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Idol Chatter

What are the odds that Matteo the talking diary, a pen named Quill Simona, and two doves called Piccolo and Fiona will become beloved animated characters just like Bambi, Pinocchio, or Winnie the Pooh?

The producers of “John Paul II, The Friend of Humanity” are hoping so. The new Vatican-approved film, revealed at a press conference this week, shows “the human side of John Paul,” according to J.L. Lopez-Guardia, a Spanish animation artist who worked on the film. The producers and the Vatican are hoping that the film becomes a big hit this Christmas season.

The movie, which will be released on DVD, was made in eight languages. It starts on the night that the Pope died and then goes back to his birth in 1920, through his days in communist Poland and continuing through his 27 years in the papacy. After 30 minutes of animation, the second half shows film clips of his papacy while a narrator relates his most famous sayings and quotes.

In the wake of the recent controversy with the current Pope Benedict XVI, who in a speech quoted a Byzantine emperor’s statement that Islam is “evil and inhuman,” perhaps this movie will bring some positive attention to the Vatican. I don’t know how hot the Christmas market is for religious-themed animated films. But I do know that Pope John Paul was beloved by millions around the world, people who probably will welcome a gentle look at his life and the way he beautifully shaped the world at large.

Video of last night’s appearance on “The Colbert Report” of David Kuo, Beliefnet’s Washington editor and author of the new book “Tempting Faith“:

The poor Anti-Defamation League. The champions of tolerance–sworn especially to fight anti-Semitism–have been reduced by British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen to fretting in a press release that the cute, totally ironic anti-Semitic digs in Cohen’s new movie, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” might be “too sophisticated for the average moviegoer.”

In the movie, Cohen plays Borat, a Kazakhstani ignoramus on a documentary tour of the United States. The setup lets Borat to take satirical pokes at American life, while also lampooning the benightedness of what might be termed either New Europe or Old Middle Asia. In Borat’s Kazakhstan, women are property, horses have the vote, and every bit of hard luck is blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. In one publicity gag for the movie, Borat suggested the Kazakhstan government “sue the Jew” who erected a website in the .kz domain advertising the movie. The Jew in question is Cohen himself.

Funny, right? If you have misgivings, leave them at the door. The twisty power of irony is that it turns its critics into humorless, irrelevant drudges the moment they take the ironist to task. The Kazakhstani government, who took down the website, looked ridiculous stating, for the record, that rape is not condoned within its borders. Trying to avoid that trap, the ADL is choosing to, in the words of the blogger Wonkette, “teach comedy to Americans.” Those who see the film, says the ADL, need to understand that it aims to “unmask the absurd and irrational side of anti-Semitism and other phobias born of ignorance and fear.”

Or maybe the ADL is indulging in a little irony of its own. The average American moviegoer, of course, is a teenager, who already gets that bigotry is born of ignorance and fear–tolerance has been drummed into our teens since they were preschoolers–but teens will also get immediately the brute power of brandishing the word “Jew,” and how Cohen plays it for laughs. The average moviegoer, in other words, is plenty sophisticated enough to mimic Cohen’s multilayered humor. Fans of the Borat movie will likely be unmasking the irrational side of anti-Semitism for the rest of their lives.

We have a new Superfriend!

In The New York Times last weekend, columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about Muslim feminism (yes, there is such a thing, and Muslim feminism has many followers). What really caught my eye as intriguing, though, was his mention of Rima Khoreibi, who is “an author from Dubai who wrote a children’s book about an Islamic superhero who is female–Iman, a teenage girl with a cape, head scarf and deep religious convictions.” The book is called “The Adventures of Iman,” and a sequel is due out in December.

A little bit about Iman (from Khoreibi):

Iman is a young, heroic Muslim teen age girl who loves to help those who are in trouble. She has very strong faith in Allah, or God, and when she prays for His help she feels her strength turn into super powers! Iman knows right from wrong, and she always quotes the Koran to explain to others that Islam is a great religion that expects Muslims to be tolerant, kind, righteous, and non-judgmental.

And she wears pink!

Iman always makes sure she has her pretty pink scarf around her neck at all times. She uses the scarf to cover her hair when she is praying to Allah. Iman knows how important and precious it is to have a special bond with Allah. Allah helps anyone who calls His name! Iman also wears a necklace with a pendant that she never takes off. On the beautiful pendant is written “Allah”. When Iman needs Allah’s protection she holds the pendant and says “bism-Illah”, which means “in the name of God.” The pendant then turns into a big shield to protect her from any harm.Iman is a girl who is smart, beautiful, athletic, and friendly and most of all her love and belief in Allah is what makes her the special girl she is.

And, Iman (well, Khoreibi) has a website, too: www.theadventuresofiman.com. Check it out!