Western Animation: The Storykeepers

We'll carry on His word...

It's A.D. 64, and the infamous fire of July 18 has separated four children from their families. The kids, Anna, Cyrus, Justin and Marcus, find shelter with Ben and Helena, a Jewish baker and his wife. They also discover that Ben is the leader of one of Rome's underground churches, and is known as a storykeeper; that is, someone who passes on the stories of Jesus' life and ministry. Together with teenage Zealot Zakkai, the kids and their guardians go through many adventures during their search for the kids' missing parents, all the while spreading the stories of Jesus and trying to avoid Nero's ever-tightening noose on Christianity in Rome.

Storykeepers was a children's cartoon produced by Zondervan and Focus on the Family from 1995 to 1997. It comprised 13 episodes and two holiday compilation specials. Three of the last four episodes make up The Easter Storykeepers, a project for which more famous voice talent was brought in.

Storykeepers contains examples of:

  • Acrofatic: Despite being quite chubby, Ben shows impressive feats of strength and agility.
    • Averted in case of Stoutacus, who is much slower and gets easily distracted by any portion of good food.
  • Action Mom: Helena becomes this after Ben is arrested.
  • Aesop: The entire premise of the series. Often several Aesops are present in a single episode.
  • All-Loving Hero: Ben is kind and compassionate to everyone, even his enemies.
  • Alliterative Name: Ben the Baker, though by all technicalities his “legal” name would be Benjamin bar Simeon.
    • Zakkai the Zealot. His nickname, Zak, retains the alliteration.
  • Aloof Big Brother: Zak to the adopted siblings. Though his attempts often make him Comically Serious.
  • ...And That Little Girl Was Me: Ben turns out to have been the little boy in the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.
    • When the elderly preacher Ephraim tells the story of Good Samaritan, we see a young man in yellow robes in the crowd behind Jesus. At the end of Jesus' parable there is a shot to that man and then back to Ephraim in exactly same clothes.
  • Animation Bump: Seen in the third episode as a precursor to the series’ art evolution.
  • Animated Musical: The Christmas and Easter specials.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Marcus to Justin, and in one episode, Cyrus to Justin.
    • Zak occasionally treats the rest of the kids this way and the third episode had it as a plot point. He gradually overcomes this, recognizing each of the kids' strengths and helping them put them to use.
  • Ascended Extra: Tacticus after "Trapped."
    • Antonius the Miller counts to an extent. When we first meet him, he's a random attendee at Nero's birthday party, where it's implied he's a tailor (he gives Nero a ball of string). By the next episode he's been promoted to anti-hero and given a name and official occupation.
  • Art Evolution: In the earliest episodes, the animation can be crude at times, and there’s little continuity in character body features, such as the number of fingers on the hands of some characters. In the later episodes, the animation and designs of the characters remains consistent, and Helena even gets a makeover. Oh, and Justin gets a new wardrobe.
  • Art Shift: Every time a parable is told.
  • The Atoner: Though Ben doesn't go into this detail, the message that Jesus became the atoner for mankind still gets across. Capella later plays it straight.
  • Bad Boss: Nihilus mistreats his underlings and won't hesitate to kill them in an enemy's place if they screw up too badly.
  • Badass Preacher: Ben. Especially with that bull's-eye and driving in "Ready, Aim, Fire".
  • Berserk Button: Do not stop applauding Nero, even if he tells you to stop.
  • Bible Punk/ Dark Is Not Evil: Unusually for a Christian TV series, the characters encounter several morally grey characters. For example, one of Nero's centurions is secretly a Christian, and an apparently treacherous and greedy merchant sends his ugly thugs to rescue the protagonists when the Catacombs cave in.
  • Big Bad: Nero.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Zak to all four of the kids, Justin to Anna, Cyrus and Marcus, Anna and Cyrus to each other and Marcus.
  • Big Eater: Stoutacus.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Easter story arc.
  • Black Best Friend: Cyrus to Anna.
  • Category Traitor: Tacticus and Capella. Technically, Ben and Helena count as well, since they’re Jewish.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Thastus the goat.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Marcus and Thastus’ ramming act. Also Zak’s archery skills
    • Cyrus' circus skills on many occasions. This is later lampshaded when his parents are found and Zak asks what good a pair of circus performers are in rescuing Ben; Cyrus' father replies that they have friends in high places and the resulting rescue plan is almost entirely based around the skills of Cyrus and his parents and their fellow performers.
