I have to admit when I first saw the previews for Sony Pictures Animation’s new film “The Star” I had very little faith in its ability to entertain or stand out. While I wasn’t completely proven wrong I have to say there’s a certain charm to this Christmas-themed animated feature that offers a new angle to an old and familiar story for the holiday season. Let’s dive into this attempt to cash in on a classic holiday tale. Here’s my review of “The Star”.
“The Star” features “The Walking Dead’s” Steven Yeun as Bo, a donkey who escapes his life of work to follow his dream of joining the prestigious Royal Caravan with his dove friend Dave, played by Keegan-Michael Key. After escaping his owner, Bo finds himself at the home of Mary and Joseph, played by Gina Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, who are preparing to make their famous trip to Bethlehem. The ensuing journey brings Bo and Dave in contact with a slew of animated animals as we see the famed Nativity Story play out through the perspective of those creatures.
“The Star” is exactly what you’d expect really. We’ve seen this story before and in many ways there’s nothing new about this interpretation of the tale. We see Mary and Joseph make the journey and eventually Mary gives birth to Jesus Christ and the story is pretty well dumbed down and modernized to fit the audience the film is trying to capture. Despite the fact that the film tries to show the story from a perspective never really embraced before it doesn’t really add anything to the Nativity Story. Truth be told though even as formulaic as the movie tends to be its new approach does make the same old story feel a little fresh and adds some new charm that this timeless classic tale truly needed to stand out. It’s the same old song and dance, but with a slightly different melody that feels just right.
Honestly other than its new perspective there’s not a whole lot that makes “The Star” unique, but the voice cast is actually pretty on point. Steven Yeun earns some leading-man credibility as the adorable protagonist Bo while comedic powerhouses like Keegan-Michael Key, Gabriel Iglesias, Tyler Perry, and Tracy Morgan all playing different roles in the film. Other stars who come to the table are Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Kristin Chenoweth, Oprah Winfrey, Ving Rhames, and Christopher Plummer who all pretty much carry this film on their backs adding their skills and clout to a project that is frankly undeserving of their talent. They provide some interesting and funny moments and some pretty decent banter that brings life to a rather lifeless script.
I give “The Star” credit for being pretty amusing. Despite the trailer’s presentation of the movie as an over bloated project leaning on tired jokes I was mildly surprised to see that the names in the cast took a back seat to the story and that no one actor really overpowers the others in the film. It’s neat to hear familiar voices like Yeun, Key, and Morgan without any one person dominating the screen time and they all get their chance to shine as actors and as comic relief. If there’s one thing that truly makes “The Star” a passable animated offering it’s that the filmmakers and the actors did well to offer each character a chance to earn their place in the film, even if their individual personalities are underdeveloped in some cases. This made the film, for me at least, a bit of a joy because I could focus more on the familiar story I came to see rather than feeling like the star-studded cast was being forced down my throat.
The problem however is that other than that glimpse of greatness there’s really nothing special about “The Star” even if there’s nothing truly horrid about it either. It’s a middle of the road animated film that doesn’t feel like it was simply made for the sake of existing, but doesn’t feel necessary either. It’s a nice way to introduce youngsters to the story of the Nativity and avoids the heavy-handed religious undertone while also respecting the story’s Biblical roots. Sadly though the tale of “The Star” still feels worn out, cliché, and tired even with a totally new approach. It’s truly average in almost every way with each flaw outweighed by a redeeming aspect and its familiarity and clichéd nature being balanced by its slight originality and charm.
“The Star” probably won’t win over any fans who already know the story of the Nativity or anyone looking for a more celebratory Christmas offering, but for what it is it’s not that bad. The film offers a sincere and charming new take on the classic Christmas tale and provides great voiceover work with passable animation to boot. It’s not great, but it’s not bad and it’s a pretty generic animated film by all accounts that does just enough to be interesting but not enough to truly be original. The film could have been a lot worse and it does succeed in capturing the spirit of the iconic story. If you’re looking for a simply way to capture the holiday spirit this film might help light the spark, even if it doesn’t quite stoke the fire.