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The Miracle Maker

The greatest story ever told receives a glorious toon-up thanks to the meticulous craftsmanship of the animators at Moscow’s Christmas Films and Wales’ Cartwyn Cymru. Surprisingly poetic and lifelike, “The Miracle Maker” uses a mix of smooth claymation and traditional 2-D animation to bring to life the story of Jesus, which the Alphabet Web has smartly positioned as its Easter Sunday evening lead-in.

With:
Jesus - Ralph Fiennes
Voice of God - Michael Bryant
Rachel - Julie Christie
John the Baptist - Richard E. Grant
Jairus - William Hurt
Pilate - Ian Holm
Judas - David Thewlis
Simon the Pharisee - Alfred Molina
Mary Magdalene - Miranda Richardson
Ben Azra - Antony Sher
Tamar - Rebecca Callard
With: Anton Lesser, James Frain, Ewan Stewart, Bob Peck, Ken Scott.

The greatest story ever told receives a glorious toon-up thanks to the meticulous craftsmanship of the animators at Moscow’s Christmas Films and Wales’ Cartwyn Cymru. Surprisingly poetic and lifelike, “The Miracle Maker” uses a mix of smooth claymation and traditional 2-D animation to bring to life the story of Jesus, which the Alphabet Web has smartly positioned as its Easter Sunday evening lead-in.

Murray Watts’ elegant script tells the story of the prophet, as seen through the eyes of a sick young girl, Tamar (Rebecca Callard), whose chance encounter with Jesus, brings about her miraculous recovery.

Tamar’s belief in her savior is in stark contrast with the people in authority, especially Ben Azra (Antony Sher), who plans the murder of Jesus’ loyal friend, John the Baptist (Richard E. Grant).

Production includes any of the New Testament’s episodes of the life of Christ, including the rising of Lazarus, the healing of Mary Magdalene, the conflict between Pilate and the believers and Judas’ betrayal, as well as the crucifixion and resurrection.

The claymation Jesus, looking like a cross between Ron Silver and Andy Garcia, is voiced by Ralph Fiennes, whose last animation assignment was filling in for Rameses in DreamWorks’ “The Prince of Egypt.”

As the central figure of this well-known story, Fiennes uses his voice to convey the right mixture of wisdom, empathy and sadness. In supporting roles, veteran thesps Julie Christie, Richard E. Grant, Ian Holm, Daniel Massey, Alfred Molina, David Thewlis and Miranda Richardson add another level of polish to the project.

Helping elevate “The Miracle Maker” up to the heights reached by Franco Zeffirelli’s mini “Jesus of Nazareth” are Helena Llivanova’s exquisite art design and Anne Dudley’s effective music.

On the technology side, Christas Films’ 250 professionals who worked on six different sets to create the 3-D animation are clearly the winners here.

As accomplished as Cartwyn Cymru’s traditional 2-D animation is, it pales by comparison to the vivid, brilliantly lit claymation tableaux.

Subsequently, film loses some of its impact during dream sequences, flashbacks and parables, which are rendered in 2-D. Meanwhile, the model animation magic certainly whets the appetite for DreamWorks/Aardman Animation’s summer plasticine toon feature “Chicken Run.”

If there’s a lesson here for exec producers Christopher Grace and Elizabeth Babakhina, who have the excellent “Shakespeare: The Animated Tales” and “The Canterbury Tales” on their resumes, it is to make a 100% commitment to claymation for their next assignment.

Their sophisticated vision is a far cry from the Sunday morning shenanigans of “Davey and Goliath” and deserves a wider audience worldwide.

The Miracle Maker

ABC; Sun. April 23, 7 p.m.

Production: Animated and produced in Cardiff, Wales and Moscow, Russia, by Cartwyn Cymru and Christmas Films with Ffilmiau S4C Films, British Screen, Icon Entertainment Intl. in association with BBC/Cymru/Wales. Executive producers, Christopher Grace and Elizabeth Babakhina; directors, Stanislav Sokolov and Derek Hayes; writer, Murray Watts; [###]

Crew: music, Anne Dudley; executive art designer, Helena Livanova; editors, William Oswald, John Richards; casting, Mary Selway, Sarah Trevis. 2 HOURS.

Cast: Jesus - Ralph Fiennes
Voice of God - Michael Bryant
Rachel - Julie Christie
John the Baptist - Richard E. Grant
Jairus - William Hurt
Pilate - Ian Holm
Judas - David Thewlis
Simon the Pharisee - Alfred Molina
Mary Magdalene - Miranda Richardson
Ben Azra - Antony Sher
Tamar - Rebecca Callard
With: Anton Lesser, James Frain, Ewan Stewart, Bob Peck, Ken Scott.

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