  • Christmas Episode: Starlight Escape.
  • Collapsing Lair: Zak organizes a cutoff escape route in the catacombs in case the church is discovered. Used literally in an earlier episode when Anna removes a beam intended to hold up the unstable tunnel roof.
  • Concealing Canvas: A plaque denoting Ben’s position as Nero’s official baker hides an escape route for Christians.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Capella begins to experience this about halfway through the Easter story arc.
  • Conspicuously Light Patch
  • The Corruptible: Cyrus, when he gets caught up in the idea of being a star.
  • Crossdresser: Most of the heroes at one point or another.
  • Darker and Edgier: Ben whump seems to be the sport of choice in the last three episodes. In fact, the whole Easter special is generally darker.
  • Dated History: It was never proven that Nero ordered his own city to be burned down, and recent historical evidence strongly suggests that the great fire of July 18, AD 64 was in fact an accident, and Nero was not involved in its start in any way. But this series uses the assumption that Nero ordered the fire as a driving force behind the series’ plot. Regardless of how or why the fire started, the fact remains that Nero used the Christians as a scapegoat, thus beginning the Roman persecution.
  • David Versus Goliath: Cyrus, when he and some other Christians are about to be thrown to a huge gladiator named Giganticus. Helena references this story while trying to encourage Cyrus.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Zak, and sometimes Anna.
    • Although Tacticus gets a pretty good line in, too.
  • Disney Villain Death: Nihilus.
  • Double Aesop: Constantly, especially when one character is retelling one of Jesus’ parables.
  • Dragon-in-Chief: Nihilus.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Implied for Anna in the first episode in the conversation below though it's not clear if she's just plain bad or too young to have practiced.
    Justin: (very annoyed) It's not fair I'm stuck out here babysitting. I should be inside, helping Ben and Zak.
    Justin: (suddenly uneasy) Now that you mention it, maybe it's better I'm here.
  • Easy Evangelism: Tacticus. Subverted and almost averted with Capella. In fact, for Capella it requires Ben's willingness to die for the opportunity to tell Capella about Jesus' resurrection to initiate a Heel Face Turn.
  • Everything's Cuter with Kittens/All Animals are Domesticated: Marcus finds and adopts two lion cubs in one episode. Turns out the cubs are being trained to eventually devour Christians in Nero’s gladiatorial games. The episode revolves around protecting the cubs from Nero’s cruel trainer.
  • Expy: Nihilus, to real-life Sophonius Tigellinus (who in turn may have been a victim of Historical Villain Upgrade).
  • Flanderization: Zak gets more and more Comically Serious in the first half of the series. That said, he gets de-flanderized in the latter half.
  • Four-Fingered Hands: As stated above, most of the characters in the first three episodes. Though the number of fingers keeps changing.
  • Friend to All Living Things: Marcus, who even goes so far as to befriend a wild lioness and her cubs.
  • Happily Adopted: All the kids unofficially by Ben and Helena. Justin, Marcus and Cyrus are all reunited with their parents while Anna becomes this to Tacticus and Miriam.
  • Happily Married: Ben and Helena. Later Tactius and Miriam show promises of becoming this.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Antonius the miller, and later, Capella.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Capella pulls one at the end of the Easter arc.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Emperor Nero, here portrayed as Straw Nihilist.
  • Hostage Situation/I Have Your Wife: Nihilus locks Helena and the boys in the bakery and threatens to burn it down unless Ben turns himself in.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Marcus.
    Capella: Listen, you little brats, the baker’s wife is out there worried sick about you. Tell me where he is, and I’ll let you go back to her.
    Marcus: No. You’re bad.
  • Killed Off for Real: Capella, who pulls a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Large Ham: Ben. He passes the ham ball to Zak during "Raging Waters."
    • Nero embodies this trope in the Easter Storykeepers. But what do you expect from a villain who’s voiced by Tim Curry?
  • Lethal Chef: Captain Hadiran’s cook. It seems he prefers to invoke this trope:
    “Remember, it’s not just a roll; it’s a military secret.”
  • Limited Wardrobe: All the characters, though Justin does gain long sleeves and a vest in the fourth episode.
  • Mama Bear: Helena. Later Miriam and Cyrus' mother.
  • Meaningful Name: Several characters, most notably Nihilus, Stoutacus and Snivelus.
