Christmas family and redemptive movies for 2017 celebrate the value of each person. The ongoing top pick for this Christmas season is The Star. More than any other movie in theaters this month, The Star celebrates the real reason for the season in the birth of our Lord who came to give each of us the possibility of eternal life. This delightful Christmas movie is appropriate for the whole family and tells the story of the birth of Christ from the perspective of the animals in the story, especially that of the underdog little donkey Bo, who develops as a hero.
With excellent, charming animation, the voices are entertaining and engaging. As it tells the story of the birth of our Savior, it conveys valuable lessons of persistence, friendship, and true purpose. It demonstrates the truth that good overcomes evil, even through underdogs. It is a lovely movie that portrays the story of the greatest, eternal Christmas gift of all!
Another top pick redemptive movie this Christmas with a central theme of the value of each individual is Wonder. Based on the New York Times bestseller by the same title, it tells the inspiring, hopeful, and heartwarming story of August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), who has facial deformities. In the movie, he enters the fifth grade to attend an elementary school for the first time, after homeschooling with his mother, played by Oscar Award-winning actress Julia Roberts.
The movie follows Auggie’s first year in school from his perspective and that of those around him. While it discourages bullying, the movie encourages seeing others beyond external appearances, having quality friendships, and showing compassion. It is a family movie but there is some brief, mostly light, foul language.
It is a delightful, entertaining, uplifting movie that is suitable for older children through adults. Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson (Auggie’s father), Izabela Vidovic (Auggie’s sister, Via), Mandy Patinkin (Auggie’s school principal), and Jacob Tremblay (Auggie) give endearing performances.
Another top pick during the third week of December is Ferdinand about a bull who doesn’t bully. This movie also has a theme of the value of each individual. Ferdinand is a CG-animated adaptation of the classic 1936 book by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson.
The movie begins in Casa del Toros, a bull training camp in rural Spain from which young Ferdinand bolts upon learning his dad never returned from a trip to that Madrid arena. He finds idyllic refuge on a farm belonging to Juan whose daughter Nina makes a pet out of Ferdinand. But when the docile creature grows to an enormous, threatening size, he is seized by the authorities and delivered back to Casa del Toros. stars in the new film based on the book of the same name, Wonder.
Ferdinand plans an escape with the help of a team of misfits, who like Ferdinand defy stereotypes. The movie is a heartwarming, comedic adventure for all ages. Moments of comic entertainment include a literal “bull in a china shop” scene. However, the characters also gracefully inhabit bright green rolling hills against azure skies. Ferdinand is an heroic, selfless, non-violent, courageous character who is concerned about the well-being of others.
Light continues to shine into our hurting, dark world in another top pick movie for the third week of December. Let There Be Light, about an alcoholic atheist, tells the story of Sol Harkins who is mourning the death of his son. Because he is bitter and angry with God, Sol enjoys writing books that mock belief in God, especially Christian belief.
However, at a party for his new book, Sol becomes very drunk. As he drives his fancy car home, he crashes and has a near-death experience in which he sees his son alive and happy. His son repeatedly says to him, “Let there be light.” This experience challenges Sol to reconsider his beliefs and actions. This engaging, inspiring movie which also shows the value of every life is directed by Kevin Sorbo and produced by Sean Hannity. Kevin and his wife, Sam, who is also a writer, are lead actors for this captivating film.
Playing out in the hardhearted world of the Los Angeles criminal court system that was sorely lacking in moral convictions, Roman J. Israel, Esq., continues as a thought-provoking top pick for older teens and adults. It is a PG-13 movie due to content and some language. (For example, our Lord’s name is taken in vain to the face of Roman Israel, who ironically is in part a type of Christ figure.) Roman J. Israel, Esq. also focuses on the value of each person.
This uniquely told redemptive story stars Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington. Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a character whose “moral compass always points north,” says producer, Todd Black. “When you go to a courthouse or a prison, you see people struggling to prove their worth, to prove their story – not even necessarily their innocence; they just want their story to be heard,” says Black. Of many lawyers, he says, “They’re cut and dry – does it fit the law or doesn’t it fit the law? – and they put zero moral value on right or wrong.”
As Roman J. Israel, Esq, Washington performs an idealistic, misfit, savant defense lawyer, Roman J. Israel, who is driven by conviction, courage, and compassion. The Esq. attached to his name refers to his being “a little above gentleman” and “a little lower than knight.”
