Animated 'Owlegories' supplement kids discipleship

NASHVILLE (BP) -- When Thomas and Julie Boto developed a smartphone and tablet app for their children using family members as the voices of animated owls, they had no idea their concept would catch the attention of an Oscar-nominated animator and become a Christ-centered children's DVD distributed by Walmart.

But that's exactly what happened.

On Oct. 20, "Owlegories" -- an animated series in which student owls travel on adventures learning about nature, faith and God -- began a trial run in Walmart stores across America. If it sells well, Owlegories could become a long-term fixture of the superstore's children's section.

Each episode "uses elements of creation as an allegory for the characteristics of God," Thomas Boto told Baptist Press. "So that's where we ended up, and we thought, 'Owlegories -- why don't we just use owls as characters?'"

Owlegories originated because the Botos loved reading stories to their three -- now four -- children and wanted to create their own stories as a family project. An intial Owlegories storybook app was created by recording family members' voices in a closet at a Thanksgiving gathering and then placing them with simple animation.

Following that app's surprising success in 2013, a friend and film producer, Chad Gunderson, joined the project and introduced the Botos to Keith Alcorn, creator and executive producer of the Jimmy Neutron television series and movie. A fellow believer, Alcorn helped the Botos develop their animation, find voice actors to portray the characters and add music and sound effects.

Presented by Spy House Productions and Gundersen Entertainment, the resultant Owlegories episodes launched in the Owlegories TV app earlier this year. In addition to its Walmart trial, the inaugural Owlegories DVD is available at LifeWay Christian Stores, Amazon.com and through other retailers.

The first of three premier episodes is called "The Sun" and features a class of owls led by Professor Owlester learning about God by studying the sun. God is like the sun, they conclude, because He is powerful, gives light to guide us through His Word and gives life.

During the episode, viewers meet, among other characters, an owl named Twitch who hangs upside down because he was raised by bats and an owl named Joey whose puns typically fall flat with his classmates. The inept villain owl Devlin tries to stop the students in their quest to find the "Illuminator 3000," which turns out to be a flashlight. In at least one scene, viewers may detect a parody of Dora the Explorer.

Each Owlegories episode concludes with a message from a notable Christian leader. The first three episodes feature Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas; author Jen Wilkin; and Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, a congregation with three campuses in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.

All episodes reflect the Owlegories theme: "You can tell a lot about an artist by what he creates."

The entire Owlegories family of products, Boto said, is designed to "supplement" parents' discipleship of their children.

"There are times when parents are going to need kids to be entertained," Boto said. "So this is a great, safe" way for children to watch for "a short time and still be fed by God's Word."

The Botos, members of The Mount, a Southern Baptist congregation in Keller, Texas, have plans for developing an Owlegories children's curriculum for churches, an Owlegories Memory Verse app and a children's evening devotional resource called "Night Owls."

Boto said his aim is "good, wholesome, funny and educational content" for churches and families.

For more information, visit owlegories.com.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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