In an age when epic fantasy has taken over popular entertainment, many families find few options that affirm their values.
Amidst all the dragons, swords, and ancient myths coming true, is there a story that extols the virtues of responsibility, courage, and family togetherness?
Animated fantasy-adventure series The Wingfeather Saga, with half-hour episodes releasing weekly via the free Angel Studios app, invites grade-schoolers and up into the perilous land of Aerwiar.
Three siblings journey from a small village and enter a grand adventure full of fantastical creatures as they face-off against lizard-like Fangs led by Gnag the Nameless.
Author Andrew Peterson, a Christian singer-songwriter known for CCM hits such as “Is He Worthy,” spent nearly a decade writing The Wingfeather Saga—so there’s a lot for the uninitiated to catch up on.
Here are five reasons to jump in and begin to get acquainted with this sprawling epic centered on discovery, purpose, and redemption.
Epic Storytelling Melds with Kid-Friendly Whimsy
The four-book series takes cues from Christian fantasy authors J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald — with a grand quest, formidable villains, and many mysteries revealed in time.
Similar to The Hobbit and even Dr. Seuss, whimsical humor plays out with tongue-twister creatures (like squeeblins and thapperflys) and a tongue-in-cheek narrative voice.
Kids love this blend of silliness and serious drama. Because the TV series is different enough from the novels, reading only enhances (rather than spoils) the experience.
One among hundreds of reviews, a mom calls the series an “absolute game-changer” for her 12-year-old. “Never did I think that this son of mine would actually ask for books for Christmas!”
The Family at the Center Will Look (and Sound) Familiar
We’ve all seen typical hero’s journey stories—from Kung Fu Panda to The Wizard of Oz—where a vast new world opens up through the eyes of a single protagonist.
Yet, in The Wingfeather Saga, start to finish, a multi-generational family of three grade-school kids, a mother, and grandfather find courage. All of them are changed along the way.
Eldest brother Janner (age 12) is bookish and watchful over his siblings; Tink, a k a Kalmar (age 11), is rambunctious and daring; and their sister Leeli (age 8) is full of imagination.
Leeli also walks with a limp, and her grandfather Podo carves her a new crutch every year as she grows.
Podo is voiced by Kevin McNally (from the Pirates films) and the kids’ mother, Nia, by Disney legend Jodi Benson (The Little Mermaid), among several other talented actors.
Trailblazing Animation Style
In keeping with the boldly unconventional novels, the team of producers and artists bringing the saga to life opted for a visual style unlike other animation.
Showrunner Chris Wall, formerly with DreamWorks, told me how “photoreal CGI” common today leaves little to the mind’s eye.
“All the answers are right there in every pixel on screen,” said Wall. “So what would it look like to have something that's more abstract, that invites the audience to imagine, to fill in details that we aren't giving them?”
The team of dozens of artists pioneered a new hybrid style called paint motion, combining hand-drawn 2D elements with CG-driven characters.
Every Episode Has A Worksheet to Spark Kids’ Creativity
Social posts and Wingfeather merchandise reference the acronym T.H.A.G.S., which stands for Three Honored And Great Subjects.
In the series lore, which will be seen on-screen as the story advances, those subjects are Word, Form and Song.
Each episode has a free worksheet covering those subjects (just watch the show's Facebook page). It encourages children to participate by drawing, thinking, and creating.
As in the saga, perhaps every viewer has a greater creative purpose that takes effort and discipline to fully know.
Redemptive Themes Emerge in Surprising Ways
The journey to bring The Wingfeather Saga to the screen has taken many years, finally realized thanks to $5 million in crowdfunding to produce season one.
Yet, even now, it’s in the earliest stages of roll-out, as six more seasons have been outlined to adapt the four-book cycle.
While parents can find life lessons in every chapter, the overarching story takes time to develop. Peterson, himself a pastor’s kid, says kids’ “guard goes up” when we shoehorn teaching in at every turn.
“I grew up in the church," he says. "And the quickest way to make me stop paying attention to something was to suspect there was a Sunday-school lesson hidden in there somewhere.”
He encourages families to enjoy the saga — full of drama, humor and discovery — which naturally moves to exploring the truths within, saying, “Story works on its own level, on its own terms. Mystery is part of the medium.”
Episode two of The Wingfeather Saga premieres Friday, Dec. 16, on a free mobile app, with the third episode set for Dec. 30. The six-episode season one will continue in the new year.
Image: Courtesy of Shining Isle Productions / Angel Studios
Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.