Twerking doves. So, that’s what the greatest story ever told was missing! Who knew? Carlos Kotkin and Simon Moore apparently. It’s their script, at any rate, that Timothy Reckart directs in The Star: an occasionally sweet, intermittently amusing, but ultimately dim take on the Nativity tale, which places the animals front and centre. ‘Revisionist’ doesn’t cover it, stick with the school plays.
To be fair to the film, the latest from Sony’s uninspired animation studio, it sets out its stall in the first five minutes, with the Annunciation reimagined as a deleted scene from Prometheus (‘For nothing is impossible with God’), and Mary responding to the Archangel announcing her pregnancy to the heavenly son by spluttering: ‘Thank you…do I say thank you?’ Instantly, it’s blatantly obvious that Reckart is shooting for something that’s up to date with da yoot and endearingly silly. Likewise, it is at once clear that he will ultimately land on a finished piece that’s generic, weird and set to entertain only the very young.
Oddly, there aren’t many cinematic depictions of the Nativity story, with no major feature-length offerings for children. Filling the gap in the market, just ahead of Christmas, The Star plays fast and loose with the story, in a way that may well offend traditionalists. The basics are the same – Mary (Gina Rodriguez), pregnant with Jesus, and Joseph (Zachary Levi), the carpenter from Nazareth, travel to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census and wind up in a stable – but occupy more of a subsidiary role to the main plot of the film; which sees Bo the donkey (Steven Yeun) fend off King Herod’s answer to the Mountain in Game of Thrones.
Bo, a mule who believes he’s ‘meant for something greater’ has comic sidekick (here, meaning: the one who delivers butt gags) called Dave (Keegan-Michael Key) and it is only reluctantly that the pair tag along for the journey, picking up a lonely sheep in need of a flock en route. Bo’s real dream is to pull the anachronistic ‘Royal Caravan’ but this is a film that sees its characters learn what really matters in life. In other words, this is all hokum, loaded with gaping plot holes that betray the dearth of creativity that inspired the film’s commission. Bizarrely, the Star itself appears in the sky way before the actual birth – presumably to allow for the inclusion of the three kings and their dopey camels, one of which is voiced by Oprah Winfrey.
The Star has very few remarkable qualities. The main cast give half-hearted performances, with a handful of poster-worthy names (Winfrey, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey…) there for the easy cash-in. A soundtrack, at times, seemingly inspired by the work of Ennio Morricone, is filled with bland cover songs and dreary original tunes; Zara Larsson drones out Mary Did You Know, whilst Carey’s on title song duties – it’s a dubious honour – with a tediously tagged on children’s choir. The animation, meanwhile, feels budgeted.
It’s easy to imagine the target audience lapping up some of the slapstick and throwaway ‘I’m going to find someone to poop on’ lines and adults may titter too (most likely at a line delivery which inadvertently reminds of Monty Python’s Life of Brian) but none of this’ll last till Boxing Day.