Reel Reviews

‘The Young Messiah’

A-II – adults and adolescents


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A well-done screen treatment of Jesus as a child

It’s a seemingly glaring omission likely to strike even casual readers of the New Testament as disappointing: With the notable exception of the finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Gospel writers are entirely silent about their subject’s childhood.

Apart from this single incident, our only canonical information about the years between the Holy Family’s return from exile in Egypt and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry consists of Luke’s general observation that, during this time, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

While frustrating for scholars – and a happy hunting ground for those given to wild theories – this period can, nonetheless, provide a fertile field for speculation if handled in a careful way. A case in point: the engaging dramatization “The Young Messiah” (Focus).

Director and co-writer Cyrus Nowrasteh’s screen version of Anne Rice’s 2005 novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt sensitively explores the mystery of the Incarnation. By remaining faithful to the underlying message of Scripture even as it tackles a topic on which the Bible itself is mute, Nowrasteh’s script, written in collaboration with his wife Betsy, avoids the many theological pitfalls that surround the union of Christ’s divine and human natures.

The result is an intriguing, devotion-friendly piece of entertainment suitable for viewers of most ages. Families will welcome it as especially appropriate fare for Lent as well as the Easter season.

As the film begins, a combination of both ordinary and supernatural circumstances indicate to Joseph (Vincent Walsh) that the time has come for his family to leave their temporary residence in Alexandria – the only home 7-year-old Jesus (Adam Greaves-Neal) has ever known – and return to Nazareth. Not for the first time, Joseph and Mary (Sara Lazzaro) are being forced to grapple with the concrete implications of their son’s unique identity.

Together with Jesus’ other close relatives – including his uncle, Cleopas (Christian McKay), and cousin, James (Finn McLeod Ireland) – Joseph and Mary understand, at least partially, that the lad is the promised Messiah and the Son of God. The fact that he possesses miraculous powers is, moreover, becoming apparent even to people outside the family circle.

Joseph and Mary’s dilemma is obvious: How can they properly guide a child who remains, in many ways, a mystery to them? And how are they to answer the many questions he himself keeps raising? As Joseph pointedly asks, “How do we explain God to his own Son?”

In the midst of their bafflement, Joseph and Mary are confronted with an even more urgent priority: keeping Jesus safe from the dangers that surround him. The notoriety resulting from the boy’s superhuman abilities has drawn the attention of corrupt King Herod (Jonathan Bailey) who dispatches a Roman centurion named Severus (Sean Bean) to track and kill him.

Jesus is also being dogged by the figure of Satan (Rory Keenan), though only he can sense the evil adversary’s presence.

While “The Young Messiah” can be warmly endorsed for a wide range of audiences, the mature elements listed below, although discreetly handled, bar recommendation for all.

The film contains combat violence with slight gore, scenes of crucifixion, an attempted rape and at least one crass term. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service


A-II – adults and adolescents


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Animal House

Anthropomorphism runs amok in the 3-D animated comedy-adventure “Zootopia” (Disney). As with Disney’s “Cars” franchise, which presented a world of automobiles with human traits, “Zootopia” personifies all creatures great and small. They jabber away among themselves as each earns a living in the bustling metropolis of the title.

Inside jokes and clever puns abound. City dwellers shop at Targoat, sip lattes from Snarlbucks, call up a ride from Zuber – and make deposits at the Lemming Brothers Bank.

At the DMV, short for the Department of Mammal Vehicles, the lines are long and all of the employees are three-toed sloths who, true to their name, move at a glacial pace.

The newest arrival in this urban setting, where predators and prey live in apparent harmony, is Judy Hopps (voice of Ginnifer Goodwin). A bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rabbit from the suburbs, Judy is eager to fulfill her lifelong dream by becoming the first bunny officer of the Zootopia Police Department.

