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The Wingfeather Saga: Season 1 (Christian TV Review)

About The Show

The Wingfeather Saga is an animated fantasy show based on the best-selling novels by Andrew Peterson. Produced by Angel Studios (The Chosen), the eight-episode first season is currently available to stream for free on the Angel Studios app and website. Most importantly, it’s also really good.

As a fantasy aficionado, I’ve long been curious about the book series. My eight-year-old twin boys recently began listening to (and loving) the audiobooks, so we watched the show together as a family. I admit, I’m typically less enthusiastic toward “faith-based” content than many Christians, as it too often seems like a synonym for “poor-quality” or “sermon-in-disguise.” To my delight, The Wingfeather Saga is an exception to the rule on both charges.

As with The Chosen, the show is entirely crowd-funded. Thus, while boasting an impressive budget for a crowd-funded show, The Wingfeather Saga obviously lacks the Disney-sized piggybank. As a result, there is a certain level of audience acceptance required for areas where both the storytelling and the visuals are a little rough around the edges. Yet the show does a wonderful job of masking its limitations and making the most of its many strengths.

While lacking the capabilities for Pixar-quality animations, the creators made a brilliant creative decision to employ a unique, almost hand-drawn style. Whereas the show could have easily looked cheap and poorly rendered, this animation decision makes the visuals beautiful and inventive. The character designs are excellent, and the aesthetic as a whole lends the show a dream-like quality that perfectly suits its fantasy world.

The story itself takes a few episodes to gain momentum but then finds its legs. It seems to improve with each episode and ends with an impressive set of final episodes that are as good as anything you’d find on Netflix or other mainstream streaming platforms.

Fair or not, any Christian fantasy story inevitably earns comparisons to either The Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. The Wingfeather Saga lands somewhere in the middle of those two classics. Like C. S. Lewis’ magical tales, it is aimed at a younger audience (although adults will enjoy it too), yet the exploration of faith is far more Tolkien-esque in its approach.

Characters are shown praying and alluding to “The Maker,” but (at least in this first season) there is no clear allegory or overt spiritual teaching. Like The Lord of the Rings, the faith element is more embodied than preached, which I found refreshing. Despite it’s subtle storytelling, the show is not without moral lessons. As a father, I’ve found myself using the characters and situations in the story to encourage and challenge my own children to take responsibility, look out for their brother, and so on.

I have had the perspective of experiencing the show both as a newbie and as someone who has read the book. After watching the first few episodes, I decided to read the book, and I finished it before the final episodes aired. If there is any weakness in how the story is translated from page to screen, it is that the show sometimes includes scenes from the book without providing ample explanation or set up, which makes parts of the story confusing at times. My wife—who hasn’t read the book—wasn’t always clear on the worldbuilding or narrative (she still has no idea what a “Ridgerunner” is).

In the end, this show is a triumph not just as a self-contained story but as a storytelling approach. The Wingfeather Saga is the type of storytelling we need to see more often. It’s inspiring and edifying without devolving into a heavy-handed Sunday School lesson. There is a spiritual depth beneath the animation and child-centric tale. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give the show is that it trusts the maturity of its audience by not sugar-coating darkness and evil and by allowing younger viewers to discover the truth and lessons for themselves. My family and I are looking forward to season two.     

  

On the Surface

For Consideration

Beneath The Surface

Engage The Film

Good vs. Evil

On the surface, the show explores many of the standard classic fantasy tropes. Although it ultimately probes more personal and nuanced themes as well, these deeper elements come against the backdrop of a classic good vs. evil conflict.

Family

To move down a layer from the larger good vs. evil theme, there is an emphasis on family. The family element has been featured widely in the show’s marketing (“a show about a family that not only loves each other but actually likes being together!”). The show centers around the multi-generational Igiby family, which adds an interesting dynamic to the relationships. While it showcases the underlying love they share and the strength they find as a unit, it also gives an honest portrayal of family members disagreeing or butting heads. Despite these tensions, their love for each other continually drives them to support one another.

Responsibility

Lastly, beneath the theme of family is a motif of taking responsibility. The theme is most evident regarding what it means to “be a man,” not in a macho-man way but in the sense that manhood is about taking responsibility and doing what’s right. Janner, the oldest child, is frequently tasked with looking out for his two younger siblings (who aren’t always grateful). In a show that demonstrates feminine strength (the mother is the steadfast anchor of the family and Leeli, the youngest daughter, is a feisty “lizard-kicker”), I appreciate that it also went somewhat counter-cultural to many prevalent narratives and unabashedly celebrated healthy masculinity as both an important good and a high responsibility.  

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