As Christians, it can be a challenge to figure out how to live in this world without being of this world, to maintain our proverbial saltiness in a culture that doesn’t always align with our own beliefs. Some churches find it easier to remove any secular influence and rely on Christian music and entertainment, while others encourage a more personal discernment for figuring out what kind of media we should consume. Christian media companies rose to meet the needs of families who wanted their kids to have entertainment that could be played during Sunday School.
Veggietales is probably the best known Christian kids cartoon (side note: I understand there’s a debate on how “secular” it has become and I’m begging y’all to not do that please it is 2022 and we have already suffered enough), but there’s a Genesis-worthy boatload of entertainment to remember from our youth.
One of my earliest memories is of an angel painting a rainbow with the color blue. Blue is my favorite color, and I wonder if that’s why this image stuck with me. I grew up, like many other Christian raised millennials, surrounded by doe-eyed angels and animals from the “Precious Moments” company. For the longest time I thought my memory of an angel with huge eyes floating around with a paint bucket filled with blue was my young self incorporating the statuettes that decorated my home into my dreams. But no! This was real! And this episode in particular had a lesson that all people are uniquely created by God, and are worthy of respect and care.
Precious Moments is an art-based ministry founded by Samuel Butcher and Bill Biel. ( https://www.preciousmoments.com/blog/call-passion-call-destiny-sam-butcher-calling/) Butcher had drawn the doe-eyed characters for years, and his work with Bill helped his art grow into the figurines many of us recognize, cartoons, and even a Sistine Chapel-inspired Precious Moments Chapel in Carthage, Missouri. There’s even an Italian restaurant on site to really drive the Michaelangelo vibe home. (https://preciousmomentschapel.org/?page_id=1409)
The Greatest Adventure Stories
Time travel must have had a strong hold on the community for a time because it seemed to be a popular trope in Christian media.
The Greatest Adventure Stories follows the adventures of a trio of friends who were transported to the different Biblical eras. Archeologists Margo and Derrick, along with their vaguely ethnic friend Moki, travelled time via sand wormhole to hang out with the likes of Zacharias, Moses, and the apostles. The sand apparently gifted them with the ancient languages since they had no problems with communication. This series was produced by Hanna-Barbera, and featured some really prominent voice actors. Tim Curry voiced the serpent in the garden of Eden and Judas, James Earl Jones voiced the Pharaoh who faced off Moses, who was voiced by James Whitmore Jr., and Rob Paulson voiced Moki.
13 episodes were made between 1985 and 1992, and can be found on YouTube.
Did the vague accent of Moki age well? No, no it did not. But stereotypes aside, this was a really well-produced series that maintained a lot of Biblical accuracy. Joe Barbara was raised Catholic, and his devotion was reflected in this project.
The story behind this other time-travelling show is a bit complex so grab a snack just in case. Superbook, also called Anime Oyako Gekijō, was produced by Tatsunoko Productions in Japan and distributed by the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). It starred a girl named Joy, her friend Christopher, a robot named Gizmo that was created by Christopher’s father, Professor Quantum, and Ruffles the poodle who is adorable. Superbook, the namesake of this series, is an ancient Bible that has the ability to save souls by sharing the gospel through text and by literally speaking to readers. It also lights up and transports readers through time which really cements the title of “super”. It’s a neat idea but one can only imagine how dangerous it can be to own a Bible that can occasionally warp you into the story you were just reading.
Of note is the crusader-like flag Gizmo wears in spite of a complete lack of attempts to take Jerusalem.
The original series ran from 1981 to 1982 and was followed by a new iteration of this story called The Flying House. The Flying House starred Professor Humphrey Bumble (called Dr. Tokio Taimu in Japanese outlets), his robot Solar Ion Robot (Sir), the flying time-travelling house after which the series was named, and three kids named Justin Casey (Gen Adachi), Angela Roberts (Kanna Natsuyama), and Corbin Roberts (Tsukubo Natsuyama). The kids joined the professor as he travelled through different biblical eras in his science house since this show was created in the early 1980’s and kids weren’t taught to avoid strange houses yet. The house itself is what travels through time, which is significantly more intrusive than a teleporting Bible but worked out fine.
The Superbook series was first rebooted in 1983. Superbook was now a computer that accidentally sent Ruffles the poodle on her own sort of time heist. Uriah, Christopher’s brother or cousin depending on the dub, travels through time in search for Ruffles while Christopher and Joy give them directions on their side of the Superbook-computer.
A second reboot (I told y’all this was a complex situation) is now available on YouTube. Superbook the book is back, and there’s a lot more technology incorporated into this show set in the 23rd century. The animation no longer reflects the anime style it had in the 80’s, but the spirit of time travel is still strong!
The Story Keepers
When I was in the third grade, I kept drawing fish symbols on the ground. I was trying to communicate with something but over the years I forgot what it was. Now I remember: 8 year-old me was trying to summon the underground church of 1st century Rome, not knowing that they had all gone to glory by my time. How did I even know about this symbol? No time travelling was needed: I watched The Story Keepers.
This series was set in the first century AD and was a fictional account of early Christians and the church in Rome. Benjamin bar Simeon and his wife, Helena, take care of five children who were orphaned or separated from their family by Nero’s historically dubious burning of Rome: Zakkai, Justin ben Judah and his brother Marcus, Anna, and Cyrus. The kids actually reflect the real diversity that was reflected in Roman society, kudos to Zondervan Christian media company. The animation isn’t the best and some characters are drawn so absurdly it takes away from the story itself, but this series was made in 1995 and we as a culture had a lot going on at the time. The Story Keepers caricatured a lot of Roman leaders, Nero in particular, and at times feeds into distorted narratives of the early Church, but it illustrates how retelling Jesus’ works on earth helped sustain early Christians, and how remembering those stories helps sustain us, too.
Davey and Goliath
This series is the only one on this list that was created by a straight-up Church. Davey and Goliath was started by the United Lutheran Church in America in 1958. Years of planning and the creation of claymation shorts led to full 30 minute episodes in 1965. This show starred David, nicknamed Davey, and his Lutheran dog Goliath.
I’m not going to sugarcoat this: claymation in this era veered into deeply unsettling for me, so brace yourself before clicking on this link. The physical movement of these clay figures, their intense blinking and head tilting…I am not down for this show but maybe some of y’all will like it.
Episodes and specials were created until 1975. This show had very strong religious themes, but also sought to teach general moral standards that were pretty serious at times. Issues like racial prejudice, grief, and religious discrimination were addressed in well-meaning if at times awkward ways. While the show was largely non-denominational in its message, the Lutheran Rose opens each episode.
Davey and Goliath came back for a Mountain Dew commercial in 2001. This helped finance a 2004 Christmas special that promoted religious understanding and respect.
Some of our childhood shows didn’t age very well, but the lessons they taught us are relevant to this day. Thanks to the power of the internet, we can rewatch, cringe, and enjoy the cartoons that kept us entertained and saved.
Priscilla Escobedo is an archivist working in North Texas. Much of her professional work revolves around preserving and presenting BIPOC history in Texas. She enjoys reading about history (clearly), antique shopping, and trying new restaurants and recipes.