  7. What does Rabbi Gill add to the story? How is his Jewish faith often more grounded in everyday life than those Christians who focus on getting to Heaven?
  8. What do you think of the stoning incident in the restaurant? Funny, yet relevant to our time? What about the result of it? (The adulterous co-worker coming to his senses by breaking off his affair.)

Note: My intention was to post similar guides for all 12 of the episodes for groups to discuss them and/or for leaders to use as illustrative material, but CBS would not grant access to the programs.

Ferdinand (2017)

Rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.

Our content ratings (1-10): Violence 2; Language 1; Sex/Nudity 0

Our star rating (1-5): 4.5

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

And goodness is the harvest that is produced from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace.

James 3:18 (Good News Translation)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

Yes, there is a “bull in the china shop” scene in this delightful adaptation of the classic children’s story. (c) Twentieth Century Fox

It is a long way, both in length of time and length of film, from the 1938 Disney film Ferdinand the Bull and Twentieth Century Fox’s Ferdinand, both of them adaptations of Munro Leaf’s controversial 1936 children’s book The Story of Ferdinand. The Oscar-winning Disney film was just 8 minutes long, but the new version, directed by the Brazilian Carlos Sandanha, clocks in at 1 hour and 48 minutes! This huge difference led me to fear that this would be another example of bloating, as in the awful version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a rare misfire by director Ron Howard.

There is a great deal of new material introduced by the 6-man writing team, but this does not spoil the original source, as was the case with the Grinch film. Ferdinand as a young calf on the Spanish ranch of Casa del Toro loves to smell flowers and thus is ridiculed by the other calves. When his father does not return from the bull fight for which he was picked, the little bull calf runs away, eventually winding up on a floral farm where the owner and his young daughter Nina adopt him, the girl and calf developing a strong bond between them.

Jump ahead several years and Ferdinand has grown up to be a big fierce-looking bull, but still preferring to smell flowers to fighting. He has a favorite spot atop a hill where he can sit in the shade of a tree and survey the lovely countryside. On the day of the annual festival of flowers, Nina and her father leave Ferdinand behind because of his huge size. Of course, he decides to follow them, and it is in the village that the bee sting from the original story is included. Added to the story, much to the delight of us viewers, is the proverbial “bull in a china shop” sequence, a beautifully choreographed series of shots which will make you draw in your breath and laugh during Ferdinand’s desperate attempts to avoid disaster.

Now regarded as a truly fierce bull, Ferdinand is sent, to Nina’s distress, back to Casa del Toro where the other bulls who had ostracized him earlier continue to ridicule him. However, he is befriended by a crazy goat who tries to coach him in the ways of bullfighting, and by a trio of hedgehogs who come around to steal food from the ranch. I will leave it to you to find out how Ferdinand discovers the irony of the bulls seeking to be chosen to fight in the ring rather than to wind up at the slaughterhouse—he is alarmed to learn that the matador kills the bull at the end of their face-off. There is a thrilling escape from the slaughterhouse and then a climactic scene in which Ferdinand finds himself facing Spain’s greatest matador, a vain man who wants to retire from the ring after this triumph. Billed as a spectacular contest, as written by the adapters, it stays true to the original story, suggesting that the usual win/lose formula can be replaced if one’s will is strong enough, with a win/win solution. As with other animated films, the filmmakers teach something close to what the Scriptures proclaim, enhanced by glorious color animation and expressive voice talent.

When Monro Leaf wrote his little story (in less than an hour, we are told) so that his friend, budding artist Robert Lawson would have a subject to illustrate, the Spanish Civil War was looming on the horizon. Upon the book’s appearance 9 months before fighting broke out, supporters of the fascist General Franco soon dubbed it pacifist propaganda sponsored by Communists. The author and artist must have been surprised by the controversy over what they saw was just a story of non-conformism. The Cleveland Plain Dealer accused the book of “corrupting the youth of America,” but it became a best seller, one year even passing Gone With the Wind in sales. Translated into 60 languages, the little book was banned in Spain, burnt in Hitler’s Germany, and praised everywhere else, even in India by Gandhi. Certainly the staunch anti-Communist Walt Disney saw no leftist political message in it when he green-lighted his short animated adaptation.

As a visual parable, the film should appeal to young and older viewers. It captures well the ancient Isaiahan vision of God’s creatures overcoming their violent tendencies so they can live together in harmony—and Nina is a good stand-in for the child leading them. Those who love the now classic adaptation of Ted Hughes’s The Iron Giant will be happy to have another peacemaking film that says, “though you may be built for violence, you do not have to give in to it—there can be a more positive way of dealing with conflict.”

This review with a set of discussion questions will be in the March issue of Visual Parables.