REVIEW: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ film hits the allegorical bullseye
The animated film “The Pilgrim’s Progress” plays in theaters Saturday, telling the story of Christian’s dangerous-but-determined journey to the far-off land that has everything he’s never experienced.
His name is Christian, and he’s just read a life-changing book.
It describes a grand far-off land, the Celestial City, that’s ruled by a peaceful and loving king.
It also warns of a future war that will destroy his hometown.
Christian wants to journey to the other city and escape the coming destruction, and he wants to take his family, too. But his skeptical wife doesn’t want to go. She laughs at him.
“Ever since you started reading that book a few days ago you’ve gone on and on like some lunatic,” she says, telling him to choose between his family and his fantastical dream.
Christian tries one more time.
“I only want what is best for us all,” he tells her. “If the city is destroyed, I don’t want you, the children or anyone else for that matter to perish.”
But she’s still unpersuaded, and so Christian sets off, on his own, to the Celestial City with the goal of returning someday and taking his family with him.
The animated film The Pilgrim’s Progress plays in theaters Saturday, telling the story of Christian’s dangerous-but-determined journey to the far-off land that has everything he’s never experienced. It is based on John Bunyan’s classic 1678 allegorical work of the same name and is the first theatrical adaptation.
It stars comedian and voice actor Ben Price (Australia’s Got Talent) as Christian, John Rhys-Davies (The Lord of the Rings series, Raiders of the Lost Ark) as Evangelist, and Christian singer Kristyn Getty as the narrator. It was directed by Robert Fernandez, who also helmed more than a dozen of the popular Torchlighters Christian heroes series.
The story—if you’re new to it—is allegorical. Christian represents the typical believer on the Christian walk. His friends represent Christian and non-Christian friends around us. The Celestial City represents heaven. The king, of course, represents Christ.
The animation is far from Pixar-quality—what is?—but the voice acting more than makes up for it. Price and Rhys-Davies are truly talented, and Getty does a fine job, too.
Yet the story is what makes the movie soar. It’s engaging, entertaining and—for children—funny.
Most of all, it’s allegorical.
An annoying friend named Obstinate urges Christian to turn around and come back to the City of Destruction (I’ve had friends like that). An encouraging friend named Evangelist tells Christian to stay on the straight and narrow (I’ve had friends like that, too).
He falls into the quicksand-like Swamp of Despondency. He travels through the easy-to-get-lost-in Worldly Woods. He stumbles upon the legalistic Morality Hill. One of his final hurdles is the theme-park-like Vanity Fair, which has everything our modern world has to offer. When he’s asked what the Celestial City has that Vanity Fair doesn’t, he responds, “Peace, joy, love, unselfishness, patience, contentment and a crown that never fades away, among other things.”
“Do we sell those kind of things?” the Vanity Fair prince asks.
“Of course not,” the prince is told. “This is Vanity Fair.”
It’s convicting to watch Christian persevere despite countless obstacles and temptations. He’s living life the way Jesus called us to live. But too often, we get lost in the Worldly Woods or enamored with the Vanity Fair. Too often, we don’t want to journey toward the Celestial City. Too often, we fail to keep our eyes on the eternal prize.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is a film children will enjoy watching … and families will enjoy discussing again and again.
For a film based on a classic, it hits the allegorical bullseye.
The Pilgrim’s Progress is unrated.
Content warnings: ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ contains no sexuality or language but a few disturbing scenes that may trouble sensitive children. Giant people place Christian and a friend in a cage. Demonic-like dragon creatures (symbolic of Satan) chase Christian. Christian stabs a creature with a sword.
For theater listings and times, visit Pilgrims.Movie.
1. How is Christian’s journey similar to your own Christian walk? How is it different?
2. Why is it so easy for us to become distracted by worldly things?
3. Why was Christian determined to make it to the Celestial City?
4. What can we learn from Christian’s journey?
5. For fans of the book: What did you like most about the film adaption? What did you not like?
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.