SALT LAKE CITY — With spring in the air and summer blockbusters starting to pop up like early flowers — hello, "Avengers: Infinity War" — many of us are emerging from our winter hibernation and heading to our local movie theater — or, even more likely, settling back down on the couch for some quality Netflix time.
That is especially true for young people, according to Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission and founder of Movieguide.org, a website helping bring wholesome films to family screens. Movieguide's 2018 Report to the Entertainment Industry, released in February, stated that youths spend more time consuming media than time they spend with family. Instead of fighting this media trend, Baehr proposes parents use movies to help teach valuable lessons.
Born to Evelyn Peirce and Robert “Tex” Allen, both Hollywood stars in their time, Baehr has been a part of the film world his whole life, working on feature films, including "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe," and is the author of a number of books on film, media and Christianity. His most recent book, “Reel to Real: 45 Movie Devotions for Families,” highlights religious themes in popular movies. The Deseret News spoke with Baehr on how his book bridges the intersection of faith and film and where he thinks film fits into everyday moral instruction.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: What inspired you to write this book?
Ted Baehr: What ("Reel to Real") is is just for people to watch movies with an eye that (movies) can provide great principles. Even a silly movie like “Smurfs: The Lost Village.” Smurfette is not an ordinary Smurf and at the end she gives up her life to save the village and then it turns out that she's resurrected, so there's lots of great allegories in these movies.
I picked out movies that could help parents teach their kids because people don't read as much anymore. This is a terrific opportunity to find biblical principles that have moved your heart and your mind and your soul … (and) “Reel to Real” can help you pick out the difficult principles and ask the right questions.
DN: What are some well-known films that people may not think of as religious films that have themes of faith in them?
TB: Probably the biggest animated film last year, which won our award at the Movieguide Awards on Feb. 2, the one that's probably the most pro-life I've ever seen for a major feature film, is “(The) Boss Baby.” It starts out where babies are being created in heaven. If you read the Psalms, God created you before you were born … and then (on Earth) the devil is trying to create other things to distract people from having babies. (In the film,) God sends a little angel down, Boss Baby, and at one point the boy (Tim, voiced by Miles Bakshi and Tobey Maguire) says, "Are you Jesus?" And the angel prevaricates and then he comes out and says, "No, Jesus is the boss. I'm just middle management."
The movie shows a pro-life, pro-family (portrait), and it made ($500) million dollars (worldwide) and starred Alec Baldwin. … We can go back year after year, but our best movies for families (in 2017) are: “(The) Boss Baby”; maybe, “The Star” from Sony Pictures — the Nativity story from the point of view of a donkey … ; “Cars 3” about mentoring, and “Despicable Me” where, of course, the prayer solved the plot.
DN: Although films with religious themes often perform well at the box office, there seems to be resistance to making them. What makes religion a difficult topic for Hollywood?
TB: Hollywood makes big religious films every year. Sometimes they get it completely wrong, like the remake of the “Ten Commandments.” Sometimes they get it pretty good like “Ben-Hur” — but not as great as the original.
The confusion is … that Hollywood consists of many different groups of people. People lump it all together. The first group is the major studios, which are getting smaller. There used to be seven major studios and then there (was) six and now Disney has bought 20th Century Fox and there are going to be even fewer studios.
Those studios produce about 40 percent of the films every year. … They want to hit the family audience; they want to hit the Christian audience … (and hit) the men's audience, etc. A lot of (superhero) movies do just that. You see Superman going to church or Captain America going to the Cathedral.
But 60 percent of the films are made by independents. Now when I say independents, they’re films that weren't started in a Hollywood studio and (were) funded outside of Hollywood. … The good news is more and more people are making faith-based films that fall into that independent category — that 60 percent category.
DN: What film that you highlight in your book has strengthened your faith?
TB: Many of these films (in “Reel to Real”) strengthened my faith, and I love almost every version — I can't say every version because it's made every two years or so — of “Les Miserables.”
There are a lot of films that provide a deeper faith and a deeper knowledge … like “Quo Vadis,” great film; “Hacksaw Ridge” is another great film — mature audience — but wonderful; (also) “Evelyn.”
All of these give you insight to the different aspects of life. For instance, do you know what your purpose is in life? … (Read) 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. … In other words, (God) wants us to be happy, he wants us to talk to him and he wants us to have an attitude of gratitude and that's God's will. In those movies, it shows you how he reveals his will to create a life, so it's absolutely wonderful.