WASHINGTON — Attendees gathered at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., last week to celebrate the announced 2025 release of the animated film "JESUS," which reimagines the original 1979 film of the same name that has led millions to Christ.
The innovative cinematic undertaking, which is slated to release in theaters for Christmas 2025, promises to bring Jesus's story to life based on the book of Luke in a new and transformative way.
The film is in the unfinished stages of production and is being crafted by a team affiliated with the Jesus Film Project, a CRU ministry that has shared the original "JESUS" film with people across the globe. The original film has been translated into 2,100 different languages. The new film will use much of the same dialogue in a "refreshed script" to make the film available in 2,000 languages.
"Jesus Film Project commissioned the animation within a studio called Premise Entertainment. It was our vision together to produce this movie based off the original, 'JESUS' film," Jesus Film Project Executive Director Josh Newell told The Christian Post.
"I think what sets this film apart is that animation is a medium that today's and tomorrow's generation really resonate with. We wanted to tell the story of Jesus in creative and in new ways that people can hear about. And for some of them, it will be for their very first time. Animation will be unlike anything else that we've ever done."
Newell said that he expects many people will be surprised to learn that the "Jesus" film will be more than a movie because it will be a "digital engagement platform."
"We imagine being able to take the characters that we are making in this movie and put them into things like the metaverse or augmented and virtual reality. We haven't even begun to imagine what the ministry use cases will be like," Newell said.
"We know that media will be consumed differently in the future, and we are using this film as a way to future-proof new digital strategy."
The most inspiring part of being involved in creating the film, Newell said, has been realizing more and more the potential impact the movie can have.
"I think for me, I'm a dad of a young girl, and there's a scene where Jesus raises a 12-year-old back to life. And for me, seeing that scene play out where Jesus does that, you see Jesus enter into a room that is full of hopelessness. And as soon as He walks in, the temperature changes. It's full of hope," Newell said.
"Then, He does it. He changes history and raises her back to life. As a father, that touched my heart. I thought, 'OK, this is more than a movie. This is an experience with Jesus Himself.' We're looking for incarnational moments. For me, that was one of those incarnational moments."
Newell said an animated film about Jesus hasn't been created in the way the new movie will be captured. He said the film will be translated into over 2,000 dialects in the hopes of spreading the Gospel across the globe.
"I think this film will lift up Jesus in a language that people can understand. There's no more dignifying thing that we can do as believers of Jesus than to communicate that message in a way that people can understand," Newell said.
"This will touch their hearts because they'll hear Jesus speaking their heart language. Many people over the years have said, 'Jesus speaks my language, and because He does that, I know that He loves me.' We anticipate that that would be true for this movie, as well," he continued.
"I also think that animation is a medium that is growing very quickly, and it is very relevant. It's beautiful. You can tell the story of Jesus beautifully. I think for those reasons, it's very relevant and compelling. Whenever I go on trips, I notice that people are primarily watching animation on airplanes. That tells me there's a market in animation. It is huge and growing."
Members of the film's behind-the-scenes team attended the museum for the Nov. 30 event.
Producer Ray Aguerrevere said that animation is one of the most powerful mediums to tell a story, adding that the new film will be an immersive experience.
"This film is going to be used in so many other ways than just the film, which is really what's spectacular about the assets that we're creating. We're creating assets that will not only yield a beautiful film that can be used for years and decades to come, but we will also have those assets then be used to create immersive experiences like AR, VR, experiences in the metaverse," Aguerrevere said.
"These assets, these sets, the locations, the characters, the props, all of those things will be able to be repurposed and used to create immersive experiences for the audience to also take in the content in a unique way above and beyond what they'll see in the film."
Director Dominic Carola told CP he is looking forward to the movie's release because the animation industry has not yet seen anything similar to what is being created in the new film.
"It's very fresh because a film done at this level in our industry — the animation industry — really has never been done before for the life of Jesus. We have colleagues from all the major studios coming together to work on this film, and we're doing some innovative approach to the filmmaking," Carola said.
"You can't fully future-proof a film. But what we are doing is we're leaning into technologies like the Unreal Engine, which allows us to utilize assets of the film after the movie goes into theaters. Essentially, elements of the film can be experienced in virtual reality, augmented reality and into the metaverse. It gives a film a very long shelf life of possibilities because these are reusable assets."
From a marketing standpoint, Daniela Cala Lara, the head of localization for the film project, said she is "really excited to be able to offer this film in over 2,000 languages to people around the world."
"Many people will encounter Jesus for the first time in their heart language. Through this medium of animation, I think it will be an opportunity to touch many hearts," Cala Lara said.
"We have the original 'JESUS' film that's been around for 40 years, and I think it was an amazing tool, and it is an amazing tool. But this medium will be different, and the times have changed, and we have a new generation that we want to reach, and I believe that's going to happen through animation. It will be kind of like a new heart language for the times we're living in now."
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post.