If I tell you that The Lion of Judah is an animated film set during biblical times pitched at Christian audiences, you might think you know what to expect. Let me assure you, you have no idea what’s in store here. This isn’t a warm, gently humorous, inoffensive parable about values, like the VeggieTales series. No, this is so much more horrible (and fascinating) than that.

There is no lion in this movie, first of all. Judah (voiced by Georgina Cordova) is a lamb who claims to be a lion when he’s temporarily stashed in a barn with a group of other animals while being transported to Jerusalem. One of those animals, a rooster named Drake (voiced by Alphonso McAuley), is accidentally packed into the crate that’s carrying Judah. Drake is so annoying that you’d think the other barnyard animals would be glad to be rid of him, but instead they set out for the big city to save their friend, led by a rat named Slink (voiced by Ernest Borgnine). Yet all those animals will be saved by a man whose birth they all happened to be present for about 30 years before.

The 3-D animation is by a new South Africa-based firm called Character Matters, and they do passable work when it comes to the characters’ faces and interactions. The more expansive visuals are where this movie falls down. The horses don’t seem to be hitting the ground when they gallop, and the ravens fly in a clumsy way that suggests bumblebees more than birds. The biblical atmosphere is effectively killed by the emo Christian rock songs that dot the soundtrack, as well as by the anachronistic ad-libbing by the cast. The jokes also feature some of the worst puns you’ll ever hear. (A mention of martyrs inspires Drake to say, “What’s the martyr with you?” See, I told you this character was annoying.)

The villains of this piece turn out to be a bunch of Jews celebrating Passover who are set to slaughter Judah as their sacrificial lamb. That’s — oh, how should I put this? — deeply unfortunate, but it’s not even the worst thing here. The worst thing here would be the climax of the movie, in which the animals meet the savior himself, only to watch helplessly as he’s arrested, paraded through the streets, and crucified. That’s right, this animated kids’ movie turns into The Passion of the Christ, and it is a ghastly misstep. The grim turn of events jars mightily with the broad comedy of
what came before, and neither the writing nor the animation is remotely up to doing justice to the crucifixion. I dare say some kids in the audience will be traumatized by this. I was just embarrassed on behalf of everyone involved with this horribly misbegotten project.

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The Lion of Judah

Voices by Georgina Cordova and Ernest Borgnine. Directed by Deryck Broom. Written by Brent Dawes. Rated PG.