The Star (2017) Review

Cookie-cutter storytelling with some merit.

by Steve Pulaski

Rejoice in the regard that The Star isn't two of the things we thought it would be. It is not a manufactured animated film with intent only to proselytize and peddle Christian values like a stock conversion pamphlet nor is it comparable in quality to the frequently loathsome properties of Sony Pictures Animation. The company that can fittingly be called the dregs of contemporary animation will need to do a lot to cloak past sins in the form of The Smurfs franchise and this year's The Emoji Movie, but the fact that The Star is a modestly charming, serviceable animated commodity shows progress, even in its crudest form, for Sony Animation.

The Star tells the story of the Nativity through the lens of the animals in the manger at the time of Jesus's birth. In particular, it focuses on Bo (voiced by Steven Yeun), a lowly donkey who works in a shed with an older donkey (Kris Kristofferson) turning a mill-wheel in Nazareth. His friend Dave (Keegan-Michael Key), a dove, frequently comes to see him and tells Bo of the great potential that awaits him if he could find a way to escape and join "the Royal Caravan," the grandiose term never so much as being defined in a meaningful way. Bo simply spends his days literally going in circles as he helps turn the wheel and harvest grains with no real purpose whatsoever.

He eventually escapes and ends up at the home of a carpenter named Joseph (Zachary Levi) and his wife Mary (Gina Rodriguez), made pregnant in the opening scene when God speaks to her through a circular vortex. Soon enough, both Mary and Joseph leave for Bethlehem to give birth to the Son of God, while Bo, Dave, and later on their new sheep-friend Ruth (Aidy Bryant) tardily catch up in efforts to warn the happy couple about the presence of danger in the form of two vicious dogs and a hulking brute. In addition, there is a trio of talking camels (Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Tracy Morgan) popping up to either provide stray perspective or get into their own predicaments as well.

The Star is not only a product of Sony Animation, but also Affirm Films, the evangelical-sector of Sony that is responsible for faith-based entertainment (All Saints), biblical stories (Risen), and now children's animation with a theological slant. Their debut at hand rightfully assumes its audience members both young and old know one of the most famous stories, which makes it understandable for the film to divert its attention from specifics to a lot of general tomfoolery. The characters are broadly drawn, if likable on a surface-level, Bo is a marginally charismatic protagonist, and the film echoes an atmosphere similar to DreamWorks' beloved The Prince of Egypt.

Director Timothy Reckart's (director of the stop-motion short Head Over Heels in 2012) film feels a lot like a nineties animated cheapie or even a very early DreamWorks movie and that's not a bad thing. Aside from its animation, it takes on the feel of a pleasantly retrograde movie with a recognizable bit of earnest sentiment. Of course, The Star is unabashedly obvious in its emotions and quite often too preoccupied with some notably lame jokes in the form of characters falling on top of one another and other recycled quips that leave no lasting impression on the viewer whatsoever. Inclusions like this are petty setbacks for a movie where nothing is downright wrong but every flaw can be magnified for critics and audiences due to the material's generic look and feel.

And despite all of this, I still found some merit in The Star. Its score may be obvious, but its inclusion works during the foreseeable conclusion at the manger, and its characters are cookie-cutter, but at least they don't have the desperately unfunny and stupid side those in Spark: A Space Tail did or even the bizarre Rock Dog. Even if its all-star voice-cast is largely well-utilized, in particular, Rodriguez and Bryant rising to the occasion and helping put on a show. The Starprovides nice comfort food as inoffensively as it can, and in doing so, it makes a self-effacing, warm-hearted movie that forgoes a lot of opportunities to be preachy and becomes something intermittently charming as a result.

Steve's Grade: C+


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