Fox // 1997 // 70 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // April 23rd, 2004
An exciting and inspirational animated adventure that teaches children about faith and family values.
Or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
Local baker Ben and his family are Christians living in Rome during the rule of Emperor Nero. Ben and his brood are forced to flee from their home after a close friend betrays them. They hide in the catacombs until Roman soldiers find Ben and capture him. Despite a death sentence, Ben finds solace in retelling the events that unfolded in the final days of Jesus Christ.
Completed in 1997, but only released now, The Easter Story Keepers isn't as bad as the shelving suggests. The message of peace and faith despite duress is inspirational. The basic premise is sweet and pure. A vocal cast headed by Robert Guillaume (Soap, Sports Night) and Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Clue) is superb. Unfortunately, it is not enough to sustain a feature length production. My biggest problem with the film is the fractured structure. Screenwriters Eric J. Danenberg, Rob McFarlane, and J. David Stem alternate Ben's plight with the story of the Passion of Christ. While that is their privilege, I think they sacrificed the impact of their story. A better approach would have been to tell the two stories separately, thus reinforcing the parallels that Ben and Christ share.
The animation is another liability. Producer/director Jimmy T. Murakami is
responsible for some of the best animation of the past thirty years (The
Point and Dirty Duck being particular highlights). Sadly, he strikes
out with The Easter Story Keepers. His signature style of ragged
simplicity doesn't fit the material he's working with here. It looks cheap and
stilted when it should look vivid and alive. The most crucial error Murakami
makes is having Ben smile in each and every scene he appears in. Surely, this
man would express feelings other than optimism and happiness while imprisoned
and persecuted. Some may say Ben's faith is what makes him that way, but I don't
buy it for a second.
Despite these considerable negatives, I am marginally recommending The Easter Story Keepers. It is good, innocuous entertainment for very young children. Older children and adults will be less forgiving.
The full frame transfer is quite good for a direct-to-video release. Colors are vivid and bright, essential for children's entertainment. Grain is minimal. Some minor film blemishes creep up at various points (mostly specks), but they will not be a bother.
Audio is allegedly Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. It sounds flat and dull most of the duration. It doesn't utilize the multi-channel sound to any advantage. If I had to describe it one way, I would say it sounds like a really poor television mix, muffled with a dirty dishrag.
The Easter Story Keepers is a typical barebones disc Fox has grown accustomed to. With the exception of the so-called "Exciting Previews" featured before the film, there is nothing to expect here.
Despite the $14.95 price tag, this is not an ideal purchase. I'm not even sure it's worth a rental. You might be better off waiting for The Easter Story Keepers to air on television. Perhaps with commercial interruptions, the film will play better.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 70 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated G