The Lion of Judah
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Plucky little Judah is confused. For some reason, the spotless, white-as-snow lamb believes he's a lion. He even "roars" to prove his prowess.
His shepherds are not convinced, of course. They don't even notice. But while they make a pit stop in Bethlehem en route to delivering him to a buyer in Jerusalem, Judah does make quite an impression on Slink, a grandfatherly rat; Esmay, a motherly cow; Drake, a clueless rooster; Monty, a fearful and fainting horse; and Horace, an ill-mannered but well-meaning pig with a snout for trouble. Then, when Drake accidentally lands in Judah's travel crate and is taken away with him as the shepherds continue their trek, the other animals dutifully scramble to the rescue. While following the men and their precious cargo, they meet Jack, an embittered donkey colt who reluctantly joins them.
Once in the holy city, the barnyard buddies search for their lost friends and, gradually, learn the lamb's fate: He's to be sacrificed in order to set people free from their sins. Judah doesn't know this at first, even though his mother hinted at it when he was taken away from her, telling him that his purpose was the most noble of all. When it does dawn on him that dying's involved in fulfilling that noble purpose, the terrified lamb struggles to escape as fast as his new friends hurry to rescue him.
Simultaneously, Jesus is enduring his period of Passion. And the animals' story is mingled with Christ's at key moments.
The barnyard beasts display great courage while searching for Drake and Judah. They're scared, of course, especially the horse. But they step up when it counts. "He's one of us and we stick together, right?" says Slink. They also comfort one another when situations look grim and morale is low. Though their initial meeting is tense, Horace and Jack eventually forge a friendship. Slink encourages others to look beyond a friend's frustrating external qualities and into the animal's kind and loyal heart.
Jack's bitterness toward those who have treated him cruelly is all consuming, and he feels that the ropes his owners use for control also enslave his heart. When he encounters the love of Christ, however, he's set free from his misery and his hope is renewed. Judah, too, fully realizes the power and magnitude of Christ's love, and encourages others to recognize it.
Large and lofty spiritual themes span much of the movie, though awkwardly so at times. One tangled subplot revolves around Boss, the leader of a group of ravens in Jerusalem. Before Christ's crucifixion, the bird, deemed unclean by Jewish law, has a vision paralleling Peter's in Acts 10. In the passage, sheets containing unclean animals appear to the apostle, who is commanded to kill and eat animals that had previously been forbidden. It seems that by involving Boss and his flock with this grace-inspired revelation, the filmmakers are trying to explain that Jesus offers redemption and makes all things new. But there's also a few things here that might get misunderstood by (young) moviegoers. Especially when Boss, who is presented as a stereotyped mafia don, bluntly tells another raven that their purification makes them "fit to eat."
We learn, meanwhile, that most of the animals have a history with Christ: Their stable is where Mary gave birth, and they recognize that the baby they once saw is now the man they see today. (Never mind the fact that the beasts would have to be preternaturally old in order for this to occur.) As their stories unfold and intertwine with Christ's, Jack is shown to be the donkey the Lord rides on Palm Sunday, and Drake is the rooster that crows after Peter's threefold denial of Jesus. When Christ turns over the moneychanger's tables in the temple, he "inadvertently" frees the animals. And we see them witnessing both His crucifixion and resurrection.
An old hen explains what a sacrifice is, saying that the wages of sin is death, but that God allows an animal to take the place of man to pay for his sin. And herein we encounter a possibly hinky juxtaposition of stock, animated silliness and biblical sobriety. What does it look like for us to identify with a main character in a movie who is a thinking, talking, spiritually minded animal—destined to become a sacrifice under the Old Testament's Mosaic law? Should it concern us at all to watch Judah, anthropomorphized as he is, do everything in his power to squirm his way out of having his blood shed for the sake of others' sins? Why wouldn't he, after all? And why, too, we're forced to wonder, would God want such a creature to be slaughtered in the first place? In this odd scenario, Judah is either a martyr or a traitor, depending on his course. He's certainly never just the animal substitute God ordained.
Temple birds are excited to be chosen for sacrifice, and they call Judah blessed because he is spotless ("What a privilege, indeed, to be sacrificed to the Lord"). But Judah will have none of that.
