Superbook, Season 1 (Series Review)

Marybeth Whalen: Cue Your DVR!

Plot Summary

Chris Quantum, Joy Pepper, and their robotic friend Gizmo often find themselves facing moral and spiritual dilemmas. Every time they face one of these conundrums, a mysterious book-like device appears and sucks them into an alternate dimension where they become minor characters in Old and New Testament Bible stories. As they move at a breakneck speed through the entire Bible, Chris, Joy, and Gizmo find themselves participating in everything from the creation story to the end of the world!

Production Quality (2 points)

The production quality of season 1 of Superbook is fine for the most part, with no major errors. The animated characters move about and interact with one another in realistic ways. Additionally, they demonstrate basic facial expressions. The creators also avoid reusing the same character molds for differing characters (if you’ve been watching animated Christian kids content for while, you know what I mean). Comparatively, the animation quality in this series is above average, but leans towards being a bit clunky. For instance, the characters’ skin and hair quality is not extremely realistic, and the overall presentation reminds the viewer of plastic figurines. Additionally, the musical score is average, but the show’s intro and outro are above average and demonstrate creative potential that was not applied to all aspects of the series. On the whole, there are neither major errors nor successes to note in this section.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

The plots and storylines found in Superbook, Season 1 are a hodgepodge of above and below average content. First, the redundant Bible lesson setups at the start of each episode are not very creative, and the Bible story portrayals range from very creative to generic. For example, at the beginning of every episode either Chris or Joy (mostly Chris) either refuse obey authority, misjudge someone else’s character, etc. Following this, Superbook flies out of Chris’s pocket and transports the two children – via a colorful portal – into an alternate Biblical timeline. The remainder of the runtime is spent here, and each episode concludes with the show’s theme song. The main problem with this storyline model is that is becomes very monotonous if the creative team does not include self-aware dialogue that pokes fun at this fact – see the older VeggieTales episodes for more on this. In comparison, as we indicated earlier, a few of the episodes portray well-known Bible stories in unique ways and have above average depth for a children’s series. Unfortunately, other portrayals are choppy and very basic. The only other major error to note for storyline is that this first season moves at a breakneck speed from Genesis all the way through Revelation in only thirteen episodes. In order to accomplish this feat, the creators included a handful of Old Testament characters, along with Jesus, his disciples, and Paul from the New Testament. This cherry-picking style leaves out many important parts of the Bible and makes it impossible to maintain a discernible storyline. Lastly, the character development in this series is also a mix of good and bad. In this portrayal, Jesus is stiff, inaccessible, and speaks in a monotone. The issue here should go without saying. Moreoever, all of the adults are always trying to teach the kids something – there’s no regular conversations between these two age groups. And now for the most unusual part of this series. The Satan character is completely non-believable and satirical, as evidenced by this sinister screenshot of a moment that happens over and over again in the series:

no we didn’t add that caption, unfortunately:)

Ahem, I think you get the point there. Basically the New Testament portion of the series focuses on Satan way more than on Jesus, which basically negates the entire purpose of this being a Bible show. In summary, the plots, storylines, and character development in this series are all below average.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

Similarly, the acting quality of this series is average. The voice actors are mostly fine, with nothing extraordinary to note. Most of them use well modulated tones (except the guy voicing Jesus), and produce a quality performance. As a side note, some of the children are voiced by adults, which is apparent in the show. This is distracting and sends an odd message to viewers. Additionally, it would have been nice to have some culturally authentic voice casts (i.e. not all white cast members), as many of the actors are clearly not of Israeli descent. Other than that, there’s not much else to note here.

Continuity Quality (0 points)

One of the biggest issues with Superbook is that each episode could stand alone – there is no continuity. Every episode has a unique lesson, features a different Bible character than last time, and is set in a different time period. Thus, the lessons are self-contained and don’t relate to the others. Furthermore, the characters have no arcs. For example, Chris and Joy don’t apply anything they learned in the previous episode during a new episode. They are always learning something new; to put it succinctly, they are always being taught. Chris and Joy’s character’s never have the chance to simply live. On top of all these errors, at the end of the series Chris burns down his family’s house, and after learning a vague lesson about forgiveness from the book of Revelation, the characters give verbal hints that another season of the show is coming…?!?!? Basically, after being spoon-fed a whole bunch of Biblical principles and burning down your family’s house, it’s time to move on to new horizons??? Anyway, there is simply nothing good to note here, and for that reason this series earns zero points.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Superbook is just another Christian kids show that meant well, but didn’t deliver any original or truly meaningful content. There’s nothing wrong with you and your kids watching this show, just don’t expect them to glean deep spiritual truths from it’s teachings. If even half of the errors listed above did not exist, this series could have helped fill the ever-increasing blank space of content that points children to Christ and helps them grow in their faith. Going forward, Christian movie-makers should make God-inspired content for children that they themselves would actually watch.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 14 points