    • Could arguably include Milo, the old trail guide. Milo is a German name, but in this case it could refer to the Latin word “mil,” meaning "thousand", in reference to the number of miles Milo has traveled.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Both Tacticus and Capella thanks to Nihilus being one epic Bad Boss.
  • Never Say "Die": Generally averted with one interested exception: in the final episode, Anna is asked about the possibility of finding her parents and replies that she knows they're not coming back. The obvious implication is that they died but it's never stated.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the first episode, Zak is deeply suspicious of Cyrus, believing him to be a possible spy for Nero. During the Colosseum escape, the planned escape route is blocked, forcing them to change plans. Cyrus suggests a route only to have Zak blame him for the whole mess and take another route...which leads into the arena. The party just barely escapes thanks to Ben's quick thinking.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Tacticus' conversion was sealed when Nihilus abandoned him to die in the catacombs, giving Justin and Anna the chance to demonstrate Jesus' command to love their enemies by rescuing Tacticus.
    • Happens because of Nihilus again in the Easter episodes. If he hadn't threatened to kill Capella in the prisoners' place if they escaped, Ben never would have stayed to help Capella and he most likely would have stayed loyal to Nihilus.
  • The Obi-Wan: Zak’s uncle Mordecai is a rare example of this trope in which the character is not killed off for real.
  • Official Couple: Tacticus and Miriam. Also Ben and Helena.
  • Oh My Gods!: In the first episode, after the Christians (and Cyrus) escape from the Colosseum, Nero yells "For the love of Zeus, would somebody just KILL somebody?!" Of course he should have been yelling "For the love of Jupiter"
  • Orphan's Ordeal: The underlying plot of the series, and the driving plot of at least one episode. The kids do eventually find their parents (except Anna, who is instead adopted by Tacticus and Miriam).
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Ben. Played straight with Nero, but averted with Zak. Lampshaded by Cyrus.
  • Papa Wolf: Ben. Later Tacticus and Cyrus' father.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Snivelus.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Capella.
  • Save the Villain: Justin and Anna to Tacticus and Ben to Capella. It leads to a Heel-Face Turn for both of them.
  • Seekers: Tacticus and Capella.
  • Shout-Out: The cook on Captain Hadrian’s ship gets his recipes from Julius Child’s Cook Scroll.
  • Supreme Chef: Ben; he was good enough to become Nero's royal baker and is definitely known for his food.
  • Story Arc: Ben’s eventual discovery as a Christian leader and his family’s subsequent retreat to Shem Hadar.
  • Team Mom: Helena. This seems to be her only real function in the series.
  • Theme Tune Cameo: During a wedding scene in the last episode.
  • Title Drop: Ben, in the very last scene of the series.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Ben and Helena.
  • Villain Song: Nero in "Easter Storykeepers."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Thastus the goat.
    • Antonius the Miller.
  • What You Are in the Dark: In the third episode, Tacticus and Nihilus are in a dark cave chasing Ephraim, a preacher visiting for the episode; Justin and Anna are in the same cave trying to smuggle Ephraim his traveling papers. A sudden earthquake forces the soldiers to flee and the bridge they use breaks with Tacticus on it. He calls for Nihilus to help him but his fellow soldier abandons him. Justin is prepared to leave as well but Anna insists they need to live out the parable of the Good Samaritan which they had learned earlier. They rescue Tacticus, losing the papers in the process; when Tacticus asks the pair why they helped, Anna reiterates the need to live like the Good Samaritan. Tacticus asks to speak with Ephraim. When he does, this is what he says.
    Tacticus: Are you the one who taught these children about Jesus? (Ephraim nods) If everyone who listens to your stories becomes like these children, then all of Rome should hear about your Jesus...A fellow centenarian left me to die but these children saved my life because of Jesus.
  • Wraparound Background: Seen in "Ready, Aim, Fire" when Ben and Justin attempt to stop a runaway horse that's taking Helena and the kids into the heart of the fire.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In the opening it's stated the year is 64AD, which would be fine except both Ben and Capella met Jesus; Ben at the miracle of the bread and fishes and Capella at His crucification. Ben was only a child but Capella was already an adult when it happened. Either both men are way, way older than they look or it's this trope.