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January is usually a dry month at the movie theater, but there are plenty of worthwhile new release options to enjoy with your family at home. To that end I recommend Shaun the Sheep and The Walk (with minor reservations for the latter), reviewed below for content, Gospel-compatible messages, and overall quality.
Shaun the Sheep
What’s it about? A herd of sheep and their canine friend seek their amnesiac owner in the big city.
Is it any good? (GRADE: A). The laughs flow relentlessly in this dialogue-free riot from Aardman Studios (Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit). The craftsmanship of the stop-motion animation is exceptional, the music is perfect, the characters fully-realized, and the sight-gags and nonverbal interactions are a treat for kids and adults alike. Shaun the Sheep is a burst of cinematic joy.
Content Overview: Shaun the Sheep is rated PG. There are some slapstick pratfalls and injuries, along with brief implied drinking and the upper crack of a man’s rear end.
Gospel Messages to Discuss: We must never give up on our loved ones who have lost their way (see Mosiah 27:14). When others are ailing and sad, we can bring cheer by sharing out talents and our affection.
What’s it about? In the 1970’s a Frenchman broke into the World Trade Center to walk a tightrope between the two towers.
Is it any good? (GRADE: A-) The true story of daredevil Philippe Petit makes for an inspiring, gripping film with no need for embellishment. In making a film that’s part heist movie, part thriller, part biopic, part comedy, and part romance, director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) performs a balancing act rivaling that of his protagonist and, in the process, delivers his best movie in years. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt portrays Petit with considerable authenticity, perfecting a French accent and learning tightrope walking from the real-life master. The decision to have his character directly address the audience is unnecessary and arguably detracts from the film’s verisimilitude, but the actor possesses the charm to (mostly) pull it off. The supporting cast is solid, especially Gandhi’s Ben Kingsley, while the music and attention to period detail are both first-rate. The climatic tightrope walk is a stunning feat of filmmaking, a flawless blend of visual effects and performances. Note: After this, watch the documentary of this story, Man on Wire, on Netflix.
Content Overview: The Walk is rated PG; I wouldn’t recommend it for young children due to the obscured sight of Gordon-Leavitt’s backside at night (it’s not gratuitous and is true to what really happened), characters smoking and drinking, an unmarried couple sharing a bed (although no sexual encounters are displayed) and about a dozen mild-to-moderate profanities.
Gospel Messages to Discuss: Great accomplishments require team efforts; everyone plays a part, and though some roles get more attention, all are necessary (see 1 Corinthians 12:21-23). We must be grateful for the support of those who aide us; no one accomplishes everything in this life on their own.
Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at Your Family Expert. He is the clinical director of The Online Center for Couples and Families, offering virtual therapy in several states. Jonathan is a family film critic with The KJZZ Movie Show, Sundays at 10 pm on KJZZ-TV (UT). His book, 250 Great Movies for Latter-day Families, is available in paperback and Kindle.