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ANALYSIS: Harry Potter isn’t the only way to enjoy some fantasy

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)–Hoards of kids in America want to see the upcoming “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” movie. The question is, should they?

Will some children or teens want to experiment with witchcraft after viewing this film? Will some young adults who have attended church all their lives be lured into dallying with occultish paraphernalia such as Ouija boards or crystal balls?

Some will. But the Bible is very clear in both the Old and New Testaments that we are to avoid witchcraft, divination and other forms of sorcery (Deuteronomy 18:10; Galatians 5:20).

So, are there other options to the highly hyped Warner Brothers film version of Harry Potter? Yes, there are.

A number of videos available at local Christian bookstores might serve as alternative entertainment during this season of Pottermania.

For Little Ones….

— The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Public Media Video). A group of children discover a closet that leads to a far-off land called Narnia. The tale is full of Christian analogies and symbolism. This is truly a 4-star adaptation of the C.S. Lewis classic tale. It is complete with terrific special effects, animation, live action, musical score and costuming.

— Adventures from the Book Of Virtues (1996). Based on the best-selling book by William J. Bennett, this superbly animated series is filled with exciting adventures and inspiring messages for little ones. It has been designed to cultivate the best in such human qualities as loyalty, courage, honesty, perseverance, self-discipline and respect.

Two children, Zach and Annie, face everyday challenges and issues with the help of a wise and friendly buffalo named Plato, a feisty but loyal prairie dog named Aristotle and a warm and caring red-tailed hawk named Aurora.

With the voice talents of such actors as Ed Asner, Pam Dawber, John Forsythe, Mark Hamill, George Segal and many others, the cartoonists have sculpted delightful vignettes that are as entertaining to parents as they are to the little ones. The producers realize that entertainment needs to nourish the spirit, and “Adventures from The Book of Virtues” does just that.

— The Iron Giant (1999). Animated kids adventure from Warner Brothers. An imaginative little boy befriends a giant robot who doesn’t seem to know how he came to be (something we never learn, although it appears in the beginning that he came from space). Highly entertaining, with humor aimed both at kids and adults.

The Iron Giant, however, is rated PG (several questionable exclamations; a deer is killed by hunters; some intensity as the heroes are in danger from a pursuing army and a fired nuclear missile; the robot has been programmed to defend himself).

Set in the ’50s, it’s a little hard on the military and government secret agencies, but it also deals with spiritual issues, with such phrases as “Souls don’t die, they go on forever.” Suggesting both filmmatic and thematic elements from “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “King Kong,” “The Iron Giant” is smart, funny and exciting. But parents should view it with little ones, both to reassure and to explain certain messages.

For Older Siblings….

— E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982). A young boy befriends a hunted alien. I found this to be an allegory with similarities to the story of Christ. Think about it. A sacrificial being comes to earth, giving love and his life for others, dies, comes back from the dead, ascends into the heavens and promises to remain in our hearts. Rated PG for a few questionable exclamations, including a couple from teenagers, but positive, heartwarming messages.

— Fairy Tale: A True Story (1997). Florence Hoath, Elizabeth Earl, Peter O’Toole. Paramount. Fantasy. Two young girls discover a village of fairies at the bottom of a garden. It contains a wonderful message about believing in things unseen. PG (one questionable exclamation; concerns the belief in fairies and guardian angels).

— Star Kid (1998). Joseph Mazzello. Trimark Pictures. Kid’s sci-fi adventure. The new kid on the block is taught to face his fears, first by his teacher after the school bully picks on him, then by a space robot who comes to earth to do combat with an unfriendly alien.

The mechanical being can only function with the aid of a life force inside him, so without much convincing, the boy climbs inside, causing innocent havoc in the neighborhood before facing the enemy from outer space. A fairly clean film with life lessons, humor and enough action to keep 8- to 12-year-olds amused. I confess, I enjoyed it myself.

