Apr 6, 2015

Review: An Easter Carol (2004)

When trying to decide what Easter-themed movie to watch this weekend, I went with a VeggieTales video for the sole reason that it would help me advance in my quest to see every VT movie ever made. At the time of writing this, I believe that there is only one other Easter-themed VeggieTales video and it too is actually a Christmas story that's been retooled for Easter (VeggieTales: Twas the Night Before Easter). Anyway, only one more Easter VeggieTales to go after this thankfully, but it'll have to wait until next year.

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At a Glance


Genre: musical, animation, comedy
Directed by: Tim Hodge
Produced by: David Pitts, John Wahba
Written by: Keith Lango, Tim Hodge
Music by: Kurt Heinecke
Running time: 49 minutes
Production company: Big Idea Productions, Lyrick Studios, Warner Home Video
Distributed by: Warner Home Video, Word Entertainment
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Phil Vischer, Mike Nawrocki, Rebecca St. James, Lisa Vischer, Tim Hodge, Dan Anderson, Keith Lango, Jacqueline Ritz

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Synopsis


Ebenezer Nezzer (voice: Phil Vischer) owns an Easter egg manufacturing company and has plans to make it even bigger with a theme park called Easterland. His grandmother (voice: Tim Hodge), a devout church goer, originally started the company and gave back generously to the community unlike her grandson. Her dying words to Ebenezer are "Easter means no death" which he misconstrues as meaning to keep producing and selling Easter eggs so that her memory will live on forever. Not understanding what Easter is truly about, Ebenezer plans on demolishing the town's church to make room for Easterland.

Review


There's no "A lesson in..." subtitle for An Easter Carol. There's also no countertop address from Larry (voice: Mike Nawrocki) and Bob (voice: Phil Vischer) or any Silly Songs with Larry (always a relief). A sequel to The Star of Christmas as well as a reworking of the classic story A Christmas Carol, An Easter Carol is all about bringing the true meaning of Easter to the forefront. The question is, does it succeed in its goal?

From a story point of view, it's a resounding no. The "Hope of Easter" is a term that's thrown around many times in An Easter Carol and it's supposed to be talking about how Jesus died for everyone so that they would be saved. His resurrection was to give mankind hope that even in death, there's life everlasting. That's all very nice and it's fully explained in "Hope's Song" with accompanying stained glass animations of Jesus himself. The problem I have with the concept and that scene in particular is that it ends up being way too overbearing for my taste even though Hodge is trying to do the complete opposite.

VeggieTales seems to be stuck in no man's land. It wants to cater to Christian families, but also be accessible to as many people as possible without trying to force religion down anybody's throats. Jesus' name is never even said once throughout this barely feature-length VeggieTales video even though he's so heavily talked about. I don't think more fundamental Christians will appreciate how AEC skirts the issue here and I don't think non-believers will appreciate how the stained glass Jesus scene seems to be trying to twist your arm into acceptance. This approach is honestly a lose-lose situation.

Apparently without the "Hope of Easter," no one would donate to orphanages and cops wouldn't stop criminals for fear of risking their lives. Where you stand in terms of your beliefs will definitely influence how you see that and there's no question about it. To me the whole idea just seems pretty ludicrous, as if suddenly our society will stop functioning as it should if we don't have God and religion to guide us. This is of course glossed over with the blanket term the "Hope of Easter" and I still see both believers and non-believers having a problem with the whole concept. Writers Keith Lango and Tim Hodge don't put their money with their mouths are and they try to compromise.

In terms of how Lango and Hodge use A Christmas Carol as the basis for An Easter Carol, it's really quite disappointing. Even though it's been done so many times, I love the story of A Christmas Carol. Besides being cruelly softened up, where are the ghosts of Easter present and future? All we get is one little cute ghost named Hope (voice: Rebecca St. James) who works for the ghost of Easter past. She also plays the role of the two others which is a mistake. I always love to see what kind of creation filmmakers come up with for the ghost of Christmas future and I got no such pleasure from AEC. I see it as messing with tradition that doesn't need messing with. 

The Bob and Larry roles also seem pitifully unnecessary as well. They're pretty much just there to be their own dumb selves and try to inject a bit of humour that isn't funny. All Lango and Hodge needed to do was focus on Nezzer. The climax also seems woefully misplaced with a whole bunch of chaotic, loud and explosive action. Maybe it's fun for the kids, but VT videos always seem to end this way with as loud a boom as they can manage.

Animation is slightly improved from earlier VT entries though which is great news. While it's far from perfect, it's nice to see that Big Idea Productions is trying to get better. Where the writing has improved some is in terms of the songwriting. Song #1 "Another Easter Day" is surprisingly OK and "Hope's Song" is bolstered by the legitimate talent of Australian Christian pop singer Rebecca St. James. What a relief that is instead of hearing the same old cast of VT regulars. But of course there just has to be an attempt at making a hip hop song. "Boids!" is just as embarrassing as past attempts and makes me want to burrow into my living room floor.

Keith Lango and Tim Hodge are better writers than Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki and they honestly make AEC passable entertainment for certain stretches. As a production, An Easter Carol is definitely an upgrade over the VeggieTales of the past. The animation is improved and the overall songwriting isn't as cringetastic as usual. That doesn't change that this is a terrible, misguided adaptation of A Christmas Carol that throws subtlety out the window and also attempts to appease too many.

Rating


4/10