It’s hard to get across the basic tenets of a religion quickly, especially when you’re talking to children. But it’s also an important thing to do. It’s fairly easy if you’re a part of that faith community, but much more difficult when you’re not part of that faith community.
And even then it can still be tricky – for example, as a kid I thought Christian Scientists used the scientific method (yeah, no, that’s not what it means at all).
But if there’s a better crash course in the New Testament than The Miracle Maker, I’m not aware of it.
This claymation (yes, claymation!) film with an all-star cast (Ralph Fiennes and William Hurt!) does a number of things quite remarkably well. First, the visuals are striking and arresting. It uses animation for flashbacks (and Mary’s hallucinations), and the claymation is well done and impressive. It also depicts Jesus and the others as Middle Eastern people, something that is (sadly) rare.
It also does another thing that many Easter-themed films omit – it actually continues through Pentecost, covering most of Acts.
Which also brings up the other thing it does remarkably well – present a coherent (and child-accessible) narrative that weaves together pretty much all four books of the Gospel. It does this with one of the few narrative liberties it takes from the source material, by elevating the role of Jairus’ daughter (itself a synthesis created by linking three accounts in the Gospels) to a named point-of-view role. This is a well-designed conceit, as it not only takes advantage of the ways the Gospels almost mirror each other, but provides a character that is accessible to children, sympathetic to adults, and does not require altering the narrative of the Gospel any further.
Unlike Jesus Christ Superstar, there’s no critique explicit or implied of Christianity. And that’s okay; that’s a conversation to have with your kids (again, whether you’re Christian or not). And The Miracle Maker does a wonderful job of providing the material succinctly and quickly to have that conversation. As a prior Sunday School teacher (yes, I really was) I highly recommend this film, and as a current agnostic, I also highly recommend this film for conveying the core story of Christianity so that your kids know what the heck they’re talking about and are better equipped to address it critically.