The Star (2017) Review
THE OTHER SIDE TO THE
Within the bountiful religious tales of Christianity, no tale is more well-known, celebrated, and as poignant than the tale of the birth of Jesus Christ. Called by other names, including the Nativity Story, the First Noel, the Holy Night, etc, this paramount tale in all of Christendom tells of how Mary of Nazareth` (the Virgin Mary) conceived her son by the Holy Spirt (or by the celestial Angel Gabriel in some accounts) and how she and her husband Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem where she gave birth to a son…. named Jesus of Nazareth (Jesus Christ). The nativity story played an instrumental part in Christianity faith, standing as a hallmark event for the religion that played a major role in its foundation. Of course, the people of the Christian faith still celebrate the day of Jesus’s birth in today’s world (December 25th) in conjunction with the more popular and commonplace moniker name of Christmas; a celebratory feast-day and of gift giving exchanges to family and love ones. Additionally, the famous Nativity Story has been told and retold in various mediums and media, including children’s books, animated cartoon specials, and live-action feature films. Now, Sony Pictures Animation and director Timothy Reckart presents a new spin to the classic Nativity Story with the animated film The Star. Does this movie weave a new thread in this old tale or is it a far cry from its religious source material?
Tired of milling wheat and wishes to join the royal traveling caravan so that he may feel important, Bo (Steven Yeun) the donkey plots his escape from his mundane life with the help of his flying friend Dave (Keegan-Michael Key) the dove. Escaping from captivity, Bo injures his leg and finds shelter in the comfort of Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and her husband Joseph (Zachary Levi). However, unbeknownst to Bo, who is nursing his injury by staying with them, Mary was visited by an angel several months earlier, explaining that she will bear the messiah in the city of Bethlehem. As Mary and Joseph begin their journey to Bethlehem, Bo, along with Dave and Ruth (Aidy Bryant), a sheep who has lost her flock, follow them, using the guiding light of the Star as a beacon. Meanwhile, King Herod (Christopher Plummer) receives the three wise men, who come bearing gifts for the new king. Concerned over this troubling news, King Herod secretly sends his head soldier and his two dogs, Thaddeus (Ving Rhames) and Rufus (Gabriel Iglesias), to find and kill the new King. However, the three wise men’s wise-cracking camels, Felix (Tracy Morgan), Cyrus (Tyler Perry), and Deborah (Oprah Winfrey), sense trouble brewing and take matters into their own hands. As these story threads unfold, their paths ultimately converge in Bethlehem; playing their parts in the greatest story ever told…. the first Christmas.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Growing up, my parents raised me to be a member of the Christian faith. So, yes…. I do believe in the Christianity beliefs (God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Sacrament, the bible, etc.). While I’m not an extreme religious zealot, I do respect in the nature of my religion and of those who practice different non-Christian religions. Now, with that personal matter out of the way, the story of the Nativity of Jesus is one of the most revered story points in all of Christianity, celebrating the birth of Christ on Earth and of the start of Christmas, which has become more commercialized for decorations and gift-giving presents. Of course, I learned about the Nativity of Jesus during my early years of attending Church, but I do remember also learning about via a cartoon series called The Greatest Adventure: Stories from the Bible; a 13-episode animated series that covered such iconic tales from the Bible, including Moses, David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, and the Nativity tale. If you guys have a moment…look it up! As stated above, Hollywood also has had its fair share in adapting (under a cinematic lens) the story of Jesus’s birth, including 2006’s The Nativity Story, 1959’s Ben-Hur, and 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told, just to name a few.
This, of course, brings your attention back around to the point of this review for the animated movie The Star, which is the newest iteration of the Christianity classic tale of the Nativity of Jesus. While don’t remember hearing any type of “internet buzz” for this movie, I don’t remember seeing the trailer for this movie several times when I went to my local theater for my weekly “movie night” outing, which was usually during a screening a kids / animated movie. At first glance, while I was somewhat intrigued by all the voice actors attached to this feature, I wasn’t that interested in seeing it, but I decided to give The Star the benefit of the doubt and went to go see the movie. What did I think of it? Well, I actually kind of liked it. The Star, while not as strong other some of the popular animated cartoon movies out there, has enough story and style to make a reasonable / favorable kid-friendly movie outing, especially with its all-star voice cast and humorous sequences.
