“It’s the best Jewish movie I’ve ever seen, and it has no competition” — such was my daughter’s trenchant review of the awesome Megillas Lester. While that isn’t strictly true, of course (there have been children’s movies like “Agent Emes” around for a while, and I’m sure she has seen them), the claims that this movie is “raising the bar” on quality frum entertainment are, for once, no exaggeration at all.
I’m sure this was a major gamble. As much as Emes Productions (who provided financial backing) may claim to specialize in “low budget” films, the acting, animation and production costs were probably far above anything done for our community thus far. I hope it pays off financially, because the result is a very high quality product — keyn yirbu, our community will undoubtedly demand more on this level.
Chananya (CJ) Kramer of Kol Rom Multimedia has been a creative and comedic genius for a long time. When, as a camp counselor, he was assigned the job of waking campers each morning, he put together a brilliant series of mock radio interviews (with himself as all characters) to be played over the camp loudspeakers. And everyone woke up quickly, because they all wanted to listen!
Here he has written (and directed) a production with an intricate and creative plot, quick pace, and even a particularly catchy song (“Upside Down“) performed by several of the main characters. It is true family entertainment — little kids love the animation and visual effects, teenagers like the plot and music, and their parents enjoy the references to everything from Medrash to modern culture. King Achashveirosh (Yanky Schorr) has a riotously authentic Persian accent, there’s a particularly bad pun involving one of the reasons behind the mitzvos of Purim (which I won’t spoil for you), and who would have expected Alan Rickman’s Severus Snape to show up to play the part of Haman? [Adam Leventhal does an impression so uncanny, you'd be forgiven thinking it was Rickman himself.] The plot uses upon a gimmick first employed by the Wizard of Oz, 75 years ago, but we’ll forgive that — the rest of the film is completely modern and brilliantly original.
At the same time, it follows a rigorously authentic understanding of the Purim story based upon the Megillah, medrash, and even the archaeology of ancient Shushan. CJ even provided a video for those interested in learning what they made up, and what they drew from Chazal, our sages.
I tried to think about how well I would follow the film if I had no Jewish background… once in a while, if you don’t know the Hebrew words, you won’t know what they were saying, but that’s infrequent. It’s clearly targeted at the frum market, but I suspect everyone will enjoy the film, regardless.
As the first Jewish movie of its kind, Megillas Lester ranks at least 4 if not 5 stars — so it’s going to be a very tough act to follow. In fact, there are few people in our community who could pull this off — CJ, you’d better get writing! In the meantime, go see this film, buy it on DVD, download it… you’ll have a great time.