The Star (2017)
Just in time for the Christmas season, this week sees the release of The Star, the new animated film from director Timothy Reckart that tells the well-known story of the Nativity of Jesus from the point of view of the animals in the stable. We see the events through the eyes of Bo, a small donkey working in a wheat mill who dreams of better things. He’s injured in his escape from the mill and stumbles into the courtyard of the recently married Mary and Joseph where a pregnant Mary tends to his wounds. When the time comes for Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Bo and his bird friend Dave join the young couple on the journey. Along the way they meet Ruth, an enthusiastic little lamb, and the trio takes it upon themselves to protect the couple from a plot that threatens to end the life of the Christ child before he’s even delivered. And of course, as you would expect in a film about the nativity, everything wraps up around a manger.
While it isn’t great or an instant classic, there’s a lot to like about The Star. The animation is merely fine. It isn’t noticeably bad but it has the look of a film that could have been made ten years ago. The soundtrack is full of remixed Christmas classics that are entertaining to listen to, but are often oddly placed throughout the film. Even though The Star is a movie for children, unlike your average Pixar films that aim to entertain the whole family, my wife and I were never bored. All of the credit for that goes to the impressive and talented voice cast including Keegan Michael Key, Oprah Winfrey, Zachary Levi, Tyler Perry, Aidy Bryant and Tracy Morgan. They elevate the script so that humor that would be rote and laughless still manages to entertain. And as for how it works to children? My kids had a blast.
You can file my main complaint under the banner of pet peeves. I’m not a huge fan of sanitizing stories to appeal to the sensibilities of children. For example, you won’t find any Noah’s ark toys or coloring books among my kids’ possessions. That’s because the story of Noah isn’t a sweet story about a cute old man who goes on a boat trip with a bunch of friendly animals. It’s a story about the entire population of the planet, save eight people, drowning in a massive flood. In the same way, I wasn’t a fan of the way this film portrays the events found in the book of Matthew commonly known as the Massacre of the Innocents. In The Star, this event is represented in the character of a soldier and his dogs, who have been sent by King Herod to find Mary and Joseph to kill her soon to be born child. My problem is that the efforts of this soldier are often thwarted in ways that are played off for comedy. I’m not advocating that a children’s movie be used to teach kids about an event involving the murder of all children under the age of two. That’s not my point. As a parent, I find the dumbing down and prettying up of horrific event like this to be offensive. The story of the birth of Christ has enough drama and conflict to sustain a 90 minute movie. Given that the record that we have of this event shows that it happened after the rest of the events in the film, I feel this particular aspect of the narrative could have been avoided altogether.
Placing my personal pet peeves aside, overall, I’m impressed by The Star. I did not expect to enjoy a faith-based animated film as much as I did. It has humor and heart and made for a fun evening out with my family. It also briefly used the vocal talents of one Kelly Clarkson, which is a quick way to ingratiate yourself to me. The challenge of telling the tale of the birth of Christ in a memorable way is daunting, but The Star manages to be a somewhat fresh take on one of the most well-known stories on the planet. If you’re looking for a film that you can view with children of all ages this holiday season, The Star will be an early gift I think you’ll enjoy.
Jeremy Calcara is a contributing member of the Feelin’ Film team. In addition watching as many movies as he can and writing reviews for Feelin’ Film, Jeremy consumes an unhealthy amount of television and writes about it weekly in his Feelin’ TV column. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.