Do I really need to synopsize the greatest story ever told? OK, maybe with The Star I do! A donkey named Bo and his bird buddy Dave long to leave their mundane lives in Nazareth to join a royal caravan and travel the country. An injury delays their plan, but a kindly woman named Mary and her husband Joseph care for him while he heals. When Bo discovers that King Herod has sent a soldier to kill the baby the couple are expecting, he must set off on a journey to Bethlehem to warn them of the plot.
The backbone of the story is surprisingly faithful to the original, with some obvious creative liberties taken along the way. This story starts in “9 months B.C.” with Mary being visited by an angel and ends with the birth of Jesus. While animal hijinks ensue in the interim, people familiar with the Biblical version will find the plot makes sure to hit all the beats mentioned by Matthew and Luke. That said, this ain’t the King James Version. Mary and Joseph are right out of sitcom central casting as the loving and capable wife and bumbling and short-tempered dad. The only minor shortcoming in this part of the plot is that the writers sometimes assume the audience already knows the story so they don’t always fill in certain gaps in the narrative.
The animal character storylines make up the bulk of the running time. Besides Bo and Dave, there are three camels accompanying the magi, a helpful sheep that has left her flock, two dogs working with the soldier to hunt down the baby, and many others met along the way. And while they all crack wise and sometimes seem too hip and modern in their speech, there’s a real earnestness to it all that feels more goofy and fun than annoying and cringy. The animal plot is a fairly by the numbers buddy road movie — they try to catch up to the humans while foiling the bad guy’s plans and meeting new characters along the way. While it may not break any new ground, it’s at least pretty entertaining. The humor in the film, while definitely aimed at the younger set, hits more than misses.
The animation in The Star is fine, if not very original. The humans and animals in the film could be stock characters found in an off the shelf 3D animation package. The settings are slightly better but still nothing memorable. The biggest highlight of the movie might be the depiction of the heavenly creatures which speak to Mary and the shepherds. I believe they are some of the most impressive and awe-inspiring depictions of angels ever captured on film — animated or live-action. They were truly beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and you really understand why the first thing they always seem to say in the Bible when they appear to a human is “do not be afraid”. That said, they were sorely out of place with the quality of the rest of the animation around them.
Music plays a big part in the film. While not a musical in the traditional sense, many scenes are accompanied by song. And while the songs themselves are pretty good outside the context of the film, they don’t always flow well into or fit into the scene. For example, a scene where Joseph is contemplating what to do after his virgin wife-to-be reveals she is pregnant, the song Mary Did You Know plays, including a line about the baby already being delivered.
The Star is filled with big name… stars. Steven Yeun as Bo, Gina Rodriguez as Mary, and Keegan-Michael Key as Dave all give very nice performances. Zachary Levi as Joseph is good as well, but maybe a tad too much Flynn Rider for my tastes. Tracy Morgan steals every scene he speaks in as one of the camels. Kristin Chenoweth as a mouse, Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey as camels, Aidy Bryant as a sheep, and Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias as dogs also all do fine jobs in their roles as well.
This movie isn’t going to eclipse the top animated films released in recent years. It doesn’t have the best or brightest animation and music. The writers and the actors do a fine if not stellar job at telling their story. What holds it all together is the sincere way it’s put together. It’s not too preachy, it’s not too hip, and it’s not trying to be anything other than what it is. It’s a simple, sweet, entertaining story told by people who you can tell are doing it to bring some joy to their target audience — kids — during the Christmas season. (Based on the crowd I saw it with, they have wildly succeeded in that regard.) So if you go in with the right spirit, and not expecting any miracles, you might find The Star to be an unexpected gift.
Sony, Franklin Entertainment
November 17, 2017
directed by Timothy Reckart