Every time Judge Adam Arseneau rings a bell, an angel gets annoyed.
In a city of darkness, they are the light.
Distributed by Fox Faith, Angel Wars is an "inspirational action-adventure cartoon series" franchise, which is a clever way of distracting from the fact that you can't watch the show on television or buy it in mainstream retail stores. However, you might find a copy next time you're shopping for a fish-shaped decal for your car.
Inspired by the Judeo-Christian works of C.S. Lewis and science fiction, the creators of Angel Wars: The Messengers sets out to make clean Christian cartooning for young children, promoting good religious values along the way. This is simple, inoffensive cartoon action with well-defined angelic heroes and sleazy demonic villains, a world where good always triumphs, because evil is dumb.
Facts of the Case
In the beginning, there were angels, the Maker's holy creations, and they ruled the kingdom above. Eventually, humans emerged on Earth, and the angels were tasked to protect and guide them. But after a schism formed in the ranks of Heaven, the great Angel Wars broke out, angel versus angel for the fate of humanity.
Now tasked with protecting humans and fighting the forces of darkness, Michael and his mech-clad clan of warriors called the Guardian Force do what is needed to stay the cause. When the team gets two young recruits, Kira and Eli, it becomes clear the two youths have a lot to learn. But when darkness descends over the city below, the time for training is over—Eli and Kara must find strength within them to work together and drive back the demonic forces.
As disclaimers go, I'm probably the last person who should be reviewing this title. Get out the checklist: I am not Christian, born completely in sin, never attended church, has no children, was never baptized, and, to top it all off, married a Jew. Right off the bat, I'm in the penalty box. If I was absolutely none of these things, in some Bizarro World universe where the opposite version of Judge Adam Arseneau existed in negative color schemes? Well, me am Bizarro Judge, and me would hate this movie.
See what I did there? I made a Superman joke, and did it in the style of…ah, forget it.
Okay, so establishing that I'm morally bankrupt, spiritually bereft, and going straight to hell on technicalities that occurred before I was able to change myself, Angel Wars: The Messengers turns out to be okay, all things considering (see above). A mix of family friendly comedy and action, with clearly identifiable bad guys and empowering lessons about loyalty and teamwork makes for an easygoing adventure, with enough Judeo-Christian iconography, ideology, and namedropping thrown in to satisfy the religiously pious. This is one of those occasions when "family-friendly" does mean Christian, but I always wondered about that. Last I heard, non-Christians did on occasion procreate, but then again, I am Canadian—we're a bit weird north of the forty-ninth. Also, we're filthy communists.
Essentially, Angel Wars combines Sunday school moral lessons into Power Rangers-style action sequences and The Phantom Menace-styled space fights, animated and rendered fully in CGI. For a production with moderate financing, the animation is crisp and clean and quite enjoyable—certainly on par with Saturday morning cartoons, if not better. Kids will no doubt enjoy the adrenaline-fueled space battle sequences (with ships exploding in a decisively nonviolent way) and the hover board-style chase sequences with angels rushing about, darting and ducking through battles. When direct confrontation is required, most of the bad guys simply turn into sparkling angel dust and fade away, so violence is tempered to the point of being nonexistent. In fact, for large portions of the show, you'd be hardpressed to tell this was Christian programming at all—and then the characters open their mouths.
It might be kid-friendly in terms of its visual content, but subtlety is not thy name of Angel Wars. It doesn't take long for the show to reveal its uber-Christian ideology. For example, in one sequence, two angels-in-training are being attacked by giant demon creatures. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, their solution is to "ask for help," so in the middle of the fight, they get on their knees and pray for guidance. The magic blasts of the giants fly over their heads, knocking the opposite enemy out, and they win the fight. Oh, but it's not enough for that particular lesson to sink in naturally, no. One angel turns to the other and says, "Wow, how did you do that?" He says, "I didn't," staring up at the sky, which bathes the light of Heaven down upon him like a spotlight. Yikes.
As fun as it might be to tear up Angel Wars for being deceptively preachy, there's nothing deceptive about it—the show is made to target a specific Christian audience, and in this regard, it does a fantastic job. It is admirable to see programming actively concerned with the moral values of the youth. Of course, not every parent is going to be comfortable with this direct form of communication with their children. If I was a parent with kids who didn't attend church, I'd be uncomfortable with how heavy handed, smash-you-over-the-face-with-a-sledgehammer preachy Angel Wars get with its Bible lessons. The entire plot of the show centers around the battle in Heaven between angels, but with a sci-fi twist, and every opportunity to hammer home a Christian lesson, a reworked Bible story or a faith-based metaphor is taken with gusto. How much this matters to you will depend entirely on your own family values and how you choose to raise your family. For many, Angel Wars: The Messengers will be too preachy for their tastes, but for other families, it will be a perfect alternative to more secular and violent programming in the same vein.
Pious or not, parents of children five to eleven are no doubt concerned about the media their children consume, because this is a particularly impressionable and sensitive age for kids. They're like sponges, picking up everything they see and hear. Whether you agree with the religious connotations or not, it is admittedly nice to find a show that works hard to sanitize the moral content of its programming while still working hard to develop action-oriented adventures for kids to immerse in. Too often, "inspirational" programming translates into "lousy" programming, but not in Angel Wars: The Messengers. All told, it's pretty entertaining: action-packed without being violent, with decent animation and character designs, and even multicultural to boot. Families looking for something fun and wholesome for their kids will find quality here, but it does come at the cost of active religious recruitment.
Fox sent us over a screener copy of Angel Wars: The Messengers, which may not be representative of its final retail version, so audio and video specs are unavailable. Like other Fox screeners, the visual quality is garbage, heavily compressed and aliased images as to make the film virtually unwatchable. Our copy did come with a 5.1 surround presentation and a small amount of extras, mainly a twelve minute feature, "Mind Your P's and Q's" and some character profiles and trailers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For all its family friendly content, Angel Wars: The Messengers has an agenda, and actively attempts to influence children during an impressionable point in their intellectual and moral development. Something about that just makes me a bit apprehensive. It's not the message being delivered—it's the method in which it gets snuck into kids, disguised as entertainment.
I just don't relish the idea of trying to use cartoons to sway children into doing anything; be it selling toys, preaching religious values, or whatever. I'm old-fashioned that way. Also, I live in a cave and distrust outsiders.
If you don't mind the heavy handed Christian iconography and Sunday school lessons, it is hard to find fault with Angel Wars: The Messengers judged solely on its own merits as children's entertainment. Clean, wholesome, and inspiring, many parents will love offering their kids entertainment without having to second-guess its moral content.
Angel Wars: The Messengers is not my heathen cup of tea, but it is inoffensive enough to pass Jury mustard. If this be your bag, then go for it.
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