Though its premise may seem to indicate a Davey-and-Goliath toon stretched to feature length, “The Lion of Judah” is actually a far stranger beast: a poorly animated, anthropomorphic animal-slapstick farce that just happens to take place during the crucifixion of Christ. Going out this weekend in limited 2D release, with a 3D rollout to follow, pic will have to count on plenty of field trips from undiscriminating Sunday-school teachers to make much headway.
The unusual release strategy raises a number of alarms, as it’s easy to imagine how unattractive this film might look if its stereoscopic work is in any way comparable to its animation quality. Crudely shaded, sometimes out of proportion, and featuring unnatural movement on flat, glitchy backgrounds, the visuals on display here wouldn’t pass muster on most Wii games, and expansion into the third dimension likely won’t do much to cover these flaws.
The slapdash animation is matched in kind by the patched-together story, which opens on a gang of animals living in a stable in first-century Palestine. These barnyard critters are mostly modeled directly on other animated characters, including a Jar-Jar Binks-like rooster (voiced by Alphonso McAuley), a Foghorn Leghorn-aping pig (Omar Miller) and a Piglet-like rat (Ernest Borgnine, whose voicework here lacks the empathy and subtlety he brings to Mermaid Man on “SpongeBob SquarePants”).
Their peace is shattered by the arrival of a spunky lamb (Georgina Cordova) who thinks himself a lion, and who is destined for slaughter during Passover services in Jerusalem. When he’s shipped off toward the city with the rooster in tow, the animals set off to rescue him, joined by an emo-haired donkey (Scott Eastwood) and a gangster raven (Michael Madsen).
After some occasional foreshadowing of a king who will “set them free,” the animals encounter Jesus (Bruce Marchiano), serve as his transport into the city and, most brazenly, attend his crucifixion. Making the animals Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-style witnesses to these events is an interesting idea, but the juxtaposition of pratfalls and fart jokes with the solemn depiction of the torture and execution of the Son of God makes for a truly bizarre experience, and one that some might find borderline objectionable.
Despite the near-constant flow of slapstick (rarely does a minute pass without someone falling or being struck with something), pic moves glacially, repeating and stretching every joke to such lengths that one can imagine even 5-year-olds making “wrap it up” gestures toward the screen. The divvying-up of foreign accents (Irish, French, Gungan) makes little narrative sense, and pic is packed wall-to-wall with Christian soft rock.