Roman’s life is upended when his mentor, a civil rights icon, dies. Israel is recruited to join a firm led by one of the legendary man’s former students, George Pierce (Colin Farrell), who is initially an ambitious and self-serving lawyer. Roman Israel is also pursued as a mentor by Maya Alston (Carmen Ejogo), who is a young champion of equal rights. Carmen Ejogo says that Roman ignites the embers in her character and that her character stands on his shoulders. A turbulent series of events tests Roman’s career and convictions, as well as of those around him.
I enjoyed a profound discussion of this multi-faceted, substantive movie in L.A. with Denzel Washington and director Dan Gilroy. You can hear excerpts from this discussion. One of the most profound insights from this discussion was that the movie is not just about Roman. The idea of one’s legacy is gripping in this movie.
Like Roman Israel, Dan Gilroy and Denzel Washington are men of strong convictions. Denzel revealed that while shooting Roman J. Israel, Esq. that he and Dan prayed and read the Bible regularly. “Dan and I have been prayer partners in this whole collaboration…We were on the same page from day one. We know Who we work for, and we’re just trying to do our best work,” he said. Read and hear more about Dan Gilroy’s and Denzel Washington’s faith and convictions.
Dan Gilroy wrote the film on spec specifically for two-time Academy Award® winner Denzel Washington because he felt that Denzel is the only actor who could bring the character to life. “I wrote this movie for Denzel because of his talent and because Denzel is a man who believes in human dignity and the human spirit. Knowing who Denzel is in real life, he brings that part of himself to this character.”
Dan Gilroy is well-known for Hollywood spectacles like The Bourne Legacy. Gilroy says, “I can write spectacle-driven, entertaining films, but what I learned…is that audiences love to watch something character-based…Audiences are hungry for a story that resonates in real life, that’s relevant.”
Further remaining in theaters is Despicable Me 3, which is PG-rated, has some light crude elements and lots of cartoon violence, but is moral and redemptive as it celebrates faith and family in the midst of action-packed adventures. It has no foul language. Gru, wife Lucy, and their three adorable daughters (Margo, Edith, and Agnes) along with the Minions and Gru’s twin brother, Dru (both twins are skillfully voiced by Steve Carrell), are involved with fast-paced adventures filled with heart and satirical humor for all ages. Despicable Me 3 (PG-13) is suitable for older children through adults.
The Greatest Showman opens in theaters December 20th. This original musical is inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum. It tells the story of the visionary, P.T. Barnum, who rose from nothing to create a spectacle that became a worldwide sensation. P.T. Barnum played by Hugh Jackman, founder of the three-ring circus, started with nothing; but he envisions a grand spectacle of theater, acrobatics, and amusement. The central theme of this movie is that “Every one of us is special and nobody is like anyone else.”
Academy Award® nominee Hugh Jackman especially likes “…the idea that your talent, your imagination and your ability to work hard should be the only things that determine your success. He (PT Barnum) knew how to make something out of nothing, how to turn lemons into lemonade. I’ve always loved that quality. He followed his own path, and turned any setback he had into a positive. So many things I aspire to in my life are embodied in this one character.”
Australian director Michael Gracey says “…The Greatest Showman also touches on another idea of these times…families built around allowing people to express who they are without reservation… A big idea in the film is that your real wealth is the people that you surround yourself with and the people who love you…Barnum pulled people together who the world might otherwise have ignored. And by bringing each of these people into the light he created a family who were always going to be there for each other. In the course of the film, Barnum almost loses both his real family and his circus family – but then you watch him discover that the most important thing he can do is bring them both back together again… Barnum’s story is about not limiting your imagination, about using what’s in your head to create new worlds….”
Barnum would be erroneously credited with the infamous quotation “a sucker is born every minute,” which he never said; but he did say, “Whatever you do, do it with all your might.”
