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Movie Review

Disillusioned about Christmas? Don’t talk to God or revisit the gospel truth of Matthew 2. Put your faith in an unbiblical, occult-ridden legend. That’s the central message of The 3 Wise Men, a creatively uneven insult to the very holiday it pretends to honor.

In it, a cynical child tells an elderly shopkeeper that he doesn’t believe in Christmas because he didn’t get a gift. So the old man shares an outlandish tale about three spell-casting magi who hunted down the mystically enhanced gold, frankincense and myrrh that became gifts for the King of kings. Supposedly their noble quest earned the trio a reward: Once each year, on Jan. 5 (the eve of Epiphany) the cosmos endow them with the power to grant children’s wishes and bring them gifts. (If that sounds a lot like Santa Claus to you, you're right.)

Separately summoned by some impersonal, unnamed force, sorcerers Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar meet up and follow a star—as well as a blank scroll occasionally illuminated with cryptic clues—to find a hidden temple. Along for the journey is a feisty rebel named Sarah and the strapping Tobias, an officer of King Herod with scrambled loyalties. Tobias wears a necklace containing one eye of King Herod’s evil advisor, Belial, a sorcerer intent on keeping tabs on the group’s progress.

After unearthing the secret temple, the magi navigate its perilous (video game-inspired) levels in order to secure the gold, frankincense and myrrh. Then the three treasure hunters must subdue Belial, who has turned himself into a giant, fire-breathing, mantis-like lizard.


Positive Elements

The magi don’t get along at first, but learn to look out for one another and work as a team. People grow in their ability to show courage, humility and self-control. The sparring Sarah and Tobias develop respect and love for one another.

Spiritual Content

These three wise men might as well be named Aladdin, Harry Potter and Indiana Jones. Where is God? Where is prayer? Where is the exaltation of the Christ child? Although the filmmakers must be familiar with the source material, there’s little evidence that they care much about it. Not once do we hear anyone address a personal God or acknowledge that a loving, holy Creator is behind the mission (Rom. 1:21-23). It’s all action and unscriptural hocus-pocus with a brief, ambiguous final nod to the blessed event in the manger.

As for the magi themselves, when we meet Gaspar he’s teaching a Hogwarts-style class, explaining to the children (as they cast spells behind his back), “Magic is everywhere. But at this school you’ll learn how to use it wisely. The careful and elegant use of magic is what marks the difference between good magicians and those calamitous buffoons who make a sham of the profession.” So much for the clear condemnation of sorcery in Leviticus 19:26 and Deuteronomy 18:10-12. Gaspar also misleads his students by stating, “With their light, the stars predict men’s futures. They keep children’s secret wishes.” Meanwhile, Balthazar is keen on levitation, and Melchior turns bad guys into farm animals. They also breathe life into inanimate objects.

Indeed, the trio uses magic throughout the film, often to defend themselves against Belial, an evil, Jafar-style baddie with supernatural powers. He summons the forces of darkness, transforms himself into strange creatures and plucks out his own eye for creepy, nefarious purposes. At one point Tobias and Sarah seem to communicate telepathically.

Sexual Content

Sarah’s outfit is slit up the thigh and shows a lot of bare midriff. She and Tobias kiss.

Violent Content

Cartoon action violence includes threatening chases, sword fights with soldiers, battles with ravenous wolves and a dragon-like creature, and people being victimized by magic spells. Herod pulls a knife on an old man and threatens to kill him. Tobias gets word that Herod slaughtered an entire village and intends to crucify prisoners. The skeletons of abused slaves turn up in a deserted mine. One frog devours another. Sarah is badly wounded by a nasty scorpion sting. Men are temporarily turned to stone. A fiery creature (referred to as an angel) threatens to burn up the magi if they can’t solve a conundrum.

Crude or Profane Language

Some name-calling. One of the magi insults another’s intelligence and calls him a “tub of lard.”

Drug and Alcohol Content


Other Negative Elements

A boy steals a star from a public Christmas tree. In addition to turning biblical truth into a mess of myth, the filmmakers embed yet another myth within it, hinting that Melchior’s apprentice is the future King Midas. In the secret temple a female voice congratulates the magi with the following: “You have passed the tests of the kings. You have shown yourselves worthy of bearing the royal treasures to the King of kings, who is about to be born. ... The greatest test before you [is to] trust in yourselves and remember that few people believed that little David could defeat the great Goliath.” Inherent in that comment is the assumption that David succeeded against the giant because he trusted in himself. 1 Samuel 17:37 and 45-47 make it clear that David’s faith was not in his own power, but in God’s ability to deliver him.


The 3 Wise Men, a 2003 Spanish-language film that has now been dubbed in English, is an occult adventure yarn that has more in common with Aladdin and Harry Potter (there’s even a mythical place called “the philosopher’s stone”) than with the account of Jesus’ birth. Worse than absurd, it’s offensive. I have no problem with animated retellings of biblical history that respectfully add characters and “what if” exposition in an attempt to fill gaps and generate a smoother, more engaging narrative. But The 3 Wise Men doesn’t simply take creative license. It’s an insulting prostitution of events related to Christ’s birth that’s sure to confuse young children and anger parents.

How bad is it? Forget the “good sorcery” for a minute. Ignore the pointlessly sexualized heroine with lips that make Angelina Jolie’s look shriveled. Let’s focus on Herod the Great for a moment. The first-century tyrant has been thoroughly emasculated and reduced to a whiny, obese, spoiled, effeminate Baby Huey clone. How on earth will young viewers ever take the malicious child-killer of history seriously after seeing this pathetic portrayal?

I hoped that, at the very least, the magi would arrive at the manger in a climactic scene of reverent awe that acknowledged the true reason for the season. No such luck. Handing off gifts is an afterthought. Squandering a chance to honor the One whose time-splitting entrance into humanity they exploit to sell this story, the filmmakers show about 20 seconds of the magi walking into a blinding glow as if they were Richard Dreyfuss boarding the alien mothership in Close Encounters. What about the receiver of those coveted gifts? We never see Jesus. No Mary and Joseph. No shepherds. And not a single word about the significance of the child. His birth has been reduced to a marketing hook. A spiritual bait-and-switch.

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