Released 30th November (Australia)
Seen 5th December
Directed by Timothy Reckart
Written by Carlos Kotkin
Produced by Affirm Films, Columbia Pictures, Franklin Entertainment, Jim Henson Company, Sony Pictures Animation, Walden Media
Starring Steven Yeun, Keegan-Michael Key, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Kristen Chenoweth & Oprah Winfrey
Often considered to be The Greatest Story Ever Told, the tale of the night that Jesus was born has been with us for 2000 years and has had more adaptations and variations than I can count. Everything from straight up adaptations to used as a metaphor, this event has been a tale told for a long time. For some personal disclosure, that I feel is important as it will explain a source of bias here, I am an atheist and as such this story doesn’t normally hold as much weight with me as it would others. A straightforward word for word adaptation of this biblical tale will not peak my interest because I do not have the faith to take that story at face value and also I’ve seen it about a dozen times. You wanna know what will peak my interest? Actually doing something new with the story and that’s exactly what The Star does.
The entire film is not focussed on Mary, Joeseph and the tiny bundle of joy but instead on a donkey named Bo (Played by Steven Yeun) who wants nothing more than to be a part of the travelling kings caravan which will allow him to feel special. This is the main plotline of the movie, Bo’s desire to find something to make him special. To make this as explicit as I can, they push The Greatest Story Ever Told into the B plot and that instantly makes this a more interesting film. By letting us focus on Bo instead of on Mary (Played by Gina Rodriguez) or Joeseph (Played by Zachary Levi) we get to explore another element of this story that we might not have been able to touch upon if it was just a straight adaptation. Namely how this is all so big that it might be too big for Mary and Joeseph to handle, something that we can only see by looking at their story from the perspective of someone who is just seeing this as two people who were kind to him and are about to have a baby.
Possibly the other most interesting element, one that I don’t think I’ve seen in other adaptations of this story, is the idea of doubt. Mostly on the part of Joeseph who worries that as a carpenter he won’t be able to handle raising the son of God. It’s actually quite touching seeing him have this worry carry throughout the film and fleshes him out quite a lot, allows us to see his flaws and insecurities. We also get to see Mary’s worries but also her strength, including several moments where she admits how scary this is but how she has to do it anyway. I appreciate that so much, they gave the characters much-needed dimension so that we care about them on a level beyond “They are the two people who raised Jesus so they have to be OK”, we want them to succeed because they’re likable characters and not because of the religious connotations.
The sense of humour that runs throughout this film is really well balanced, it pokes at the religious text but never outright mocks it (Which is absolutely acceptable to do, that’s what Life of Brian does and it’s fine, but this isn’t the film to do that in). Little things like the film opening “9 Months BC” are such subtle clever jokes that get a good giggle out. Some jokes don’t really land as well and there are a few moments where it feels more like they just let the comics doing the voice over go nuts and didn’t pull them in when needed, but on the whole, there was a good comic touch that transcended religion.
Casting wise, this film is pretty much perfect. Everyone fills their roles nicely and there are no weak links. I do worry that they didn’t record Oprah properly, some of her dialogue sounds like it was somehow off in a way that I don’t know if it’s because of her delivery or just how they recorded it, but it was bothersome. I’m sure a second viewing would probably produce more moments like this in the record which concerns me. Also, I’m just saying, maybe the movie industry shouldn’t encourage televangelists by giving them roles in movies… since, ya know, in general televangelists are evil people playing upon the religion of others in order to gain self-aggrandizement and personal financial gain. What I’m saying is Joel Osteen is in this movie and that knowledge upsets me because I really have no time for people who use the religion of others in order to trick them out of their money… sorry, back to the movie.
In general, this movie works on its own merits, it tells its own story and doesn’t shut out those who don’t believe in its biblical tale. It allows the film to work on its own and it’s just a sweet enchanting little feature that followed its own star and I hope that works well for it.