The Star is directed by Timothy Reckart, who’s previous works includes director of several short films (Head Over Heels and Grand Opening) as well as animator for Tumble Leaf and Anomalisa. Thus, Reckart makes his full-length directorial debut with The Star and (as a whole) he does a good job at it. One of the things I feared about this movie (before seeing it) was how would the movie find its balance of trying to appeal to kids as an animated feature and trying to evoke the story of the Jesus’s birth at the same time. Luckily, for the most part, Reckart does a solid job in trying to find a balance between the two. The Star never gets too preachy or bogged down in historical religious accuracy (I mean this movie is about a variety of animals being the “unsung” heroes to the Nativity of Jesus), but also keeps the main narrative focus of the birth of Jesus on the straight and narrow path; rarely going off on side-story tangents. Thus, The Star, while taking liberties with its source material, is still respectful of it and keeps the animated tale light, fun, and full of charming.
In terms of animation, The Star has a unique design to it that seems a bit lower than your standard animated movie features nowadays. What I mean is that the film’s animation is good (and works well), but can’t outmatch animations from the likes of Moana, Cars 3 or Despicable Me 3. That being said, it’s still pleasing to the eye as I’ve seeing far worse animated movies (design-wise), so it kind of breaks even with me. Also, the film, which has a runtime of only 86-minute long, keeps everything moving at a brisk pace, which keeps the story’s flow on-time and has the jokes / gags coming out you (the viewer) fast, which is fine for a kid’s feature. Lastly, The Star, being a religious movie, does have some thematically message for individuals to takeaways from the movie, including God’s plan are always good (despite the fact they’re not always easy) and that redemption can be found within the most unlikely / unforgiveable beings.
Another positive that The Star has to offer is within its music. While its score, which is composed by John Paesano, hits all the right melodies and notes for a kid’s animated movie, the film’s musical soundtrack is populated with recognizable / classic Christmas songs that have been re-recorded by some today’s current new / popular artist. This list includes Pentatonix singing “Carol of the Bells”, Jake Owen singing “What Child is This?”, Yolanda Adams singing “O Holy Night”, Saving Forever singing “What Christmas Means to Me”, and several others from other artist like Mariah Carey, Fifth Harmony, Casting Crows, and Kirk Franklin. This inclusion famed Christmas song adds a fun and musical feeling to The Star’s overall appeal, making the feature “pop” every now and again with these songs come on.
There are some problems within this movie, which make The Star from being truly iconic and memorable in its undertaking. Perhaps the most notably one is in its target audience. As stated above, The Star is a kid-friendly religious movie about the advent birth / nativity of Jesus Christ. This means that the movie’s targeted viewing demographic is mostly those individuals of the Christianity faith, which cuts out other viewers from other religious beliefs. Well, not really cut out, but just merely doesn’t cater to them. Thus, The Star limits its viewers audience range to those of the Catholic / Christian, which is really not a bad thing, but is more presented as a feature for that particular group rather than the more broader range that animated films usually are. Personally, as a person of the Christian faith, it didn’t bother me as much, but others might find this cartoon faith-based tale not to their liking. Also, the film itself is a bit of a head scratcher at some points, especially when it’s trying to convey certain things. Yes, the movie’s premise of having various creatures from the animal kingdom playing an instrumental part to the Nativity of Jesus is well-founded (for a kid’s movie), but it can be a bit odd to see and how certain scenarios playing, including explaining / presenting Mary’s pregnancy and how Herod sends a man (and his two dogs) to kill this would-be “new king” (basically murdering a newborn child). For a film that’s rated PG (more on that G side versus PG), there are a few moments that will have you scratching your head and saying “this is in a kid’s movie?”. Coinciding with that is some of the film’s humorous jokes, while bountiful, don’t quite land their target sometimes, pointing out the obvious or to make a reference to something that seems out of place.
Additionally, while The Star is an animated tale aim for kids, the movie itself can’t quite measure up some of the more recent animation endeavors. Studios like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, and Illumination Entertainment have all produced big hits (in either 2016 Gr 2017) that appealed to all in being quite palpable / memorable in a lot of areas (animation, story, etc.). The Star is not really a bad movie, but its just lies somewhere underneath such films, running behind them in an attempt to keep up with their mass appeal. In the end, The Star is a good wholesome movie, but doesn’t outshine some of the year’s better animated movies out there.
