The story of the birth of Jesus Christ is one of the most commonly told tales of the last 2,000 years. And in that time, or at least from what I’ve seen of it, there have certainly been worse renditions than the animated feature film The Star.
Granted, after two whole millennia, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but The Star is an animated feature produced for rather young kids, and it’s mostly a bright and inoffensive one. It’s the story of Bo the Donkey, voiced by Steven Yeun, who dreams of being important and gets his wish in a roundabout way after he stumbles into the home of newlyweds Joseph (Zachary Levi) and Mary (Gina Rodriguez), where he becomes an integral part of the family.
Months go by and King Herod (Christopher Plummer) decrees that a census be taken, so Joseph and a very pregnant Mary depart for Nazareth, unaware that a mute assassin and his two talking dogs, Thaddeus (Ving Rhames) and Rufus (Gabriel Iglesias), are hunting them down. It’s up to Bo and his friends Dave the Dove (Keegan Michael-Key), Ruth the Sheep (Aidy Bryant) and a bunch of other talking critters to save the day and prevent Mary from being killed.
Okay, so anyone who’s ever seen a Nativity scene knows that animals are frequently portrayed at the birth of Christ, in part because it took place in a manger, and also because the Three Wise Men brought their camels with them (those camels are voiced, in The Star at any rate, by Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Tracy Morgan). So the idea of telling this story from the perspective of those animals – especially in the medium of animation, where animals talk all the time – probably sounds like a pretty good idea on paper.
In practice, however, it makes for a very scatterbrained movie. The Star is a reasonably straightforward talking animal flick, filled with broad sight gags and silly dialogue. But it’s also the story of the birth of the Messiah, and as a result it has to dramatically shift gears every couple of scenes in order to make room for some very serious story elements, like the exalted appearance of angels. Those angels never crack a joke but everyone else does, all the time, and it becomes a very odd scene when Mary finds out she’s been chosen to carry the Son of God and she responds to that revelation by being socially awkward. Also, a rodent is watching and taking mental notes, which will come in handy later, and that’s undeniably pretty weird.
It’s also pretty weird that this seemingly innocent talking animal movie has to revolve around a plot to murder a pregnant woman. It makes The Star a head-scratching film to watch. Then again, a lot of things make The Star a head-scratcher to watch, like the scene where a donkey prays to God and apparently has his prayers answered, which heavily implies that animals must have a soul and also raises a whole truckload of theological questions that the makers of The Star probably didn’t want us to think about too much.