Adapting the original Christmas narrative to the big screen is one of the more daunting projects a studio can tackle. Even if they are able to make the birth of Christ intriguing, they are guaranteed to offend someone by not telling their version of the story. The Star, the latest from the faith-based Affirm Films, aims to offer the best of both worlds by framing the tale through the eyes of its four-legged characters, not unlike the 1970 ABC special The Night the Animals Talked. Unfortunately for the audience, it doesn’t put in the legwork required to do either.
Here, the conduit for the viewer is Bo (Steven Yeun, of The Walking Dead fame), a donkey with grandiose dreams that far exceed his life of manual labor. It isn’t long before he runs into Joseph (Zachary Levi) and his expectant wife, Mary (Gina Rodriguez), and is called to play a crucial role in the birth of the Son of God. Despite its spiritual source material, from there, the movie serves as both a run-of-the-mill ‘believe in yourself’ kiddie flick and a platform upon which the likes of Mariah Carey and Fifth Harmony can display their new holiday tunes.
The fact that The Star was given a theatrical release at all is thanks to its enormous cast of A-listers, none of whom should be strapped for cash. Perhaps it was a passion project (pun intended) for one of them, and the others signed on after seeing a talented performer had been attached to the project. It’s hard to turn down the opportunity to work with Oprah, even if she is playing a camel. Every other aspect of the movie – the dated, slapdash animation, the tired, repetitive humor, the by-the-numbers plot beats, the out-of-place faith nuggets – make for a welcome addition to the bargain DVD bin at your local Walgreens.
The Star, in a decision that shows at least some degree of forethought, tries desperately to have its cake and eat it, too. Worried about offending the more sensitive viewers, the story tries to appeal to the Sunday school crowd, while including just enough off-color jokes that it doesn’t come off as delivering an actual sermon. It aims for a middle ground between bible study and Saturday morning cartoons, which is just as irritating as it sounds. In doing so, it lacks any degree of tonal consistency, and it is sure to lose huge chunks of both target demographics.
To the movie’s credit, it isn’t nearly as preachy as you would probably expect it would be. It is painted against a religious backdrop, sure, but it’s really just a standard talking animal flick with a handful of biblical tweaks. There are far too many poop jokes for this to play to an ultra conservative audience. While it is harmless enough and sure to pacify viewers under the age of six, The Star serves as the finale of this month’s forgettable holiday-themed movie trilogy (following A Bad Moms Christmas and Daddy’s Home 2). At least we’re pretty much guaranteed that this won’t foster an unnecessary sequel, right?