Film Review The Star
Film Review The Star. Though it probably could have gone without saying, “The Star” ends with a politely worded note to the effect that, while having fun and taking artist license, its creators strived to maintain the spirit and values of the greatest story ever told. Sure enough, “The Star” offers a playful retelling of Jesus’ nativity, as seen from the animals’ point of view, while keeping the necessary irreverence that entails to a benign minimum. As kid-friendly Christmas movies go, this one actually goes out of its way to remind what the holiday represents, which should please parents looking for something a little more sophisticated (but just barely) than the VeggieTales cartoons.
In the tradition of Robert Lawson’s appealing young-adult books “Ben and Me” (about founding father Franklin and his “good mouse Amos”) and “Mr. Revere and I” (in which Paul’s horse recounts his master’s famous ride), this CG co-production between Sony Pictures Animation and the Jim Henson Studio anthropomorphizes the various beasts who bore witness to important historical events — most notably Bo the donkey (Steven Yeun), Dave the dove (Keegan-Michael Key) and a loquacious sheep named Ruth (Aidy Bryant), although there are also the three wise men’s camels and a handful of other critters.
As it happens, Bo isn’t the only talking donkey the Good Book has to offer (in Numbers, Balaam’s ass also speaks), but apart from the trickster serpent who fools Adam and Eve in Genesis, animals typically don’t speak in the Bible. That means screenwriter Carlos Kotkin (who shares story credit with Simon Moore) must exercise his “artistic license” when trying to imagine what the animals in the manger were thinking on that very first Christmas.
Turns out, apart from two “bad dogs” (voiced by Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias), the other creatures simply want to help, and though they talk an awful lot amongst themselves, whenever there are humans around, their agitated dialogue is amusingly reduced to little more than a series of agitated hee-haws and other barnyard sounds. When the film opens, exactly nine months before Jesus’ birth, lowly Bo has spent his entire life enslaved to a Nazareth miller. As it happens, the donkey’s true ambition is to join the king’s caravan — a dream he indirectly realizes by carrying the very pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez) into Bethlehem.
As in the Bible, the appearance of a new star in the heavens heralds the arrival of a new “king,” one whose prophesied arrival deeply threatens local tyrant Herod (Christopher Plummer), who dispatches an over-zealous soldier to hunt down his unborn rival. So begins an awkward kind of road-movie plot, in which Mary and her easily frustrated husband Joseph (Zachary Levi) travel cross-country while totally oblivious to the fact that a bloodthirsty Roman goon is fast on their trail.