Originally released in 2017, The Star, an animated retelling of the Nativity from the point of view of the animals, is available for streaming this Advent and Christmas. If you want a fun, faith-filled, joyful, warmhearted take on the real Christmas story, suitable for even grade-schoolers, then The Star is the movie for you.
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Produced by Sony Pictures Animation, it's technically very good. The script has wit and comedy, plus a little danger (but not too much), and there are terrific songs. Best of all, The Star makes Mary and Joseph (voices of Gina Rodriguez and Zachary Levi), who are always at risk of being seen as just static figures in a Nativity scene, into real human beings.
With some artistic license, The Star focuses on the four-legged and feathered participants in the story, especially Bo (Steven Yeun), the donkey that winds up carrying Mary to Bethlehem, and his best buddy, Dave the dove (Keegan-Michael Key). By the way, the animals can talk to each other, but to humans, they still just sound like animals.
Other voice talent includes Patrica Heaton (Edith the cow); Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey and Tracy Morgan (The Wise Men’s camels); Anthony Anderson (Zach the goat); Kris Kristofferson (old donkey); Ving Rhames (Thaddeus the dog); Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse); Kristen Chenoweth (Abby the pygmy gerboa); and Christopher Plummer (King Herod).
During a Christmas season awash in Santa Clauses, reindeer and Elves on the Shelf, The Star manages the near-impossible feat of telling a truly Christian Christmas story that should appeal across generations and denominations -- and that starts with its ecumenical cast, director and producers..
Executive producer DeVon Franklin is a Seventh-Day Adventist; Heaton is a Catholic; the director, Timothy Reckart, is a Catholic; and many more cast members, such as Perry, Levi, Clarkson and Chenoweth, are non-Catholic Christians.
Fans of more secular Christmas films may still enjoy The Star, but it doesn’t shy away from the idea of the Nativity as the story of the birth of the Son of God.
Mary is portrayed as a kind, loving and faithful, but very human, young woman. There’s great sweetness in both her relationship with donkey Bo — and also with Joseph (the movie opted for the young-Joseph take on the story), who's trying to cope with an impossible situation.
During an interview, director Reckart told me:
What would be wonderful is for people to feel like they spent time with The Holy Family. That through the eyes of the donkey, Bo, or all the other animal characters, they’ve had a chance to actually be there in person as third-party witnesses to the birth of the Savior
Part of that is, we’ve really tried to humanize Mary and Joseph and show them and their struggles. In Joseph’s case, in particular, just the stress of a guy who wants the best for his wife and his foster son, but he has to confront the fact of his failure. Here they are having a baby in a barn surrounded by animals. This is not how he pictured it turning out, but that’s the guy had to learn to let go and let God take the wheel, and accept that not everything is in his control.
Just before the movie premiered, I did some video interviews with Reckart and the cast. Have a look:
And here's the trailer:
NOTE: Updated from a 2019 blog post.
Image: Sony Pictures Animation; AFFIRM Films
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.