The Star [2018] (Movie Review)

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Our reaction to this movie

Plot Summary

Around 4 B.C., a miniature mill donkey is tired of walking in an endless circle as he and his partner grind grain. With the help of a bird who can’t stop dancing and waving his behind at the camera (more on this later), the donkey manages to escape. While he’s running away from his owner he accidentally stumbles onto the aftermath of Mary and Joseph’s wedding feast. Mary adopts him and names him Bo. Joseph doesn’t like Bo because he steals Mary’s attention away from him. As time goes forward, Bo soon finds himself caught up in a very unusual depiction of the Nativity story with no way of escape.

Production Quality (1.5 points)

All things considered, the production in this film is a mixed bag with the animation quality being it’s strongest point. This being said, the animation is fine and has no major errors, and outdoor scenes look mostly realistic; however, the transitions between scenes are either very abrupt and choppy or follow no logical train of thought. The soundtrack is a hodge-podge of several songs by big-name Christian artists, and the said songs don’t usually match the mood of the scene in which they are played. For instance, in one scene where the donkey is depressed, we hear a Casting Crowns song about happiness (?). It’s as if the filmmakers were trying to squeeze as many pseudo-Christmas songs as they could into the run-time with no regard for proper editing. Moreover, the film could have used some instrumental music instead of only songs with lyrics because the viewer is confused as to whether they’re supposed to be listening to the radio or watching a movie. In short, there are more continuity errors than successes. Finally, audio quality contains no notable errors, but editing continues to be a problem here.

Plot and Storyline Quality (0 points)

What exactly is the plot of this film? Is it a donkey coming-of-age tale? Is it an unusual interpretation of Mary and Joseph’s relationship? Is it about a donkey and a bird who long to join the ‘royal caravan’? Anyway, the plot and storyline are absolute madness, so hold on to your hats. First, it is highly unlikely that Mary was six months pregnant before ever telling Joseph about the angel’s appearance and her new future. Furthermore, the Bible says that Joseph went through a period of indecision before deciding to remain engaged to Mary. In this depiction he says a very brief prayer and hears a one-word answer, then he’s hunky dory. Second, what’s with all the references to animal’s rear ends? From the old donkey in the mill to that obnoxious dove who won’t stop waving his at the camera (sometimes at very close range) and making frequent jokes about pooping on people, we were left slightly repulsed and scratching our heads. Moreover, why are there so many characters in this plot, and why are some minor characters focused on while others have like two scenes? Third, we have no explanation for the weird singular Roman wannabe super soldier who hulks around with a mask on for the entirety of the film, while grunting and leading two ‘evil’ henchman dogs around on chains. Apparently King Herod sent him on a very evil mission to kill Mary, or Jesus, or something. Because said soldier never speaks we are frequently tortured with dialogue from the uber-serious wolf and his unfunny bulldog sidekick. The main question here is why has this soldier singled out Mary and Joseph to follow around??? Finally, no one knows why Elizabeth and Zechariah are only in one scene – Zechariah is apparently a dim-witted guy who loves to gorge himself on free food – or why Joseph hates Bo so much. This maddening tale comes to a screeching halt with a Band-aid style ending that doesn’t make up for everything else.

Acting Quality (1 point)

The acting quality is fine in this movie, but no voice actor portrays much depth beyond reading their lines in varying tones of voice. As is typical for movies by this filmmaker, a whole bunch of celebrities and Christian celebs are thrown together in a mish-mash cast. On a side note, its really too bad Christopher Plummer was wasted on this film because he would have made a great King Herod in a live-action Christmas film. Any-who, there’s nothing particularly remarkable to speak of here. Yes, there’s no glaring errors, but there’s also nothing that makes this film stand out from it’s counterparts. Overall, acting quality is fine, but the performances – with the exception of Zachary Levi, who actually tries – are pretty much phoned in.

Conclusion

In summary, there is no reason to even try to make a kids animated film unless you’re going to commit to making it high-quality in all respects – the world has enough B-grade Christian kids movies. We don’t really know why this movie was made or how it possibly got back into theaters this year. I guess the Christian kids entertainment genre is really that starved for content. One of the most offensive things from this movie (out of many) is the fact that they felt the need to include the statement “We tried not to stray too far from the original story”. Not too far?!?! They went way off the road! Needless to say, we don’t recommend that you watch this film, for it may cause your kids to become confused about how the Nativity story actually happened and expose them to inappropriate ‘humor’.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 10 points