Artisan // 1998 // 70 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Nelson (Retired) // December 18th, 2003
From the streets of Rome to the sands of Africa, the Story keepers take the stories of Jesus to the world.
It is the early years of Christianity, and Emperor Nero is hellbent on destroying the lot of them. Caught up amongst the chaos are the homeless orphans of Rome fleeing from the fires Nero is starting to persecute the Christians. The orphans find their way to Ben and Helena, secret Christian leaders in Rome who are the "Story keepers" of the tales of Jesus. With their help, they flee the burning city and head out to a safe haven for the Christians. Along the way, they meet up with colorful characters of all walks of life while learning about the life of Jesus.
This 2D animated feature doesn't rank nearly in the same league of Disney or DreamWorks in terms of grandness, quality, or merchandizing possibilities. The film plays out as a series of TV episodes mashed together to make one big film. During each episode, Ben tells the children another story about the life of Jesus and how they can all benefit by following his examples. Intermittently are short musical numbers that are extremely tame and non-threatening, completely harmless. Fortunately, they are not sung Disney style by the characters, for that would have crossed the line. So naturally proceed with caution if your age contains more than one digit, because your brain will shut down and it might decide to wander off during those sequences. The level of artistic quality is reminiscent of late 1970s Saturday morning cartoons, somewhere between Scooby-Doo and Transformers. Low budget, the characters are drawn flat with simple lines and very few instances of depth. The animation quality itself is spotty at best, with some horrific examples of "twinning," where what happens on the left is the same as what happens on the right, in perfect unison, which can destroy the illusion of life. But considering the age of the intended audience for this film, I doubt ages 2-10 will be too highly disappointed with the level of non-sophistication of the animation.
The video quality has some noticeable flaws to it, most glaring are the oversaturation and color bleeding (especially in the reds) and the dirt on the print. The color levels at times are too hot and then in the next scene almost faded. The dirt and specks are just plain distracting.
Audio is only available in Dolby 2.0 Surround, but the mix is done quite well. There is good ambient noises filling the background where appropriate, and the voices come across clear. The Christian Rock music that plays every so often isn't the most exciting stuff you'll here on a DVD this year, and mostly fills up the sections were they reused the animation sequences into montage sequences.
There aren't any extra features or subtitles, so don't go looking for them because you won't find them. It's an Artisan release of a minor title, what did you expect?
For parents needing to drop the little ones in front of the "babysitter" for a while, there is little in this movie to object to, especially if you are Christian. The stories that are told are dumb-downed considerably and simplified to their basest level. While it is called The Christmas Story Keepers, it covers much more of Jesus' life than just his birth. Not the most entertaining film, don't be surprised if the kids are fast asleep before it's over, but depending on your parenting style, that may be the point.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Not Rated