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Film Reviews Review: The Star’s take on the nativity of Jesus is mildly amusing but mostly boring

Mary (Gina Rodriguez) with Dave (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bo (Steven Yeun) in The Star.

Sony Pictures Animations

2 out of 4 stars

Title
The Star
Written by
Carlos Kotkin, Tom Sheridan and Simon Moore
Directed by
Timothy Reckart
Starring
Steven Yeun, Kristin Chenoweth and Tyler Perry
Genre
Animation
Classification
PG
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2017

In Sony Animation's new faith-based holiday film, a star is bored. Helmed by animator and filmmaker Timothy Reckart, The Star puts a glossy, computer-animated new spin on the nativity of Jesus for religious moviegoers and a generation coming of age during a regressive American administration.

Giving voice to the animals on the sidelines of The Greatest Story Ever Told, the film is a tale of proxies and vessels wandering the desert toward a star, told from the point of view of the donkey that carries Mary to Bethlehem. Drifting through brainless slapstick, mixed metaphors, moral high ground and back again, it is the latest entry in a recent procession of communion bread and circuses.

In the opening scene, Mary shares her meal with a pygmy jerboa – inarguably the world's cutest rodent – and then experiences a sudden vision: An angel has come to announce that Mary will be impregnated and carry the son of God. Mary's blue eyes go wide and, startled, she asks, "How will this be?" Her original question is truncated because Heaven forbid she utter the word "virgin." In this moment Mary, voiced by Jane the Virgin's Gina Rodriguez in a bit of on-the-nose casting, accepts the will of God and becomes the vestal vessel. With nary a question asked of Mary and the issue of consent glossed over, the scene concludes, the seed planted. (Although Mary accepts the divine will, this consensual grey area is discomfiting, but also presents an opportunity. Parents can use this moment to discuss consent with their children to ensure they understand that their bodies are their own.)

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Mary, now pregnant, and her husband Joseph are the through-line for the film, but at its centre is Bo, a birdbrained donkey with a vague desire to feel important. Voiced with humility by Steven Yeun, Bo's mild character pales in comparison to Winnie the Pooh's cheerless Eeyore or Shrek's obnoxious Donkey. Flanking him is Dave the dove, hilarious thanks to Keegan-Michael Key's larger-than-life intonations.

As in Matthew's Gospel, King Herod (Christopher Plummer) is the villain here, threatened by word of a new king. In lieu of the Massacre of the Innocents, Herod dispatches a masked hunter and his dogs, a member shy but otherwise facsimiles of the hyenas in The Lion King, to eliminate Mary and the fetus. Cute, I suppose?

The Star, like Bo, is clumsy, derivative, mildly amusing and ultimately forgettable. Due to its targeted messaging and lacklustre execution, it's a far cry from recent animated stunners such as Frozen, Moana, Zootopia or Kubo and the Two Strings. The animation by Montreal-based Cinesite Animation Studios is solid but unimaginative, the shapes doughy and polished, like stones worn soft by sand, lending everything an overly sanitized appearance. But as part of the recent spate of belief-affirming films being pumped out by production companies such as Franklin Entertainment and Affirm Films, Sony's evangelically focused label, it's primed to do well.

Executive producer DeVon Franklin, a former Columbia Pictures executive and preacher, views these films as real-life ministry – and they're box-office gold. His previously produced films, 2016's Miracles from Heaven and 2014's Heaven Is for Real, both made heavy returns at the box office.

The Star, released weeks before Christmas, is a savvy bet – though a dull one all the same.

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