This February 16th, the new movie Samson comes to theaters. It is based on the epic Biblical tale of a man blessed with super human strength and chosen by God to deliver Israel from their arch enemies — the Philistines. But when lust, greed and pride cause him to abandon his oath to God, Samson’s life takes an epic fall from grace. After being betrayed by an evil prince and an exotic temptress, the once invincible Samson is captured, blinded, and humiliated beyond despair.
But the story does not end there. As in all generations, we get to see how God uses flawed people and leaders for His divine purposes. In the beautiful redemptive story, we see how God uses imprisonment and blindness to ultimately win the spiritual victory over pride, greed and a wicked world. See my interview for this powerful new movie. The historical story of Samson is recorded in the Bible in Judges 13-16 in the Bible, before the reign of King David. See my interview for the movie Samson on Sonoma Christian Home.
Besides the redemptive movie, Samson, this month there are delightful family movies that entertain with heart and charm. The mischievous and adventurous Peter Rabbit (PG), who has captivated generations of readers, now takes center stage in theaters in his own impish comedy full of delightful British humor.
Will Gluck, co-writer/director, says “When I was a kid, my dad read me the Peter Rabbit books, so I always had an emotional tie to him – and when I had kids, I read the books to them…The thing I love most is that Peter is a little mischief-maker. He’s depicted in a beautiful old-fashioned style, but …I thought it was a great opportunity to take that little nugget, what Beatrix Potter gave Peter, expand that personality trait and make it our own contemporary story.”
In the film, Peter’s battle with Old Mr. McGregor, keeper of the vegetable garden, takes a turn when the old man dies. When his great-nephew, Mr. Thomas McGregor inherits the place, Peter realizes that the struggle for control of the vegetable garden – and the heart of their next-door neighbor, Bea – has only just begun. To help, Peter is enlisting his family and friends – sisters Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, cousin Benjamin Bunny, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, and other characters author and illustrator Beatrix Potter created in her original tales.
For the animation, Gluck and fellow producer Zareh Nalbandian partnered with Nalbandian’s Animation and VFX studio Animal Logic, who’s previous credits include The LEGO® Movie, Happy Feet, and other films, for a film that would combine animation with live action. “We wanted to use as many of the Beatrix Potter characters as possible to honor what she created,” continues Gluck. “We’re all familiar with the beautiful watercolor paintings – if they were to come to life in the real world, we hope this is what they would look like.” This live-action movie is a delightful animation marvel.
The look of the film was only one part of maintaining the integrity of the characters – just as important was ensuring that Peter behaved as Peter – a character who takes risks and enjoys a good prank, but one whose good heart shines through.
“Peter is told not to go into McGregor’s garden because his father was put into a pie for going into the garden. What does he do? He goes into the garden. That’s who Peter is – there’s nothing more you can tell someone who’s like that,” Gluck explains. “He has that impishness, but also a bold confidence and a self-delusion that he’s always right, when he’s actually often wrong. He’s never in doubt, though, so he keeps charging forward until he realizes he’s gone too far.”
But even as Peter faces reality when daring bullheadedness goes too far, his true character emerges. “He comes to realize that he has to take care of his cousin and his three sisters, and although he wouldn’t admit it to himself, he realizes that there might be shades to Thomas McGregor,” Gluck continues. “Peter is adolescent who starts to appreciate that things aren’t always black and white.”
Protecting these elements of Peter’s character was extremely important to the filmmakers, as they worked closely with the guardians of the Beatrix Potter legacy, the publishers at Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd., a division of Penguin Random House, which has published Beatrix Potter’s Original Peter Rabbit Books™ since 1902.
Susan Bolsover, director of licensing and consumer products for Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd, says that the Peter Rabbit movie will connect with 2018 audiences in a similar way that the book did for readers in 1902 because the themes of adventure and mischief are timeless. “I think Beatrix Potter was able to reach so many people with The Tale of Peter Rabbit because it’s a funny, timeless story that captures children’s imaginations,” she adds. “Beatrix understood the importance of talking to children on their own level and created a story, set in the natural world that all children would recognize with themes that would be universally appealing.”
Another top pick family movie in theaters that is full of charm, heart, and British humor is Paddington 2. This film (PG) is a sequel to the highly entertaining first Paddington movie. These are based on the beloved books by English author Michael Bond. Although Paddington ends up in a prison in Paddington 2, the sequel is less scary than the first Paddington movie with Nicole Kidman as the menacing taxidermist in the first film.
When Paddington is in prison, the initially intimidating-looking inmates befriend the kind Paddington. With lots of physical comedy, Paddington 2 teaches about the value of compassion, kindness, good manners, and families.
