From the small, independent studio Animated Family Films, in conjunction with Character Matters making their feature-length debut, 'The Lion of Judah' is a lighthearted and somewhat amusing family film with a strong spiritual message at its center. Considering the plot's humor and the simplicity of the animation, its target audience likely ranges from toddlers to maybe around ten years of age. With that in mind, an estimation of its quality can be rather challenging since I'm definitely not the intended audience — and I'm not only referring to age. Still, I can appreciate the work that went into its making and also imagine small children in the family being quite content if not thoroughly entertained.
The film is a quaint little tale about the biggest and bravest of hearts found in the smallest and most unexpected places. Here, a plucky little lamb named Judah (Georgina Cordova) takes his mother's final words of comfort to heart and believes he's meant to liberate other animals from their captivity. His introduction to the story is admittedly cute as he breaks free of his crate and lets out a mighty roar, astonishing the farm creatures in a Bethlehem stable. This is where 'The Lion of Judah' functions as a sequel because the stable-mates are the same characters from the short animated film, "Once upon a Stable." Thankfully, watching the first movie is not requisite for following this simply storyline.
When Judah is put back into his crate, Drake the Rooster (Alphonso McAuley) is accidentally trapped inside, and both are shipped to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Led by a grandfatherly rat named Slink (Ernest Borgnine), the gang, which is made up of Esmay (Sandi Patty), Monty (Anupam Kher) and Horace (Omar Benson Miller), heads to the holy city in order to rescue their friend by being used as the ritual sacrifice. By this point, the plot feels like your standard adventure tale and later joined by two more animals: Jack the mule (Scott Eastwood) and Boss the raven (Michael Madsen). But as characters begin explaining the ceremonial traditions and other outside events start to unfold, the intentions of the filmmakers become clear.
This cute but short parable for children is actually a re-imagining of the Easter story, from the point of view of the animals who also witnessed the birth of Jesus. (That's what the short animated film is about.) The film's title is meant as a double entendre as little Judah, along with the rest of the animals, slowly comes to realize who the real "Lion of Judah" is. While on their rescue mission for Drake, they also witness the cleansing of the Temple, the procession to Calvary, and the crucifixion itself. The filmmakers understandably downplay many of the events which make up the Passion, since the goal, here, appears to be having kids recognize what the Easter celebration is all about.
This aspect of the original script by little-known Brent Dawes is probably what I find most fascinating in 'The Lion of Judah.' It's rather clever how Passover rituals are succinctly explained and related to the Easter story on a level that children can understand. It's all then linked back to why it's believed Jesus was crucified and why it's also believed His sacrifice was necessary for salvation. Some of this may sound like spoilers, but really, they're not since the movie is made specifically for children to enjoy, and parents should know the message delivered by the story. A few moments leading up to the crucifixion can get a bit hairy and suspense, but it's nothing kids can't handle. Personally, as an adult, the film is much too simplistic, but the little tykes in the family, for which the movie is actually intended, I'm sure they find a great deal more to enjoy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video releases 'The Lion of Judah' to 3D Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc which also contains a 2D version of the movie. The disc is housed inside a regular blue keepcase and goes straight to the main menu at startup with the option to switch between the two available versions.
'The Lion of Judah' makes its way unto Blu-ray with a mostly satisfying 3D picture quality. Granted, it may not impress the most discerning eye, but the little tykes in the family are not likely as discriminating and are sure to be more than happy with what they see on screen.
The 1080p/MVC encode is full of vivid, cleanly-rendered primaries and plenty vibrant secondary hues. In spite of the dark glasses, colors remain very bright and lively throughout as they should for an animated feature. Contrast is also brilliant with crisp whites, making for a sparkling video that allows for much to see in the several landscape scenes. Black levels are true and inky with excellent shadow delineation in the many poorly-lit interiors.
Sadly, the transfer does comes with a few noticeable drawbacks. Most apparent are the sequences with color banding, especially in the nighttime sky. During daylight exteriors, there is a tad of posterization in a couple clouds or around the tall grass. It's very minor and easy to ignore, but worth mentioning nonetheless. On the positive side, fine object detailing is quite strong given its low-budget origins. But at the same time and also due to its low-budget origins, definition is not really up to the standards or expectations set by the major studies. The animation is a bit more plain and simple, but definition around the fur of animals is pretty good and admirable. Most impressive are the scenes in Jerusalem where we can see small imperfections on the surface of buildings or along the side of interior walls.
The 3D presentation, for the most part, is fairly satisfactory with plenty of dimensionality in most every scene. The strange thing about it is that it's not always consistent, seeming rather flat and 2D-like during several parts. During its best moments, depth is convincing and pleasing to the eye, like at the beginning inside the stable or when characters are walking about in the open road. The few action sequences in the movie are definitely the most excellent, as characters appear to run around, jump and fly within a three-dimensional space. The filmmakers also make great use of several 3D gimmicks with some highly-amusing pop-out effects, with the best being the raven flying through the streets of Jerusalem in search of Drake the Rooster.
The little lamb that thinks it's a lion also breaks free of its crate with a very good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Dialogue is front and center with excellent intelligibility from beginning to end. Being an animated movie focused on the interaction of the characters, there isn't a great deal of activity or movement in the other channels. The musical score and song selections, on the other hand, take advantage of the front soundstage, feeling fairly wide and welcoming. They also bleed into the rears, nicely enhancing the soundfield. The mid-range isn't very extensive, but the few high notes that exist are cleanly rendered and sharp with a surprisingly deep low-end, providing the appropriate weight to certain on-screen events.
Surround speakers are silent for a majority of the runtime, but employed on occasion with some discrete ambient effects. They're not very convincing and feel somewhat artificial, but they're welcomed nonetheless, keeping this lossless mix enjoyable for the kids.
Warner offers a single supplement to this Blu-ray release.
Although I'm not the target audience, I can appreciate the work that went into the making of 'The Lion of Judah' and can imagine the little tykes in the family enjoying it for what it is. Featuring the voices of Ernest Borgnine and Michael Madsen, the story is a re-imagining of the Easter story with a small band of stable mates witnessing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The 3D Blu-ray arrives with a very good picture quality and an equally good audio presentation. The one, lone supplement is a forgettable piece, making the package overall an average release that fans will find satisfying.