PG (a few questionable exclamations, but no profanity other than a couple of “Oh my gods”; some mild bathroom humor; a bully threatens our young hero and beats him up, but later they become friends; the older sister is rather hostile to her sibling, but again, when danger threatens, the family pulls together; the sci-fi violence is tame for older kids, but may be a little intense for little ones).

— Miracle On 34th Street (1994). Richard Attenborough, Mara Wilson. The manager of a New York department store hires Kris Kringle to be the store Santa. Soon the old fellow has to convince the woman and her precocious daughter that he truly is Father Christmas.

A delight and a rarity, as this is one of the few worthwhile remakes. Full of laughter, poignancy and charm, it is noteworthy for containing both visual and verbal Christian metaphors and points out that Santa is a symbol. It contains a great visual: A cross lit in Christmas lights on the side of a building, centered in the screen with decorated trees outlining the tableau. What an image! It places the true meaning of the holiday at the center of the screen and the story. There’s even a Thanksgiving prayer — when’s the last time you saw that in a Hollywood production?

Although Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood have nothing to worry about, this newest Miracle is destined to become a classic. The scene where Santa communicates with a little deaf girl is worth the rental price.

PG (one questionable exclamation; Santa is provoked by the villain, but he later repents).

A joy for the family….

— Cotton Patch Gospel (1988). This musical comedy/drama places the Gospel of Matthew in modern-day Georgia, with Jesus being born in Gainesville. Funny, moving, inspirational, with lively music by the late Harry Chapin. A great treatment of the New Testament, effective for both teens and adults. Ask your Christian bookstore to order it from the Bridgestone Production Group.

— The Music Box. A 27-minute fantasy/parable about a discouraged assembly-line worker who encounters a chorus of angels. They bequeath him a magical box, which when opened … well, check it out. Features the inspiring music of the sensational Nightingales. May be difficult to find. Ask your Christian bookstore if they are familiar with it. If so, I think this would be a great Christmas stocking stuffer. It will make you feel happy.

For mature viewers….

— Enchanted April (1992). Joan Plowright, Polly Walker. A delightful fable about four women in the 1920s escaping their repressed lifestyles in London by renting a castle in Portofino. They soon discover the estate has a magical effect on all those who stay there. Witty dialogue, dreamy cinematography and savory performances. At last, a PG film with no sexual activity (only some mild innuendo in a couple of scenes), no profane language, no violence and no religion-bashing. A romantic comedy that nourishes the spirit.

— The Enchanted Cottage (1945). Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire star in this romantic fantasy as a scarred war vet and a homely woman, both made beautiful by their love.

— The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). An absorbing sci-fi drama about an alien coming to earth to warn humans of eminent destruction. Four-star acting, script and musical score. Today’s audience may have to adjust because the substance is in the story, not the special effects, but it is one of the few science fiction films that acknowledge God. When the alien is asked if he has the power of life and death, he responds, “No, that is reserved for the Almighty Spirit.”

— Groundhog Day (1993). This is an amusing modern-day parable with Bill Murray at his best as a cynical weathercaster who finds himself waking up each morning having to relive the same day. Complete with an intelligent script full of pathos, humor and character development. Rated PG for some surreal violence and two implied sexual situations, but not one profane or obscene word. As for the sexual situations, a point is being made that sex outside marriage doesn’t bring contentment.

And perhaps the greatest — and most moving — fable of all time….

— It’s A Wonderful Life (1946). Republic Pictures Home Video. George Bailey wishes he had never been born. When an apprentice angel grants him that wish, George is able to see what life would have been like for his friends and relatives had he not been around.

This may be the most important film Hollywood ever produced because it demonstrates how we affect the lives around us. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey reminds us that we touch so many people and can have a real influence on those souls. Full of Christian symbolism, “It’s a Wonderful Life” reinforces the belief that our compassion and responsibility do make a difference in the lives of those with whom we come in contact.

Not rated, it does contain one suggestive remark made by on-looking men as the town’s wild girl walks by, but it is handled tastefully.

    About the Author

  • Phil Boatwright