Through grit and perseverance, she succeeds, only to face resentment and prejudice from her peers as well as her boss, the imposing buffalo Chief Bogo (voice of Idris Elba). He assigns Judy to parking duty, while much larger cops (including an elephant and a rhino) take on important criminal cases.

Determined to make the best of it, Judy hops into action. As she racks up the tickets, she encounters wily fox Nick Wilde (voiced by Jason Bateman), a small-time con artist.

It turns out that Nick is a key witness in a missing “person” case that Judy wants to solve to win the respect of her co-workers. As natural enemies become collaborators and, ultimately, friends, “Zootopia” morphs into a buddy movie.

Directors Byron Howard (“Tangled”) and Rich Moore (“Wreck-It Ralph”), together with co-director Jared Bush, keep the action moving at a fast pace. Unfortunately, the film takes a dark turn as the investigation proceeds, exposing the seedier side of Zootopia. Scenes of animal conflict and cruelty could frighten and confuse the younger set.

And that’s not to mention the somewhat paradoxical naturist club where animals shed their clothes.

Parents will smile at references to classic films that will fly over their children’s heads. Particularly amusing is Mr. Big (voice of Maurice LaMarche), a tiny arctic shrew who’s a dead ringer for Don Corleone in “The Godfather.” As the mobster threatens our furry duo, the wedding reception scene plays out in the background, and before long Mr. Big is dancing with the bride.

Overall, despite its mixed tone, “Zootopia” offers good lessons in tolerance, hard work and optimism. As Judy reassures Nick, “Life’s a little bit messy. We all make mistakes.”

The film contains occasional mild action violence, including torture, bullying, a naturist theme, some rude gags and momentary religious but not irreverent humor. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG – parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

By Joseph McAleer, Catholic News Service

Monthly List of Recent Film Ratings (June 2015)

CNS classifications: A-I: general patronage; A-II: adults and adolescents; A-III: adults; L: limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling; O: morally offensive.
MPAA ratings: G: general audiences. All ages admitted; PG: parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children; PG-13: parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13; R: restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian; NC-17: no one 17 and under admitted.

The Age of Adaline, A-III (PG-13)
Aloha, A-II (PG-13)
Avengers: Age of Ultron, A-III (PG-13)
The Awakening, A-III (R)
Begin Again, A-III (R)
Chappie, L (R)
Child 44, A-III (R)
Cinderella, A-I (PG)
The D Train, O (R)
Danny Collins, A-III (R)
The Divergent Series: Insurgent, A-III (PG-13)
Do You Believe?, A-II (PG-13)
Dream House, L (PG-13)
The DUFF, A-III (PG-13)
Ex Machina, O (R)
Far from the Madding Crowd, A-II (PG-13)
Focus, L (R)
Furious 7, A-III (PG-13)
Get Hard, O (R)
The Gunman, L (R)
Home, A-I (PG)
Hot Pursuit, A-III (PG-13)
It Follows, O (R)
Jupiter Ascending, A-III (PG-13)
Kingsman: The Secret Service, A-III (R)
The Last Exorcism Part II, L (PG-13)
The Lazarus Effect, A-III (PG-13)
Little Boy, A-II (PG-13)
The Longest Ride, A-III (PG-13)
Mad Max: Fury Road, L (R)
Marie's Story, A-II (not rated)
McFarland, USA, A-II (PG)
Monkey Kingdom, A-I (G)
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, A-I (PG)
Pitch Perfect 2, A-III (PG-13)
Poltergeist, A-III (PG-13)
Project Almanac, A-III (PG-13)
The Pyramid, A-III (R)
Run All Night, L (R)
San Andreas, A-III (PG-13)
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, A-III (PG)
Seventh Son, A-II (PG-13)
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, A-I (PG)
Tomorrowland, A-II (PG)
The Trip to Italy, A-III (not rated)
True Story, A-III (R)
Unfinished Business, O (R)
Unfriended, O (R)
The Water Diviner, A-III (R)
Woman in Gold, A-II (PG-13)

Copyright (c) 2015 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops