Movie review: Mixing profound and silly, Nativity-themed animation 'The Star' is hit-and-miss affair

By Jane Horwitz The Washington Post - Updated: November 17, 2017 at 12:30 pm • Published: November 17, 2017 0
photo - Ruth (Aidy Bryant), Dave (Keegan-Michael Key), Bo (Steven Yeun), Joseph (Zachary Levi) and Mary (Gina Rodriguez) in "The Star." MUST CREDIT: Sony Pictures Animation
Ruth (Aidy Bryant), Dave (Keegan-Michael Key), Bo (Steven Yeun), Joseph (Zachary Levi) and Mary (Gina Rodriguez) in "The Star." MUST CREDIT: Sony Pictures Animation

An animated fable about the first Christmas, "The Star," reimagines the Nativity from the perspective of an animal - actually, a menagerie of comical Holy Land critters, led by a miniature donkey, who become key supporting players in the tale.

Among the production companies making "The Star" are the faith-based Walden Media and Sony's religious wing, Affirm Films. The movie is sincerely Christian while also a slapstick animal 'toon. It's a mix that works only intermittently.

Screenwriter Carlos Kotkin and director Timothy Reckart mine every opportunity for animal humor. Despite animation that has the hard-plastic look of computer-generated imagery, the Holy Land backgrounds are rather lovely, and the animals' fur looks quite scratchable.

The film opens in what we're told is Nazareth, 9 months B.C. Abby (Kristin Chenoweth), a hoppy little rodent, witnesses the Annunciation firsthand, when an angel appears to Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and tells her she will conceive and bear a son.

Bo (Steven Yeun), the donkey hero, sees the bright star in the East and longs for adventure, but he's yoked to a millstone in Nazareth. Escaping, he gallops off with a pugnacious dove named Dave (Keegan-Michael Key) flying alongside.

The two take shelter in Mary and Joseph's yard, where Mary binds the donkey's injured ankle. After she and Joseph (Zachary Levi) leave for Bethlehem to take part in a census, a grim-faced soldier with two snarling dogs comes looking for them, on orders from Herod. Because Bo senses the peril, he and Dave chase after Mary and Joseph, setting them on a journey that culminates in the birth of Jesus. Along the way, they encounter the three Wise Men - or, more accurately, their three camels (voiced by Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan and Tyler Perry).

It isn't great by any means, but "The Star" has enough good qualities that some viewers looking for faith-based family fare as Christmas nears will probably say "Amen."

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