Entire family: No (ages 6 and under only)
1995, 90 min. (3 stories), Color
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1 (full screen)
Featured audio: English Mono
Bonus features: None
The DVD notes indicate that this video is copyrighted 1995, which is two years before the Karyn Henley and Dennas Davis version of The Beginners Bible and well before the 2005 update from Kelly Pulley. Don’t look for a similar style, because the rendering and animation in this Sony Wonder production seem more closely related to what we saw in the old For Better or For Worse comic strips by Lynn Johnston. The name “The Beginners Bible” is trademarked and has probably gone through many transmutations. This DVD, a rerelease of a Sony Wonder production, will be available on March 3, 2015.
The Beginners (no apostrophe) Bible DVD contains three 25-30 minute stories that are clearly designed for pre-school age children, because all the angst and negativity of the stories are omitted. Some parents will argue that it’s wrong to sanitize the stories and gloss over the crucifixion or Herod’s killing of babies, while others will be perfectly happy to introduce their wee ones to the basic stories of The Nativity (Jesus’ Christmas birth), The Story of Easter (Jesus’ resurrection), and The Story of Moses (the Exodus from Egypt). You’d be hard pressed to find three cheerier versions of those Bible stories than the ones children encounter here.
Colors tend toward the sunny, and the characters do a lot of smiling with warm, smiley eyes. The language is contemporary as well. When Moses tells Pharaoh to “Let my people go,” Pharaoh responds, “Don’t try and tell me what to do. I’m the Pharaoh.” Later, when the Nile turns to blood, that gruesome fact is deemphasized by a fish that flops onto Pharaoh’s lap. And when the Israelites are given manna from heaven, it’s quite literally depicted as bread flakes falling from the sky like snow. But while the story ends with the Ten Commandments, there’s no Golden Calf or pagan behavior to muddy the waters. It’s a pretty simple trajectory from Moses following God’s command to “And this is how Moses led the people back to the promised land.”
I wondered what a series like this would do with the crucifixion, but it’s minimized by having three crosses in silhouette, no human shapes immediately recognizable, and a voiceover that tells us “Jesus died on the cross with a thief on either side of him.” The emphasis in this episode is on the positive, as it is with the other two. Peter doesn’t deny Christ, Judas doesn’t hang himself, and Jesus isn’t flogged or have his side pierced as he’s hanging from the cross. Roman soldiers don’t gamble for his cloak. The focus is on Jesus’ teachings, his acceptance of his lot, his prayers to God, and his resurrection—with Peter diving into the water to swim to him when he first reappears. It’s a joyous celebration of the Bible stories that, however sanitized, are certainly likely to be more entertaining to young children and less traumatizing or confusing.
Will it meet with parents’ approval? That depends on how traditional they are or how much of a stickler they are for details and tone. The Bible keeps evolving, and these stories are rendered in a style that could only be described as “cute.” Some may want more austerity or “seriousness,” but in the past, if such stories hadn’t come from the Bible, I’m guessing that more than a few parents and educator groups would have deemed them not age-appropriate. The Bible actually has a lot of violence and “begatting.” These three episodes are more age-appropriate, and they do seem like a good way to introduce youngsters to three big stories from the Bible. The kids may even want to watch them over and over, like other cartoons.