Because The Bible needs more butt jokes. No, seriously. The makers of this new holiday movie have taken a page out of the Rankin-Bass book of epic storytelling by retrofitting one of the greatest religious narratives–the birth of Jesus–and adding as many anthropomorphic talking animals as possible. But The Star is no Little Drummer Boy. Heck, it’s barely a Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey. Instead, it’s an uneven mix of blessing and blasphemy that may do more to turn people away from their faith than instilling a true sense of devotion.
Our cast of characters come straight out of the Nativity–sort of. We meet Mary (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) as she is sharing a crumb of bread with a mouse (Kristin Chenoweth) before discovering that she is soon to give birth to the King of Kings, the Messiah himself. In the meantime, a Donkey named Bo (Steven Yeun) is busy turning the grist mill while his best buddy Dave the dove (Keegan-Michael Key) hangs out and cracks wise. When King Herod (Christopher Plummer) is told by the Magi of the coming of the Christ, he makes his infamous proclamation threatening the unborn baby’s life. So Mary and Joseph (Zachary Levi) grab this lovable bit of livestock and head to Bethlehem, and a date with destiny.
Featuring an all-star cast including Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan, Kelly Clarkson, and many others, The Star has its heart in the right place. But does an underage version of the famed virgin birth require an equal measure of potty humor? Even Life of Brian treated the actual event with reverence and reserved the fart jokes for the more satiric shots at belief. But The Star knows what sells tickets in 2017, and it’s not humility.
Instead, the movie peppers its pop culture references with the kind of stunt voice work companies like Pixar avoid. We don’t get characters so much as pure cartoons, types we instantly recognize from decades devoted to Saturday morning and the Looney Tunes. It’s an odd juxtaposition, one fueled by a desire to introduce a new generation to the Good Book while sticking to the formulas that turn Minions into billion dollar babies.
You have to hand to the Veggie Tales. They manage to make both approaches work. But in the case of The Star, the preaching and the punchlines don’t gel. Instead, they play against each other in a way that might seem insulting to those looking for more holy than hackneyed quips. Most viewers won’t care. They’ll get caught up in the narrative and giggle along as the animals act goofy. But is this really the best way to introduce spirituality to a younger generation? We’ve been doing it since before Disney and it hasn’t helped much.
Had it been too serious, we’d be complaining and the box office would be abysmal (only Mel Gibson understands how to sell God with an ample amount of gore). But because The Star wants to be silly as well as sacred, it manages neither. Well, it is dumb and dopey, so you have to give it that. But what director Timothy Reckart and writer Carlos Kotkin fail to realize is that The Star would be better if it dropped the riffs and stuck to the religion. Rankin-Bass got it. For all its kid vid ridiculousness, their Bible thumpers never stooped to poop.
Granted, there is always room for a new interpretation of an old favorite. On the other hand, something as slight as The Star begs the question “Why?” Sadly, the sins of this movie may never be forgiven.