MOVIE REVIEW: The Star

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.

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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.

Feelin’ TV: August 7-13

There’s an episode of Netflix’s new comedy Friends from College where Lisa (Cobie Smulders) tells her husband Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) that they need to talk when she gets home from her business trip. Ethan knows, as everyone does, that when someone says you “need to talk” that it rarely means anything good. When someone tells me that we need to talk, I get a sick feeling in my stomach until we’re able to get it over with. A year from now when I think about Friends from College, I’ll probably remember a few of the many laugh out loud moments, but mostly I’m going to remember how for 8 episodes, I had that same anxious feeling in my gut that I get when someone tells me that we need to talk.

The show follows the lives of Lisa and Ethan as they move from Michigan to New York City, where the rest of their friends (played by Fred Savage, Nat Faxon, Annie Parisse and Jae Suh Park) from their days at Harvard also happen to reside. The main cast is very good and they have a chemistry that makes you believe that they’ve known each other a long time. The scenes we get together with Key and Savage were particularly fun. But it’s also a series whose plot is driven by miscommunication, and that tends to be more frustrating to my taste than enjoyable. My favorite performance and the cast member I identified with most was Felix, the boyfriend of Max (Savage), played with surprising restraint by Billy Eichner. He’s amiable at first as he gets to know the college friends of his paramour, but he slowly becomes more and more exasperated as he witnesses the immature and destructive behavior of the group. At first, it’s a little disappointing as an Eichner fan to see his character be so subdued, but his gradual transformation to the Eichner we’ve come to know and love is tremendously satisfying, mostly because, at least for me, the main characters really started to grate on me too. That’s not to say that it isn’t an enjoyable show. There’s too much comedic talent involved for it not to be. But it definitely is less than the sum of its parts. Friends from College can be streamed on Netflix.

In case you were wondering, Netflix’s new series Ozark wasn’t produced by the Missouri Division of Tourism. The series promises to increase boat enthusiast traffic about as much as Deliverance raised the number of weekend canoe trips in Northern Georgia.  It paints a bleak picture of the picturesque lake in Southern Missouri and the people who call the area home. I can’t imagine that many Missourians, especially those south of St. Louis, would find much about the setting of Ozark to love. But I have a feeling that the other 49 states are going to love it.

Ozark tells the story of Marty Byrde (Jason Bateman) and his wife Wendy (Laura Linney) and his two children as they relocate from Chicago to the Lake of the Ozarks, where Marty has the summer to launder 8 million dollars for a Mexican drug lord. If he succeeds, he’ll get more money to launder. If he fails, well, his family will suffer the consequences that befall people who cross Mexican drug lords. To put it simplistically, it’s Breaking Bad invading the world of Justified. It’s too good to be reduced to that, but it should give you a pretty good idea of the setting and the tone. Bateman, who is also credited as a producer and director on the project does great work as Byrde, a well-meaning family man in over his head who inadvertently ruins the lives of everyone he comes into contact with. It’s an interesting role for him as the nervous energy, unearned cockiness and barely contained exasperation we’re used to is present in his performance, but it’s in a role that isn’t at all comedic. Linney is as reliable as ever as the wife who has her own skeletons to deal with. Julia Garner steals every scene she’s in as Ruth, the young leader of an area family of small-time criminals. She did great work earlier this year in The Americans and she’s only gotten better here. It’s not a perfect show by any means. As mentioned before, it’s treatment of Southern Missouri natives is overly harsh and some obstacles to our antagonist’s success exist only to complicate things in a situation that was complicated enough to begin with. But if you loved Breaking Bad and can handle some darker material (which, of course you can, you loved Breaking Bad), it’s a good story that’s worth a viewing. Ozark is currently streaming on Netflix.

After a pretty poor start this week, Game of Thrones settled down and turned in a really solid table setting episode to carry us through the rest of the season. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one disappointed to see Eastwatch begin with Bronn and Jamie safely out of the water and down river from Daenerys and her dragons. While neither of those characters are on my list of characters I want to die, having the ending of last week’s cliffhanger end without any consequence of note was a pretty big letdown. Thankfully, the rest of the hour more than made up for that.

Last week’s sisterly reunion in Winterfell was sweet and all, but it felt a lot more like Arya was actually back when her and Sansa had a nice tense argument, just like old times. Sansa is headed down a dark path with Littlefinger having her ear. Here’s hoping she’ll realize where that road is taking her before she does something that hurts the other members of her family. Speaking of family, Gilly unearthed some big news this week involving Jon’s parentage. We’ve been all but told that Jon is indeed a Targaryen, but now it sounds like Rheagar and Lyanna Stark actually got married prior to his birth which would make Jon, not Daenerys, the next in the line of secession to the iron throne. The dynamic of the relationship between Snow and the Mother of Dragons will be fascinating when this all comes to light, especially if it turns out that Jon can ride dragons too. For now though, I’m looking forward to watching more of their tenuous alliance. We’re only 2 episodes from the end of Season 7 already. Sunday is this season’s equivalent of the 9th episode, so some pretty exciting things could be in store next week on Game of Thrones: The Avengers. Game of Thrones can be seen on the HBO GO and HBO NOW platforms. 

That’s all for this week. Next week we’ll have the highly anticipated series The Defenders from Netflix and the season 4 premiere of Halt and Catch fire to discuss, along with the penultimate episode of season 7 of GoT.