The Star

Movie Information

The Story: Bo, a recently escaped mill donkey dreaming of a better life, is adopted by the biblical Mary and Joseph and accompanies them — along with his other animal friends and enemies — to the birth of their son, Jesus. The Lowdown: A weird and off-putting story conceit that doesn't add anything new to one of the most often-told stories of modern times.
Genre: Animated Children's Biblical Adventure
Director: Timothy Reckhart
Starring: Steven Yeun, Keegan-Michael Key, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey
Rated: PG

Is it weird that I was hoping this movie would be in Aramaic? Or that, having not seen the trailer, I was suspecting that this was going to be a more devotional remake of Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey? A trailer I did see before my screening — Paul, the Apostle of Christ — had me fantasizing about Jim Caviezel in a recording booth crying and yawning and doing his best baby Jesus voice work. Sadly, none of these turned out to be representative of The Star. But I want to state plainly that this is a film that has a very specific target audience, and I am decidedly not of that audience. So the best I can say for my viewing experience is that it was like watching a first-day orientation video for a company I don’t work for.

With these kinds of faith-based projects, it’s always a tricky proposition in trying to assign some kind of critical valuation. They simply are what they are. I will say, however, that this is a perfect example of why biblical stories tend to hold more weight for secular moviegoers (and this critic in particular) when they’re broken down to their component parts, remade and remodeled to be presented more as allegories.

A Serious Man and this year’s mother! worked because the filmmakers used their own private coded languages to get to the heart of what these stories were about, and once you learned the language and cracked the code — never hard if you’re paying attention — the films became more rewarding than if you were just watching the story of a stressed-out college professor or a gaslighting husband. Unfair comparisons there, sure, but my point is that even A Charlie Brown Christmas at least tried to be funny and have a heart before beating you over the head with that “what Christmas is all about” business.

There are some genuinely weird things going on here, though. Right off the bat, we’re presented with young Mary being visited by an angel who tells her that she will give birth to the Messiah. And this angel is something else. A shimmering pillar of collapsing fractals and constantly rotating spires of light, it reminded me more of something out of a Terence McKenna book than of any angel I remember hearing about in Sunday school. This scene also kicks off the bizarre story of a mouse, hiding in the room during the Annunciation, who misunderstands and thinks she’s going to have a messiah baby — which, come to think of it, isn’t the worst idea for a movie.

No one who will pay to see this really needs to look very hard for countless other better-realized versions of this exact story. It’s the sort of crass, pointless bozo cash-grab nonsense you’d normally see for sale at one of those “Everything’s A Dollar” stores with a DVD cover featuring sub-coloring-book-level artwork. The film’s reverence for its source material notwithstanding, I have to believe that even the most faithful of viewers want something more substantial than this from their holiday entertainment. Rated PG for some thematic elements. Now Playing at AMC River Hills Classic 10, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande, Epic of Hendersonville.


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