There are plenty of books on the Passover story for little kids, but I’m sure none of you parents are strangers to a little thing I call the DVD player. Turns out, as much as you’d like your kids to be voracious bookworms, there’s something about a moving picture that will put a twinkle in their eye.
I’ve selected a few great Passover movies for you that will at least alleviate the guilt by adding some old-fashioned educational value. Some of them tell one of the greatest stories ever told (hmm, where have I heard those words before?), others are more about the rituals of Passover, but all are, in their own way, entertaining.
In an effort to democratize this article, I’ve sat down with my consultants, otherwise known as my children, and asked them to contribute their opinions. Z is 7 — a little too old for the Kveller demographic, but once he heard that I’d be looking for R’s opinion (he’s 5), he insisted on being included as well. I couldn’t handle another fight before 8 am, so he’s a roundtable member too.
Please note that my children, while very smart, articulate, and funny (biased, Mom?), are also, on occasion, quirky.
1. The Animated Haggadah
This Israeli-made claymation is a classic from my childhood. The story of Passover as well as an explanation of the seder are acted out by animated characters made of clay.
Z: It’s good because I like when all the frogs are jumping all over the place. I like the wild beast part in this one. But the only thing that’s scary is the part with the Angel of Death and darkness.
R: Why do you think that’s scary?
Z: You hear people screaming.
R: Oh, yeah (somberly).
R: I like how they make it with the clay, because it’s good and very creative. The Prince of Egypt is a serious movie. This is a funny one. Like when the frogs are inside and outside and all over the palace. I love when Pharaoh drinks the blood and is like, Blech! (makes horrible face) and throws the glass at his servant.
2. Out of Egypt
This movie is an in-depth retelling of the story of Passover. And when I say in-depth, I mean in-depth. As in, you’re going to get notes sent home to you from your Jewish nursery school asking why your kid suddenly knows more trivia about Exodus than the congregation’s rabbi. It’s an Orthodox-made film with remarkably poor production values. Inexplicably, every character has a thick Brooklyn accent (you know, just like back in Egypt). That being said, the kids in my family and in my extended family love it, and I’m not entirely sure why. So I asked them.
Z: That’s a really good movie. I love the wild beasts in that one. They roar. But I don’t like that in some parts they make fun of the story. I don’t think they did an eating contest with the angel Gabriel in the real story.
R: It’s a very, very good movie because if you want a kid to watch it, no kid would ever be scared of this movie. It would be very funny.
Z: If a huge lion jumped out of the screen, that would be very scary.
R: But if that didn’t happen, it would be okay. It’s much better than The Animated Haggadah for the facts about Passover.
Z: They make it funny because when they get to the lice part, they take out bug spray. They didn’t have that in Egyptian times, you know!
R: I think that’s making fun of Passover.
Z: They’re not making fun–they are MAKING it FUNNY.
R: He likes this one more than I do.
3. Prince of Egypt
This cartoon version of the story of Exodus is my favorite: well-told and creatively done. The music is beautiful, powerful, and may even move adults to tears (at least hormonally-challenged pregnant ones).
R: I like it because the people who made it are very smart and it’s a well-made movie. I like when the frogs are jumping all over the palace. The music is wonderful! It feels like you’re in the movie–I mean, in the story, like you’re a Jewish slave in Egypt. It’s not scary or violent at all.
Z: I think about The Prince of Egypt all the time when I think about Passover. It’s really good, but the only bad thing about it is that you don’t see the wild beast part of the ten plagues. You see a cow roaring. What kind of wild beast is that?
4. Jerusalem Jones and the Lost Afikoman
This is an episode of the Israeli equivalent of Sesame Street starring none other than a young Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s very accessible for younger kids. In case you didn’t get it from the title, it’s a takeoff on Indiana Jones–only here, there’s a gang trying to solve the mystery of the lost afikoman.
Z: I love the giant boulder that chases them in this movie–it’s a giant matzah ball! I also like when she swings into the forest and bonks into a tree.
R: I didn’t learn about Passover from this movie. It was just funny and silly. Maybe kids would think this was the real story of Passover. That wouldn’t be good. It’s just fun. It’s good for littler kids.
5. The Ten Commandments
Ah, the creme de la creme. Full disclosure: I’m a sucker for this movie. It’s so amazingly cheesy–from the lush orchestration of the music to Anne Baxter’s historically inaccurate Nefertiri who every time she says the word “Moses” sounds vaguely as though she’s having an orgasm. That being said, there is no better bad-ass Pharaoh than Yul Brynner, and you show me someone who doesn’t envision Charlton Heston as Moses and I’ll show you a liar. I realize little kids can’t possibly watch this whole movie, but showing them discrete scenes, like the parting of the Red Sea or the plagues, is well worth it. I subjected my kids to it in its entirety last year, and when I asked them about it this morning, I wasn’t sure if they’d remember it or not. Oh, they remembered, all right.
R: The Ten Commandments is definitely, definitely the best Passover movie there is.
Z: It’s not animated or colored in. It has actors.
R: It looks REAL. I like the blood.
Z: I like the hail that catches on fire.
R: I like the part with the snakes and the blood and the locusts.
Z: I like the snakes and the hail and the locusts.
R: (Getting serious) This movie is inappropriate for 3 year olds and 2 year olds and 1 year olds. It’s not age appropriate. It’s live action. The little kids might be scared.
Z: You know something? I don’t think they really use actual blood in the movie. I think they just painted the water red.
R: How can you paint water?
Z: Maybe they put red root beer into it. The only thing I don’t like about this movie is that I get annoyed when everyone yells at Moses. They’re yelling, ‘We want freedom!’ when they go to Moses’ house, like, “How come you didn’t get us free when you talked to Pharaoh? You just gave us more work!” Those Jewish slave guys yelling at Moses are jerks. They only show up to talk and complain. Moses does all the hard stuff and work and has to keep going back to Pharaoh, who is SO MEAN.
R: The Ten Commandments is the REAL Passover movie. The funny ones and the ones like Animated Haggadah–those are not. The Ten Commandments movie is alive and is very serious. I like The Ten Commandments because it’s well filmed and acted. No mistakes. No nothing. It’s really long, but you should see the whole thing. You can do something else at the same time during the talky parts, like play Lego.