Gracey focuses on the Oddities, the circus performers with uncommon physical conditions. Displays of such individuals as freaks is not acceptable today and Gracey sees another side of what Barnum’s performers experienced – the opportunity to escape hidden, marginal lives; the chance to inspire admiration and feel pride; and most of all the ability to provoke questions into just how narrowly we define “normal.” “The Oddities are people who are invisible to society so they’ve been kept behind closed doors,” explains Gracey. “And what our P.T. Barnum does is give these invisible people a spotlight and a chance to feel love for the first time. He tells wondrous stories in which they are not damaged but special. I think audiences will love the Oddities because at the end of the day, everyone’s an Oddity.” He emphasizes, “There’s a line where Barnum says, ‘No one ever made a difference by being like everyone else.’ That to me is the heart of the film.”
For Gracey, everything hinged on getting the music for this movie right. He determined that the songs could counterpoint the period setting – rather than going back in time, he wanted songs that would make the characters and dilemmas urgently of-the-moment. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul known for Oscar®-winning work on La La Land brilliantly provided this and more. Gracey said, “What Benj and Justin songs they wrote are always taking you somewhere – each is a narrative in its own right.”
Hugh Jackman, Tony Award winner and Academy Award® nominee, brings his commitment to family to this movie. Producer Laurence Mark says, “I think this is the first movie in which Hugh has actually played a family man and calls upon that part of himself… He makes it very much a story about a man who loses and then rediscovers his family – both his home family and his circus family who together mean everything in the world to him.”
Jackman also says, “What I like most is that at its heart, this is a film about taking risks, following your dreams and celebrating what makes each and every one of us unique…Barnum filled his show with the most talented but overlooked people he knew and gave them a magnificent spotlight in which to shine – and that’s the story we’ve decided to tell….Barnum broke walls down and I think what he represents to us now is this idea that you can be whoever you are, you can choose the life you want regardless of class or race or background. If you work hard and use your imagination, you can do something amazing. I think Barnum was a little bit of an Oddity himself, growing up. He believed that what makes you different makes you special. That resonates with me in a huge way — and I think everybody can relate to it, particularly young kids. That’s why I’m thrilled that the theme of this movie is that it is empowering and cool just to be you….as the father of two teenagers, I talk to them constantly about the idea that no matter who you are, no matter how you differ from supermodels and football players, it’s irrelevant. Love yourself exactly the way you were born.”
Jackman’s song “From Now On,” is about seeking redemption. “That song is about Barnum coming to terms with …mistakes he’s made…” says music writer Justin Paul. “It begins in a hush and build and builds until the moment where he has to rush down the street trying to win his family back.”
The music, choreography, production elements of this spectacular musical movie creatively and freshly communicate the central themes through the skillful performances of top performers. As with the songs for The Greatest Showman, the design aesthetic blends vintage and new – hurtling the 19th century of P.T. Barnum into the future of today. Along with a team of dedicated artisans – including cinematographer Seamus McGarvey, production designer Nathan Crowley and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick – Michael Gracey establishes a look that is not grounded in any particular era. It is grounded in the power of the imagination of every era, bridging the gap between Barnum’s times and our own.
The movie culminates with the film’s climactic reprise of The Greatest Show. Choreographer Asley Wallen says, “We left our biggest dance for the end…It’s just a huge number that incorporates all the circus acts, all the dancers, all the Oddities, the…animals and so much more. It’s created to be a big, astounding, celebratory final note.”
Producer Laurence Mark says: “We all hope to have created a feast for the eyes, for the ears and for the heart. The old Barnum & Bailey circus’s time has come and gone, but what lives on as the legacy of Barnum is that desire to spark joy and imagination, and that’s the tradition we hope to have honored.”
Uniquely, each week Sonoma Christian Home not only provides valuable reviews and substantive interviews for worthwhile family movies, but it also publishes the top picks in movies in theaters for all ages that are not only entertaining; but they are redemptive, of good quality, and inspirational.
The top pick movies for the third week of December include the following: The Star (PG) for all ages; Wonder (PG) for older children through adults; Let There Be Light (PG-13) that is suitable for older children through adults; The Greatest Showman (PG) for older children through adults; Ferdinand (PG) for all ages: Roman Israel, Esq. (PG-13) for older teens through adults; and Despicable Me 3 (PG-13), which is appropriate for older children through adults.
Watch for many top picks in the new year of redemptive, Biblical, and faith-based movies that continue to improve in the ongoing renaissance of artistry and reformation of content in movies.
Enjoy the Christmas season and celebrate the birth of our Lord with redemptive movies that display Christian character that our Lord has made possible.
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard