Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of Christmas: the dramatic birth of Jesus, tucked away in a barn with Mary and Joseph, the three kings with their frankincense and myrrh. But what if we saw that from another perspective? Like, say, the little donkey curled up by the manger?
The animated feature “The Star” takes the Bible story and subsumes it into the kind of fast-talking, cute animal entertainment that is catnip for kids. It’s an ancient tale with a modern sensibility thanks to the posse of wise-cracking furry friends who help Mary and Joseph make their way to Bethlehem.
The hero is Bo the donkey (Steven Yeun), who dreams of a better life than milling grain in a dark barn. He escapes to join the Royal Caravan with his best friend, Dave the dove (Keegan-Michael Key), and soon stumbles into the yard of Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi).
Meanwhile, three magi have told King Herod (Christopher Plummer) about the impending arrival of a new king, and Herod dispatches his evil henchman and bloodthirsty dogs to kill the babe.
This is the kind of film that wants to reach out to kids and make this not just palatable, but a fun and entertaining way to learn the Bible story. The cutesy animal characters, contemporary dialogue, silly humor and relentless action make this look and feel like every other animated movie kids have seen this year.
Ultimately, “The Star” is a rather manic film, relentless with endless chase scenes that inject suspense into this tale. The simple story wouldn’t be enough to sustain interest without the narrative padding of Bo’s dreams of a better life and ferocious dogs hunting Mary through the desert.
The animation style is basic but bold and colorful, and a host of stars provide the voices. Perhaps the most memorable is Tracy Morgan as one of the kings’ sassy camels.
“The Star” feels like a bit of an educational film rather than pure entertainment, bringing the ancient origins of Christmas to young audiences, but tailored to their needs and wants. It’s a serviceable animated movie appropriate for the season.
Rated PG for some frightening images and mature thematic material.