One of the highlighted moments in the movie has to be the voice talents behind these animated characters, with The Star pulling from a pool of well-known actors / actresses from Hollywood in lending their vocals for this cartoon biblical tale. The film’s main trio characters of Bo the donkey, Dave the dove, and Ruth the sheep are played up as you would expect them to be in a kid’s cartoon feature, providing enough comical beats and poignant moments for each one to shine in their own way, shape, or form to impact the main narrative story at hand. Of the three, comedian actor Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu and Key and Peele) provides to be the standout voice actor of the group, voicing the fast-talking winged dove character of Dave. He hits all the right comedic beats and delivers the fast jokes left and right throughout the feature. Behind him is actor Steven Yeun (Voltron and Trollhunters) who does the voice for the film’s true unsung hero character Bo the donkey. Yeun gives Bo enough endearing qualities to make him likeable and feels like a good, wholesome character to root for throughout The Star’s runtime. Lastly, actress Aidy Bryant (Darby Forever and Girls) provides the voice for Ruth and, while she does a good job in the voicing her, the character itself is not that quite interesting. Still, Bryant’s voice work for Ruth helps the character be more likeable, despite the character just being a cog in the film’s narrative machine.
In a more secondary level of characters are the three wise-cracking camels (Felix, Cyrus, and Deborah) that belong to the famously known “three wise men”. The voice work for these three comical relief characters, including actor Tracy Morgan (30 Rock and Cop Out) as Felix, actor Tyler Perry (Diary of Mad Black Woman and Gone Girl) as Cyrus, and celebrity mogul Oprah Winfrey (The Princess and the Frog and A Wrinkle in Time) as Deborah, are solid and bring the most laughs to The Star’s proceedings. While not as vitally importance as Bo, Dave, and Ruth to the film, their inclusion is a humorous, especially since their masters to the “The Magi” from Christian tales. Another noteworthy voice work (for the animal cast of characters), including actor Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible and Pulp Fiction) an and actor Gabriel Iglesias (Cristela and Magic Mike XXL) as the two dogs Thaddeus and Rufus, actress / Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth (Glee and Strange Magic) as Abby the mouse, pop singer Kelly Clarkson (From Justin to Kelly) as Leah the horse, actress Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond and The Middle) as Edith the cow, and actor Anthony Anderson (Black-ish and Transformers) as Zach the Goat, are good in their respective roles. Some get bigger on-screen moments than others, but (as a whole) these voice talents to these supporting animal characters are solid enough and add a likeable quality to the film.
Of the human characters, who are mostly in supporting roles in this animal-based feature, actress Gina Rodriguez (Jan the Virgin and Deepwater Horizon) and actor Zachary Levi (Chuck and Tangled) get the most screen-time in providing their voices for the Mary and Joseph, the two iconic biblical characters within this Nativity story. While both are vital to the story (both in Christianity and in the movie), their character’s traits / personas are generic and aren’t that quite developed. However, Rodriguez and Levi help elevate Mary and Joseph to be somewhat memorable in their roles by the way of their animated voice work. Lastly, while he’s only in one scene in the movie, legendary seasoned actor Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music and A Beautiful Mind) provides the voice for King Herod.
Bo, Dave, Ruth, and several other animal characters help make the Nativity of Jesus a reality in the animated movie The Star. Directed by Timothy Reckart, this cartoon feature film is the newest iteration of the famous event in Christianity, presenting a new (and colorful) perspective to the well-known story of Jesus’s birth. While it does take liberties with its source material and its limited target range to those of Christian faith, the film offers up a cute and humorous religious-based animated adventure, especially thanks to the widely known voice actors who were brought on to work on this project. Personally, I liked it. It wasn’t the absolute best and wouldn’t beat out any recent big animated hits from the likes of Disney, Pixar, or Illumination Entertainment, but it was still wholesome kid-friendly feature that has its own charm to go along with it. Thus, I would have to say that it’s an iffy-choice as it may not be on everyone’s “must see” viewing list, but I would also say that I would recommended it for some, especially within religious families. Will this movie be destined to join the ranks of other classic Christmas movies? Probably not. However, The Star is still a lighthearted film that’s a great way for young kids (especially those of the Christian faith) to be introduced to the story of the Nativity of Jesus through the eyes of various wise-cracking animals, comically bits, and a lively Christian-Christmas soundtrack.
3.6 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice / Recommended)
Released On: November 17th, 2017
Reviewed On: November 21st, 2017
The Star is 86 minutes long and is rated PG for some thematic elements