Now, you can also argue that by portraying Judah's reluctance you're depicting his struggle with the horror of sin and its consequences. Were he stoic, that might not come to light. And we do very clearly see that Christ becomes the supreme sacrificial Lamb, removing the need for Judah to be killed. That's a powerful concept no matter how it's introduced. So walking through Judah's trials and tribulations becomes more of an exercise in observing the built-in disparities between slapstick storytelling and the sacred text given to us in Scripture than a judgment on what we actually observe onscreen. This is a case in which one family may feel the movie is sometimes mocking while another thinks of it as merely making the Gospel more accessible to tikes and tots reared on Cartoon Network. At its best, the movie pushes families toward exploring the spiritual issues it embraces by talking them over afterwards.
While Jesus' name isn't used here, emphatic throughout the script are statements such as "Behold the Lamb of God." More loosely used is the exclamation, "Lord have mercy!" Song lyrics mention Christ and salvation. Heaven is alluded to. And the final sequence shows the Savior triumphantly rising from the grave to finish His redemptive work.
Soldiers are seen nailing Christ to the cross. (The blows fall behind a boulder.) He is later shown hanging on that cross (from a distance). Jesus' struggle to carry the heavy beams is shown, and we see a soldier's whip begin to strike Him. Men push Jesus, who has been shackled after his arrest. Interlaced are images of a Jewish priest sharpening a large knife in preparation to sacrifice Judah, who is bound and terrified on an altar. The man lifts the blade over his head and is stopped just short of thrusting it into the little lamb. He's interrupted by an earthquake, which damages buildings, including the temple.
In more slapstick fashion, Slink is hit by a horseshoe and various other objects that are thrown at him. The rat also falls from a window, cracking his head against a barrel on the way down. Rambunctious Judah head-butts a man's shins while trying to escape. Monty mistakenly kicks Slink, and a bird falls headfirst into a shovel that propels him across a room. Boss abuses his underlings, hitting them himself and also bashing them into various hard objects. The ravens torment Slink, flying with him and dropping him onto a cobblestone street. Horace and Jack bicker and push each other.
Judah is shown being captured (kidnapped?) multiple times. He's tossed into crates (prison cells?) and is seen to both languish there and frantically try to escape.
Crude or Profane Language
A bird says "sacrebleu," a French profanity. While baffled, Slink utters an incomplete "What the …?" Name-calling includes "weird," "crazy," "nuts" and "stupid."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Horace passes gas in Monty's face when the horse faints. (Smelling salts, he figures, are harder to come by.) The pig also lets out a banger of a burp while singing, laughingly calling it a "remix." The animals observing Christ's birth are shown looking mildly disgusted and perplexed. The crows habitually steal bed sheets after Boss has his vision.
As immersed in animation as so many of us have become, some moviegoers will quickly conclude that The Lion of Judah is unsophisticated in its execution, a bit sedentary in its pacing and occasionally clumsy in its storytelling. But it's still a well-intentioned film striving to share the grand themes of spiritual redemption and hope through Jesus.
What, then, to do with cute, cuddly—talking—animals whose destiny is to be slaughtered and sacrificed? When a horrified Judah struggles to escape the altar, his humanizing characteristics demand that parents talk some kids out of thinking that God might be especially brutal for requiring him to suffer so. And because it's repeatedly stated that only Jesus can set the animals free, it's conceivable that some small children might mistakenly believe Christ came to save both people and animals.
Enough elements of this Barnyard-meets-Sunday school flannelgraph parable do come together to illustrate the value of friendship, selflessness and courage in the face of crisis, not to mention Christ's redeeming power, love and sacrifice. (Because as these stable mates look for the lamb—and discover the true Lamb—they learn that Jesus is the only King who can save.) But in a Disneyfied culture that all but equates animal and human rights, The Lion of Judah opens a few spiritual doors that parents are going to want to walk through with their kids.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Voices of Ernest Borgnine as Slink; Sandi Patty as Esmay; Georgina Cordova as Judah; Alphonso McAuley as Drake; Omar Benson Miller as Horace; Scott Reeves as Jack; Anupam Kher as Monty; Michael Madsen as Boss; Leon Clingman as Tony; Bruce Marchiano as Jesus; Adrienne Pierce as Helda
Deryck Broom ( )
Rocky Mountain Pictures
June 3, 2011
March 27, 2012
Meredith WhitmoreSteven Isaac