Animated version of 'The Pilgrim's Progress' was a journey in itself

Michael Miller

Tickets for the April 18 or April 20 showings of The Pilgrim's Progress are available at the movie's website.


An animated version of The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s 17th-century Christian classic, is a story about more than just Christian Pilgrim’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City.

It’s about the path that Steve Cleary and his staff have been following for the past five years as they created their own production company and tools, pursuing a vision that they at times doubted early on.

It’s about the paths that persecuted Christians must walk in nearly every part of the world.

It’s about the path that everybody who professes faith in Jesus Christ must take as they live out the Gospel life.

And U.S. filmgoers will be able to see the results of the journey taken by Steve, Robert Fernandez, and several others in showings April 18 and 20. 

“The Christian journey is not always easy,” says Steve, who produced the film. “It can be difficult, and those difficulties can come in persecution, health, finances, family. What I want people to get out of the film is that, when hard times come, if we’re not understanding that the Christian life can have difficulties, we have a tendency to say, ‘Why God? Why is this happening to me? Haven’t I lived a good Christian life? I don’t do this, I don’t do that. Why am I facing this trial?’”

John Bunyan was probably answering that question when he wrote part one of his epic allegory during a lengthy prison sentence in England for unauthorized preaching. The Pilgrim’s Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come went on to be translated into over 200 languages and published in what Oxford University Press calls “innumerable” editions. Part two was written later, an account of the similar journey made by Pilgrim’s family.

The original story follows Christian Pilgrim’s adventures from his home in the City of Destruction to where he is being called, the Celestial City. Along the way he encounters embodied temptations and distractions as well as obstacles like the Slough of Despond, the Valley of Shadow of Death, the River of God, The Enchanted Ground, Vanity Fair, and The Celestial City. Characters include Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Apollyon, Hopeful, and The Flatterer.

The project started out as a challenge between Steve and friend Robert Fernandez, who ended up as a writer and director of the film. At first just a possibility, the animated movie soon became a real project. But a challenging one. Steve left the City of Ideas and found himself on the Path of Asking for Money.

“I had to pound the pavement every day to raise money, to keep support coming in,” Steve says.

I learned I want to make a movie for the world and not just for America. I don’t want my success or failure to be judged on a limited theatrical screening.

Steve Cleary

At one point, though, his direction changed toward the Field of Missions.

“I learned most Christian films lose money,” Steve says. “I learned nobody was really interested in buying my project. I learned that filling theater seats is very difficult. It was really very discouraging. I even wondered if I had made the right decision.”

Then about two thirds of the way into the project, he realized that the goal shouldn’t be success in U.S. theaters or sales, but success in the mission field.

“I really believed that God put a spark and put a passion in my heart,” says Steve, who was already familiar with missions and serving the international church through his work with Voice of the Martyrs.

He thought about films that had been successful in the missions field and realized that, apart from The Jesus Film, there wasn’t one. The team decided to make one.

“We moved away from a studio-type deal, from traditional investors,” Steve says. “We said we’ll invest our own money, we’ll accept donations. Ministries like Samaritan have partnered with us. Advertising outlets have helped us. The Christian community has come together to help us and now we do have a finished film that we will take free to the global missions community.”

The ambitious plan of Revelation Media, the nonprofit that was formed around the film, to get the film out to the world is already coming to pass. The Pilgrim’s Progress will air on a satellite station beaming into Iran, one of the worst countries in the world for Christians, on Easter weekend with an in-country network also possibly airing it. The combination means a potential audience of 6 million people. The producers also have sights set on countries like Nepal, Cuba, and China. Movies about Christianity are less threatening to hostile authorities if they’re animated, Steve explained.

In addition, commercial distribution is ready for South Korea, Mexico, and South America.

“We have a school superintendent in the Philippines who’s going to try to run it through the school system,” Steve says.

The best part is that the Revelation Media team has already started translation into native languages and dialects so that the characters will speak in the local tongue. Even written material onscreen, like signage, will be translated.

“It makes it feel like it’s their movie,” Steve says. “I learned I want to make a movie for the world and not just for America. I don’t want my success or failure to be judged on a limited theatrical screening at local theaters. I want the success of the film to be judged by how many people get to experience the amazing, epic message of John Bunyan in their country and in their language.”

The Pilgrim’s Progress will be distributed for free in the missions field and areas of persecution on thumb drives and microchips. Points of contact will be allowed to duplicate and distribute it. Revelation Media is also looking into the possibility of purchasing portable projectors and screens for use by missionaries.

“It really is a global plan,” Steve says.

But it was difficult to whittle part one of the allegory of more than 57,000 words into a version that would keep viewers’ interest. The producers had to decide which among the more than 20 characters and 20 places should be included.

“It wasn’t easy,” Steve says. “Christian travels through 15 different worlds in our film. We picked the ones that were more well-known, like Vanity Fair and Worldly Woods.”

They also decided to use the worlds that could be more easily conveyed in the associated curriculum they’re creating “so families can have 15 family devotions with their children.”

Already available at pilgrims.movie is an interactive storybook. By going to the site’s front page, scrolling down, clicking on the “Interactive Storybook Card,” and entering the code NoitCurtsed, Samaritan members can get free access to the book, courtesy of Steve.

Next up for Revelation Media is an even more ambitious project. After tackling an animated version of the best-selling work of fiction in history, Steve and company are taking on the best-selling work of nonfiction: the Bible.

“We want to create an interactive Bible that can be translated into any language so anybody with electronics can watch the whole Bible in their language.” 

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