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Producers Plan Release of Animated ‘Jesus’ Film 46 Years After Original

A temple “concept image” from the forthcoming animated version of the classic “Jesus.”
Image courtesy Jesus Film Project

The Banner has a subscription to republish articles from Religion News Service. This story by Adelle M. Banks was published on Nov. 30, 2023. It has been edited for length and Banner style.

Jesus Film Project is producing an animated “Jesus” film that is set to release in theaters around Christmas 2025.

“Do you realize that there are more people in the world today who have little to no knowledge of Jesus than ever before in history?” asked Pastor David Platt, an international missions expert who spoke at the Nov. 30 announcement of the new project at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

Platt called it an opportunity to reach “the next generation with the gospel.”

Similar events announcing the film were held in South Korea and Uganda.

The original “Jesus” film was released in 1979 by an evangelical Christian organization now known as Cru. It has been translated into more languages than any other movie, according to the Guinness World Book of Records. (The 2,100th translation was recently completed.)

Josh Newell, executive director of Jesus Film Project, said he views animation as a fitting means to speak to younger generations about the life of Jesus. “Animation is a compelling way to tell stories,’’ he said in an interview ahead of the event. “There’s a moral resonance that people have with the story of Jesus, that what he teaches is good and is true, and is relevant for kids and for families.”

The new film’s director, Dominic Carola, who has worked on films such as “The Lion King,” “Mulan” and “Lilo &Stitch,” said the animators are working closely with historical experts to depict the faces and clothing of characters living in the time of Jesus, including Jesus himself.

“He’s from the Middle East, he’s Jewish, so we knew there’s certain skin tones, textures, things that we can lean into, because this is the part of the world he came from,” Carola said in an interview ahead of the launch, noting the importance of getting confidential feedback from global focus groups.

“We don’t want him to be a surfer from Malibu or looking like somebody from a GQ magazine. He walked among us, and he lived in the flesh. So we went through a very strict process of trying to stay [with]in these bumper rails.”

Carola said he and the animation team will have to approach certain parts of the story of Jesus, such as the crucifixion, “definitely delicately.”

“We don’t want to minimize what he did for us, obviously, but we certainly can’t show it to the level of ‘The Passion of the Christ,’” he said. “We’re not doing that. So it’s a fine line.”

While the original film, produced in a docudrama style, was two hours long, the new version is expected to run about 90 minutes. Both are based on the gospel of Luke, but the storytelling will differ in pace through the animation.

“We will linger in those moments where there aren’t words in the Bible, and we’ll see Jesus interact in some new ways that we didn’t see in the previous version,” said Newell. “There’s going to be some surprising scenes that are added to it that we really think are fun and meaningful from the gospel of Luke that we’re going to share.”

Newell said he hopes the animated version will launch in 100 languages and that three to five years later, it, like the live-action version, will have expanded to 2,100.

Cru, previously known as Campus Crusade for Christ, was first known for its work on college campuses. Its founder, Bill Bright, pushed for the original “Jesus” film’s translation and dubbing into multiple languages after it debuted in U.S. theaters in 1979.

Asked what Bright, who died in 2003, might think of the new version of the film he debuted 44 years ago, Newell said he believes the founder would approve.

“He would love it because he was so creative,” said Newell, who joined Cru’s staff 25 years ago when Bright was nearing the end of his leadership. “Anything that we can do to kind of continue that trajectory of reaching younger people and giving them the opportunity to share about Jesus themselves and make an impact and an influence, he’(d be) all over that.”

c. 2023 Religion News Service

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