Last night I had my students watch the 1998 DreamWorks’ animation The Prince of Egypt. I asked them to ‘review’ this film pretending to be a YouTube star who is known for their movie reviews. (In other words, they recorded their review.) While not every student got into character as I’d hope, their reviews were insightful.
I asked them to answer these questions:
- What’s your name?
- What’s your opinion on ‘cartooning’ the Bible? Do you like learning Bible stories this way? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Do you think that this format takes away from the ‘seriousness’ of the story? Does it soften the harsh parts (e.g., the plagues) too much? (Make sure to explain your answer!)
- How does a cartoon version of a Bible story impact your emotional engagement with the story? (For example, does the music and dancing impact you differently than if you just read the story?)
I’m grading their reviews now and they’re fascinating. Most have enjoyed the cartooning of the Bible. Most felt that it took away from the seriousness of the Exodus a little bit but they would comment on how this was appropriate for a younger audience. (For context, we did go over the Exodus in ‘class’ [our Google Meet] earlier in the day, including the plagues on Egypt.) As regards the emotions associated with the singing and dancing characters, most seemed to have enjoyed it, even though they’d qualify they realize it’s for a younger audience. Frequently, I heard that this was a good way to teach the Bible to children.
While the diversity of responses has been interesting, what I found fascinating were these two responses:
- I heard a couple of students reflect on how they appreciated the way cartooning softened the violence of the Bible. They’re definitely realizing the Bible has a lot of violence, including divine violence. They’ve watched the 2014 film Noah, which is gritty and dark. They have watched and are watching episodes from The History Channel’s ‘The Bible’ miniseries, which does have some bloodshed. And we’ve read stories from the Bible that contain violence.
- Students who are completely new to the Bible seemed to like the cartooning. It made it easier to understand. One student reflected on the complexity of the Bible and how difficult it can be to understand these texts when you’re new to them.
Now, some students preferred Noah or reading the texts themselves. They appreciated the grit and realness of these stories. In other words, they wanted to seriousness of the Exodus and they didn’t care for how a cartoon could soften things like the plagues and the death of the firstborns.