Monday, November 11, 2013

Best Christian Children's Entertainment

I grew up with a lot of Christian entertainment.  It was something that I could watch and listen to with other family members.  At their best they were fun, but you could also learn from them.  I find Christian media to be fascinating, it knows its audience and how to market to them.  It utilizes specialized stores, the radio, home entertainment, live shows, Churches, etc.  Often times these are overlooked, but they are good entertainment and serve a purpose.  There are of course many others, Davey and Goliath, Superbook and many others are considered influential.  These are just what I grew up with.

15. Psalty the Singing Songbook (Records, Videos, Songbooks, Live Shows)
The Kids Praise franchise was everywhere when I was a kid.  There were videos and cassette tapes, like most Christian franchises.  But this one stood out as there were also rentable puppet shows that Churches would put on, live musical shows and most interestingly music books that not only taught about the Bible but music as well.  Psalty and his family are hymnals and they have a dog named Blooper.  The music specific look at praise really made this stand out.

14. The Last Chance Detectives (Video Series, Radio Miniseries)
A live-action adventure series from Focus on the Family that featured four children solving mysteries that also taught lessons.  Seeing actual kids as the lead in an adventure always make for great family entertainment.  This was later adapted into a radio miniseries that guest starred Jason Whittaker from Adventures in Odyssey.

Focus on the Family has also created other great entertainment such as the radio dramatization anthology Focus on the Family Radio Theatre and video series McGee and Me.

13. The Bible in Living Sound (Radio Dramatizations)
Caught some of these short episodes on the radio.  I was always fascinated when there were actually stories on Christian radio stations, because I always enjoyed them and wondered why the radio couldn't be used for more than music and talk radio.  This series featured short adaptations of Bible stories.  Sometimes they were straightforward retellings, but there were also more original stories such as an Israelite family complaining while traveling through the wilderness.

12. Nightcrawler (Episode of X-Men: The Animated Series)
When I first got into superheroes this episode fascinated me, because it was a mainstream superhero cartoon that very openly dealt with religion.  It was not promoting Catholicism, but it brought an extra point of view to the X-Men's world.  This character had a strong fate which had an effect on Rogue and especially Wolverine.  Nightcrawler's non-violent stance and forgiveness towards those that hate him, as well as his efforts to teach Wolverine how to love others is such a unique thing to see in a children's cartoon.  The script for this episode is great and features really strong characterization.  Not a Christian based media like the rest of these, but it actually acknowledges the subject of faith and is a stronger episode for it.

11. 3-2-1 Penguins (Videos)
A sister series to BigIdea's VeggieTales.  It is very similar in tone to VeggieTales with its wacky humor, clever gags and well placed pop culture references.  However this series features fairly relatable children who learn lessons.  The four penguins are childish and innocent enough themselves that it allows the two kids to take a teaching role.  Really fun, with plenty of educational value.

10. Animated Stories from the New Testament (Videos)
Former Disney animator Richard Rich created this video series of half hour cartoons and other similar series such as Animated Stories from the Bible, Animated Hero Classics and K10C: Kids' Ten Commandments.  My grandmother and Church had several of these videos which were well animated and told the stories in an accurate but exciting way that plays to children.  I remember that my Grandma would never watch the video of John the Baptist with me because she did not want to see his beheading.  Never occurred to her that they would not show that in a children's cartoon.

9. Adventures from the Book of Virtues (TV series)
I named this one of the five best educational television series for children (as such I should maybe rank this higher).  It is not just Bible stories, but it relates Greek myths, historical stories and various fables to a clear Christian morality.  The narrator characters are extremely likable, the animation is good and it is a great introduction to important morality tales with clear lessons about things like faith and courage.  These are online and I still watch them sometimes.

8. Mark Lowry (Stand-Up, CDs, Videos)
Mark Lowry is one of the most successful Christian comedians.  I got to see him live with my Dad once and he is a great performer.  He as able to balance clean jokes with a serious message.  He can be wacky and off the cuff, but also very sincere.  I remember that he asked the oldest members of the audience about their favorite hymns and then we all sang them.  His videos are funny and he has several song parodies.  Lowry was a part of the Gaither vocal band and is probably best known for writing the Christmas song Mary, Did You Know?

7. Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Theatrical Film)
It was huge when this came out.  Churches, Christian radio stations and book stores all supported this film.  As a movie it is a great children's fantasy with an incredible score, good cast, art direction and special effects.  The Christian allegory is still in tact (the Great Stone Table for instance), but it works with the story and never comes across as preachy.  I placed this movie on a list of the best live-action Disney movies.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Television Special)
The best Christmas special of all time openly acknowledges the true meaning of Christmas.  This is a huge tradition for households of all faiths.  Linus' reciting of Luke 2 has become iconic and very meaningful.  This is another great example of how religion can be acknowledged in mainstream entertainment.  Can't wait to watch this again this year.

5. The Miracle Maker (Direct to Video Feature)
Was introduced to this one Easter on ABC when my aunt wanted to find an Easter special and this was the only thing airing.  It was a pleasant surprise, because it is a great stop-motion feature that lovingly retold the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus.  It is one of the best Jesus movies that I have ever seen and one that refreshingly does not take a controversial, edgy approach.  Most interestingly the parables are told in traditional animation, which was a creative choice.  This should still be airing around Easter, it is a very good movie.

4. Dan and Louie (Cassette Tapes, Videos)
This was one of my favorite things growing up and I love discovering these comedic tellings of Bible stories.  Dan is a Pastor who is also a ventriloquist and made a series of tapes with his dummy Louie where they would travel to The Bible Storybook Castle (Bible Storyland Castle in some episodes).  This is great radio.  The comedic banter is quick, images are vividly painted and sound effects are well placed.  It introduces Bible stories (not just the major ones, but many that are not often taught), the lessons behind them, provides a real world applicability and is entertaining.  Loved listening to these with my family and they had a big influence on me as a kid.

3. Prince of Egypt (Theatrical feature film)
I have mentioned this on the blog a few times, it is one of my favorites.  Much like Narnia, Christians really supported this movie when it was released.  I was seven when this came out and it was great to have a cartoon that I was encouraged to watch.  This movie is a great example of faith, Moses is really a well developed character.  Of course the Hans Zimmer score, Stephen Schwartz songs and imaginative animation really make this movie hold up.  Just a great feature on every level.  It is on Netflix, give it a look.

2. VeggieTales (Videos, Theatrical Films, CDs)
It seemed that everyone of any age enjoys these videos.  The motto behind the series is: "Saturday morning fun, Sunday morning values,"and the two goals work together seamlessly.  The lessons are clearly there, but it is also fun.  And why can't Christian entertainment be fun?  The Silly Songs are a great way to praise God and utilize the sense of humor that He gave us.  I put this on a list of influential series from the animation renaissance and it is a great example of creator-driven entertainment.

1. Adventures in Odyssey (Radio Dramatizations, Videos, Books)
I love Adventures in Odyssey.  Many people are more familiar with the cartoons (which are alright), but the radio dramas can't be beat.  They are excellently produced and really get the imagination going.  In production consistently since 1987 and features close to 800 episodes.  The series takes place in a town called Odyssey and focuses on a grandfatherly inventor John Avery Whitaker who runs a discovery emporium.  The characters on the series are fun and feature some of the best working voice actors.  The show can feature anything from kids learning lessons, retellings of Bible stories to intense story arcs.  The continuity between episodes is incredibly tight, but the writers know how to make this accessible to new audiences by introducing new characters and reintroducing old favorites.  I am not sure how to explain this radio drama to those who have not heard it, but it really does mean a lot to me. Give it a listen, just the best.

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