PLOT The story of the first Christmas, seen through the eyes of a donkey who was there.
CAST Voices of Steven Yeun, Keegan-Michael Key, Oprah Winfrey
RATED PG (mild scares)
BOTTOM LINE Wholesome if slightly bland entertainment for families.
A brave little donkey and a wisecracking dove are the heroes of “The Star,” a Sony Pictures Animation version of the story of Jesus’ birth. It’s an attempt to give an ancient tale a bit of modern style — less children’s Bible, more “Kung-Fu Panda.” It ends up being a combination of the two, with moments of cheeky comedy but also several reverent speeches and a rather humorless Angel Gabriel. That said, for unobjectionable, kid-friendly entertainment, “The Star” fits the bill.
“The Star” begins with scenes of a Middle East village and a wry dateline: “Nazareth, Nine Months BC” We’re quickly introduced to a couple of familiar figures, a mill donkey named Boaz (Steven Yeun) who feels he was meant for bigger things, and his dream-crushing father-figure (Kris Kristofferson). When Bo escapes his daily grind, he believes he will someday be the mount for a famous king. He will, of course — just not one with a crown.
This is all a serviceable setup, with comic relief from Bo’s friend, Dave the dove (Keegan-Michael Key), and a trio of quirky camels ridden by the three wise men. (Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Tracy Morgan are the major stars who play the fairly minor camels). The impressive and diverse voice cast also includes Ving Rhames, Kristen Chenowith, Gabriel Iglesias and Christopher Plummer (as the evil King Herod).
The movie loses its sense of whimsy whenever it turns to Joseph (Zachary Levi) and Mary (Gina Rodriguez, ironically the star of The CW’s “Jane the Virgin”). This part of the story is not to be messed with; it is literally gospel. That’s understandable, but surely director Timothy Reckart and writer Carlos Kotkin could have made these passages feel less breathless and wide-eyed.
“The Star” doesn’t proselytize as intensely as it might, given its storyline, but if you’re worried about such things this is definitely not your movie. All told, “The Star” should be a safe bet for families during the upcoming holiday season.