While searching for the perfect present for his beloved Aunt Lucy’s hundredth birthday, Paddington sees a unique pop-up book in Mr. Gruber’s antique shop. With determination Paddington sets out on a series of odd jobs to buy it. However, when the book is stolen, it’s up to Paddington and the Browns, with Mrs. Brown as the lead female detective, to find the thief.
Paddington 2 features Hugh Grant in one of his funniest roles. Other well-known British actors, many of whom are stars in British dramas, in comedic roles in this movie include: Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Brendan Gleeson, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon and more. Peter Rabbit (James Corden) in Columbia Pictures’ PETER RABBIT.
Paddington 2, is a laugh-out-loud entertaining movie for all ages with hilarious physical antics to satirical allusions to British life, culture, literature, and movies. Like Oliver, Paddington goes to counter of the dining hall in the prison with his gruel, but he turns the dining hall’s tyrant chef into a master chef and the dining hall into an eatery with many special pastry delights. Paddington eventually escapes with the chef and others in a hot-air balloon, reminiscent of Around the World in 80 Days.
Beyond the British satire are more clever references to universal situation comedy with a red sock in the washer turning all the prisoners’ uniforms pink, struggling with aging, teens going through typical adolescent turmoil, and much more.
In Paddington 2, the references to American movies and musicals are also very funny such as the film’s climax with Paddington chasing the villain Hugh Grant across a train’s roof, as in the Johnny Depp Lone Ranger movie with the tunnel and the universal railroad switch comedy. The ending seems to satirize Broadway musicals, especially The Producers’ ending scene, “Prisoners of Love.”
Paddington 2 is both hilarious and heart-warming. Despite Paddington’s misadventures, Paddington is always kind and polite, as he looks for good in everyone. Paddington teaches, “If we’re kind and polite, the world will be right.”
Charm and heart are marks of another top pick family movie in theaters this month, The Greatest Showman, which is a spectacular musical. Along with love and kindness, unconditional love are dominant themes in The Greatest Showman. This original musical is inspired by the imagination of P.T. Barnum.
This charming movie 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.
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….”
Gracey also 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.” (Margot Robbie), Benjamin, Bea (Rose Byrne), Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and Cottontail (Daisy Ridley) in Columbia Pictures’ PETER RABBIT.
“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.”
Tony Award winner and Academy Award® nominee Hugh Jackman 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, and 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 specific 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.”
Further, Ferdinand is another top pick family movie with charm and heart that continues in theaters. It is about a bull who doesn’t bully. This movie, like The Greatest Showman, also has the 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.
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.
Furthermore, Wonder is another top pick family and redemptive movie with charm and heart. It also continues in theaters with the central themes of kindness, compassion, and unconditional love. It is 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 abnormalities. 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.
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 second week of February include the following: Samson, (PG-13) for teens through adults; Peter Rabbit (PG) for all ages; Paddington 2 (PG) for all ages; The Greatest Showman (PG) for older children through adults; Ferdinand (PG) for all ages; and Wonder (PG) for older children through adults.
Watch for many top picks this year of redemptive, Biblical and faith-based movies that continue to improve in the ongoing renaissance of artistry and reformation of content in movies. Although theater release dates can change, here is what is known about what and when some of the most promising redemptive and family movies are due in theaters this year: Kirk Cameron: CONNECT (Focuses on Strengthening Families in the Digital Age), 2/27 & 3/1; Is Genesis History? , 2/22; 25 in 24, 3/ 6; Jack and the Beanstalk, Gigantic, 3/8; Mary Magdalene, 3/16; I Can Only Imagine, 3/18; Paul, Apostle of Christ, 3/28; God’s Not Dead 3, 3/30; A Wrinkle in Time, 4/9; The Miracle Season, 4/13; Lego Movie, Sequel, 5/18; Incredibles 2, 6/15; The Jungle Book, Origins, 10/19; Mulan, 11/2; The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, 11/2; Wreck-It-Ralph, 11/21; Mary Poppins Returns, 12/21 and more.
Other promising redemptive and family movies with release dates to be announced include: Heavenquest: A Pilgrim’s Progress; Indivisible; Run the Race, Unbroken, Path to Redemption; The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, Peter Pan; The Little Mermaid and many more. Watch for interviews and insightful stories for these movies on Sonoma Christian Home.
Please continue to search for and support the best movies for your friends and families. The best is yet come as long we continue to support the ongoing reformation in content and renaissance in artistry in media and movies.
To learn more about this author, please visit Dr. Diane Howard