• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, March 09, 2007

    Friends and Heroes (Review)

    Bible stories have always been a popular target for animators, going right back to Disney's early Noah's Ark short. The new Friends and Heroes series continues this tradition which has had it's fair share of highs and lows. Its approach is relatively novel. Instead of focussing directly on the characters from the Old and New Testaments, the biblical narratives are introduced into a series of stories about the fictional characters Macky and Portia. Macky is a young Jewish Christian living in Alexandria, Egypt, in the first century A.D. He has a chance meeting with Portia, who turns out to be the niece of the governor of Alexandria, Tiberius.

    Whereas some of the more recent animated bible stories, such as Testaments, have been aimed at all the family, Friends and Heroes is pitched specifically at children. Macky and Portia are just a little older than this target audience, and it's easy for children to relate to them and be inspired by their exciting lives. They are brave and resourceful, but they are not superheroes. Children can aspire to be like them rather than simply be entertained by them.

    However, what this series does do well is balance the need to create engaging plots whilst retaining a sense of realism. Locating the story in the first century helps in this respect, as there were hazards facing children then that most children in the 21st century western world are unlikely to come up against. But many of the perils that they and their friends face are not so far detached from those of today.

    A classic example is episode 7, where Macky's sister Leah wanders off and gets lost. But rather than rushing headlong into some far fetched tale, it moves, with perfect pacing, through increasing degrees of danger, maximising the impact of each one. Most children will be able to relate to the fear being lost and being without their parents, and the episode takes time to explore this. But is also moves on to look at forced child labour - unlikely to effect the target audience, but still a reality for many of their contemporaries in other parts of the world. The result is that the episodes are engaging, and exciting, yet at the same time touching and personal.

    Such disciplined, well thought out, pacing is also in evidence in the way that the biblical stories are introduced. Just when the attention spans of the younger audience members might begin to wane, a new story is introduced and, crucially, it's in a new animated medium - 3D CGI. This gear change both draws the audience back in, but also highlights the importance of these stories in their own right. They sit both within and without the Macky / Portia narrative. Important stories in their own right, but tales that should not just entertain, but be digested and applied. As Macky and family are applying them to their situations, it encourages the audience to do likewise.

    Yet thankfully these are not dogmatic, overly moralising cartoons. In times gone by, children's programmes often ended with one of the characters spelling out the moral, in a way that even when I was young felt like it cheapened the programme as a whole. Here the biblical stories are shown, and characters are shown applying them to their lives, but it is left up to the audience what they do with that example.

    From a technical point of view, the 2D animation is of a very high standard. Bright colours and quirky characters are complemented by vivid , smooth animation. The quality of the 3D sections of the show doesn't quite attain such high standards, but it should be borne in mind that 3D CGI is still very much an emerging medium. Whilst the 3D work here is not quite up to the high standards set by Pixar (specifically in The Incredibles) it still works well in the short bursts it is used for. Finally, the music is catchy and the dialogue is generally solid.

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    • At 5:46 pm, March 09, 2007, Blogger Christopher Heard said…

      Nitpick: there is no Noah's ark sequence in Fantasia (1940). There is a Noah's ark sequence in Fantasia 2000 (1999).

    • At 6:00 pm, March 09, 2007, Blogger Matt Page said…

      Thanks Chris, although that's hardly a "nitpick" so much as a significant error, so I appreciate you picking it up. as far as I recall, I've not actually seen Fantasia or the early Noah's Ark carton, so I'd just picked up from somewhere that the Noah's Ark short was part of Fantasia.



    • At 7:59 pm, March 09, 2007, Blogger Peter T Chattaway said…

      Don't worry too much about it, Matt -- Disney actually made another cartoon about Noah's ark, called Father Noah's Ark (1933), that predates Fantasia by seven years. So your basic point still stands -- there have been Bible cartoons since the early days of Disney!


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