“The Legend of the Sky Kingdom” was shot on a home-built camera and features a cast and setting constructed almost entirely from discarded junk (director Roger Hawkin’s called his methodology “junkmation”). Far from achieving a grimy, dirty feel with an industrial or post-apocalyptic vibe, Hawkin’s has converted trash into a resplendent world of homely robot characters, ingeniously intricate creatures and meticulous magical locations. Dogs with crocodile clip jaws, trees with melted straw branches, waves of undulating plastic bags and many other tiny inspirations bring our imaginations to life.
Firstly, there’s the issue of being honest and forthright. The Russian stop-motion Jesus bio “The Miracle Maker” (2000) and the popular “VeggieTale” Christianity animations are two examples of excellent productions that are quite explicit about their religious agendas and benefit from that openness. “The Legend of the Sky Kingdom” doesn’t mention religion, Christianity, Jesus or anything like that in the marketing or DVD packaging, not even in the downplayed form of “spiritual quest” or “metaphorical journey” or whatever. The film even exerts a conspicuous effort not to tip its hand until we’ve become emotionally attached to the heroes.
The hint of subterfuge angers me more since the film is geared towards children. It’s arguably no worse than indoctrinating our youth with a lust for unconstrained consumption (commercials), the idea that all women are helpless princesses in need of rescue or ugly evil witches to be slain (fairy tales) or that explosions, blunt force trauma and murderous grudges are cool (cartoons). Still, non-Christian parents will have every right to be angry at the film.
The literal refrain of the film, “Believing is seeing,” is not something I personally agree with. However, I don’t see any great harm in advocating faith up to a point. It’s the notion of unthinking, uncompromising, uncritical faith in a mystical force that bothers me. I finally put my foot down when the five travelers arrived at the Jungle of Confusion, or the “Jungle of Intelligence” as its gatekeeper, Prof, calls it. It’s a labyrinth that can’t be navigated using any system of logic or reasoning, but calling upon Ariel gets them led directly to the exit.
I don’t trust anything that tells me not to think for myself and I became increasingly disturbed by the film’s advocacy of outsourcing decisions to Telly and Ariel. I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong to consult holy scriptures or use prayer when confronted with tough decisions, but you can’t blindly yield responsibility for your actions and expect it turn out as idyllically as it does in “Sky Kingdom.”
As for the CAM idea of religious co-existence, forget about it. Sky Kingdom makes it abundantly clear: there is only ONE WAY into paradise and it is through ONE PERSON and that person is the son of the ONE HEAVENLY FATHER. Anyone who says otherwise is a monster or a minion of the Evil Emperor.
My third complaint, however, is more fundamentally damaging. It is simply that the increasingly aggressive proselytizing gets in the way of the story. Eventually the secondary meanings become more prominent than the literal events and so the literal events begin to make less sense. The eventual loss of a real story in exchange for metaphoric lessons saps the film’s ability to sustain disbelief, tension and emotional depth.
Walrus Rating: 6.5