Animated Movies, Reviews, Sony Pictures Animation, Studios

[REVIEW] ‘The Star’

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Making a film about a religious topic is always tricky. The studio has to make it mainstream enough to appeal to a mass audience while respecting the beliefs of the most faithful. In the world of animation, films like The Prince of Egypt and even VeggieTales have been able to walk that tightrope pretty well. This weekend, we have the latest attempt: Sony Pictures Animation’s The Star. The movie tells the story of the nativity of Jesus Christ but, unfortunately, it gets bogged down in a generic road trip story with a modern sensibility and humor that does not work.

Let’s start with the positive. The best part of The Star are the scenes with Joseph (Zachary Levi) and Mary (Gina Rodriguez). There is the right amount of reverence in many moments, like when Joseph and Mary each individually get their witness of Mary’s immaculate conception. I also liked them in the finding the inn and actual nativity scenes. It was quite sweet.

The music is also very strong with songs from Mariah Carey, Fifth Harmony, Yolanda Adams, Saving Forever, Casting Crowns, Pentatonix, and more. If you enjoy Christmas carols like “We Three Things,” “O Holy Night” and “What Child is This,” then The Star soundtrack is worth a download.

Unfortunately for The Star, Mary and Joseph are not the lead characters of the movie. Instead, Sony chose to make our protagonist a donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun). This could work as I have a fondness for the Rankin Bass special Nestor: the Long Eared Donkey. However, Bo’s storyline ends up being a tedious road trip movie with his kooky friends, Ruth the Sheep (Aidy Bryant) and Dave the Dove (Keegan-Michael Key). Bo has escaped from backbreaking work at a sawmill and his previous owner spends the movie chasing the animals around trying to kill them. For a while, you forget the movie is religious at all and it feels more like a Bethlehem edition of the Ice Age films. It’s pretty dull and bland.

The humor completely falls flat in The Star. Perhaps very small kids will find it funny but I found it more annoying than anything else. This is especially the case with a trio of camels, one named Deborah voiced by Oprah Winfrey. I did not find them funny or engaging at all. There are also many big names that get little to nothing to do, which can be distracting in an animated film. I wish they would just use voice actors rather than token celebrities.

The Star suffers from having a bit of an identity crisis. Its animal characters are unlikely to interest adults like a film such as The Prince of Egypt does; however, Bo and his problems might not appeal to small children who have seen so many similar characters. The film also plays down a lot of the spirituality in favor of jokes, which will annoy faith-based audiences.

In the end, The Star has good intentions but it can’t successfully combine its animal hijinks with a Jesus narrative. It wasn’t funny and the road trip shenanigans grew old fast. If you can stream it down the road, it might be worth a watch as a background movie for small children but there are so many holiday films that are much better, for all audiences.

★★

 

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel has loved animation since she was a little girl singing songs from The Little Mermaid at the top of her lungs. She currently works in social media marketing and loves to blog and vlog about Disney, Pixar and all kinds of movies in her free time. Her favorite movie is Up and she considers herself quite the Cinderella aficionado seeing every version she can get her hands on. She also loves animated TV shows like Simpsons, Gravity Falls, Star Wars Rebels and more. Follow her on twitter @smilingldsgirl

  • I’m reminded of the Disney short film “The Small One”, directed by Don Bluth. I remember the donkey in that film being very sweet and endearing, sounds like The Star could’ve taken a note from that film.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Sounds like it. Will have to check that one out

    • Manuel Orozco

      Never seen the Small One before

  • Manuel Orozco

    The voice cast assembled sounds impressive but the teaser didn’t convince me enough. Glad I read this review to see how bad Star ultimately is.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Yeah it’s a skip despite the strong voice cast

      • Manuel Orozco

        I figured Rachel

  • Thanks for the review. I didn’t plan on seeing this in a
    theater, but perhaps when it comes out on-demand.

    • Rachel Wagner

      You are most welcome!

  • Jerrico

    “Making a film about a religious topic is always tricky. The studio has
    to make it mainstream enough to appeal to a mass audience while
    respecting the beliefs of the most faithful.”

    I don’t feel this is entirely true in this case. PoE was worth admission for the non-religious crowd for the spectacle alone. A children’s film about one of the least “interesting” events in bible probably wasn’t intended for the mainstream. I can’t see a male above 13 wanting to pay $8 to see this. Not being sexist, this was the sort of film my religious grandma would have wanted to take me to as a teenager. That is where the box office will come from. Mothers, grandmothers, and children.

    • Rachel Wagner

      Yeah this one isn’t really that preachy. That’s what I mean about it not being dogmatic enough for the super-faithful and not being entertaining enough for the secular. The Prince of Egypt is one of the greats at pleasing both audiences although some super-faithful did complain with liberties from The Bible it took upon release. Most of those voices have thankfully faded away. Prince of Egypt is one of my all time favorites.

      • Jerrico

        “Yeah this one isn’t really that preachy.”

        Neither was Spirited Away or Kubo, but that didn’t stop them from being called “abhorrent” and “dangerous to children”.

        Substance, that’s the word I couldn’t think of before. Prince of Egypt had substance that went beyond religious views. You could sympathize with both Rames and Moses.

        A movie about the birth of Jesus can’t have substance because you can only support one side. You can’t villainize a baby, so there’s no relate-able conflict. (Okay, you probably can, but probably not without offending the intended audience) So I can understand why they focused on the animals, because there wasn’t anything the humans could really be conflicted about.

        Casting note. I am amused that Jane the Virgin played Mary. Someone was certainly being cheeky when they made that decision.

        And just to say it while on the topic, what I really didn’t appreciate about PoE was the portrayal of the Egyptian priests as scheming con-artists. Was that really necessary? It would have been less insulting and more interesting if the priests thought Moses was a con-artist.

        • Rachel Wagner

          Yeah that’s the weakness in PofE. I think it might be possible to dramatize the birth of Christ with Mary getting pregnant, Harrod killing the first born etc but it’s tough. Prince of Egypt is a special film

  • Jeremiah

    Sony churned out a clunker. In other news, water is wet, The Emperor’s New Groove is funny, and Beethoven wrote some good music.

    • Rachel Wagner

      LOL. Poor Sony animators.