Film Review: The Star

This charming, lovely animated Nativity story from the point of view of the animals associated with the Biblical tale will be a joy to the world of audiences five to eleven.
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It may soon be “home” for the holidays, but theatres and their big screens will prove to be the best place for kids and their parents to experience The Star, a visually splendid explosion of backgrounds, characters and movement, all animating this new, hipper, diverse spin on the Christmas story.

The characters include old reliables like the pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez), who learns she will bear the child of God; her carpenter husband Joseph (Zachary Levi), who’s incredulous at this news; and the resentful Judean King Herod (Christopher Plummer’s unmistakable regal voice resounds here). But it’s the animals who are The Star’s most enchanting creatures.

Leading these troops is small donkey Bo (Steven Yeun), who toils in Nazareth pulling a mill wheel until he makes an escape to try to join a World Caravan passing through town. But with a wicked miller boss on his, uh, tail, Bo seeks refuge with Mary, who warms to him immediately. (The filmmakers wisely contrived him as a donkey version of a big, cuddly, lovable dog). Joseph doesn’t warm so easily but will come around as Bo—through many adventures and close calls—helps the Nazareth couple escape Herod’s men into Bethlehem. Did we mention that much of this Christmas party trek is guided by a bright shining star?

Bo also befriends wisecracking dove Dave (Keegan-Michael Key), a clever strategist who will soon help the entire gaggle flee to Bethlehem; adorable, modestly helpful lost sheep Ruth (Aidy Bryant), maybe a study in humility; small but big-mouth mouse Abby (Kristin Chenoweth), and some camels, horses and a goat who join their ranks or are met on the journey.

Always close behind is Herod’s seething strongman, a mammoth, scarily silent thug clothed in metal, leather and animal fur, and his two mean palace dogs (voiced by Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias) who will later learn atonement. Surely no spoiler to anyone is that the ending is happy: Among other things, unto them a child is born.

The rich music offering (top Sony artist Mariah Carey dominates with the film’s original new title track) is a compilation of Christmas classics mostly rendered with R&B and pop inflections, just as both the characters and voice cast reflect the diversity that the film cheers.

Not incidental is that The Star is a dazzling visual spectacle of beautifully rendered backgrounds, realistic movements and characters (even as those oversized globular eyeballs persist), and bursts of the spirit and joy associated with Christmas. More important, it is relievedly quite nonsectarian, as nothing doctrinaire is hammered away here. The “gospel” truths conveyed include universally accepted messages of love, friendship, family, courage, forgiveness and redemption. It’s a dreamed-up film world where diversity works and bad behavior can get turned around.

Even if The Star lacks the satiric bite, sly references and other grown-up qualities that characterize Pixar and other animated shops, parents will appreciate the film’s many strong points and spirit while getting immense pleasure from just watching their kids’ pleasure.

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