Movie Review: “The Lion of Judah”

A faith-based cartoon aimed at the very youngest Sunday School students, “The Lion of Judah” is the story of Easter as witnessed by farm animals. The most startling thing about it is that having an animated cow, horse, donkey, chicken, rat and lamb witness the crucifixion doesn’t diminish it as a symbol.

And there’s promise in the idea that farm animals might band together to save a spunky lamb (voiced by Georgina Cordova) who doesn’t realize that his future is a short trip to a Hebrew altar where he is to be sacrificed as part of Passover. Landing Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as the voice of a heroic rat and Michael Madsen (voicing an “unclean” raven) counts as a coup.

But the script is drab and nearly humorless. It’s as if the writers of this never saw a secular cartoon about life in the barnyard and couldn’t find anything funny to do with a cowardly horse, an irked human-hating donkey and a lamb who calls himself “The Lion of Judah.” The 2D and 3D animation by Character Matters Animation Studio tends toward the crude and unpolished — in the chunky/clunky style of direct to video fare. What, the VeggieTales folks weren’t available for a consultation?

The lamb arrives at a rural farm packed in a crate. He’s full of big talk, which causes Slink the rat (Borgnine), an addled rooster (Alphonso McAuley) , Esmay the cow (Christian singer Sandi Patty), Horace the pig (Omar Benson Miller) and Monty the horse (Anupam Kher) to fret for ten minutes of the movie about what is “the freaky thing inside the box.”

No sooner have they met Judah than a human has snatched him and sent him off to Jerusalem for Passover. He is to be a sacrificial lamb where the faithful will offer his life and blood as atonement for their sins. When the rooster accidentally stows away with Judah, the other critters suck up the courage to go after them. Along the way, they meet Jack, the embittered donkey. And they hear of this new “King” among the humans, a king born in their stable years before. This king is the only guy who can set the lamb free, they believe.

“One look into his eyes and he’ll melt your heart.”

But first, they’ve got to befriend the ravens. Boss (Madsen) has the best lines — “LOOKit me when I’m talkin’ to youse.” He runs the streets and leads the theological debate with the doves over which bird is “God’s chosen” — the one sent out of the Ark to look for land, or the one who brought back an olive branch. Funny.

There’s a bit of that sort of Christian tradition as backdrop here, with Jesus needing a ride and Jack the donkey providing one on Palm Sunday and the post-trial denial of Jesus by these anonymous humans the animals don’t realize are apostles.

Where “The Lion of Judah” falls short is in the dialogue (banal), the jokes (weak) and the sight gags, which, like everything else animated here, leave a lot to be desired.

The meek may inherit the Earth, but they won’t do well at the multiplex if they can’t do better than this.

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild thematic elements.

Cast:Ernest Borgnine (Slink), Georgina Cordova (Judah), Jack (Scott Eastwood), Michael Madsen (Boss), Sandi Patty (Esmay).

Credits: Directed by Deryck Broom and Roger Hawkins, written by Brent Dawes, produced by Phil Cunningham, Jacqui Cunningham, Sunu Gonera. An AMG Films release. Running time: 1:27

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