Sony Pictures’ The Star opened in theaters nationwide on Nov. 17, creating a buzz among Christian and non-Christian moviegoers. For adults, the film fills in the gaps in the biblical account of the months preceding Jesus’ birth. It adds depth to characters that otherwise play only supporting roles in the Gospel narratives, mainly Joseph. For children, the movie is sure to entertain with fun animation, silly antics and a well-told story. Both young and old are sure to enjoy this imaginative take on the greatest story ever told.
While it has already faced criticism for its blend of playfulness and solemnity, The Star has found favor among members of the general public. Seventy-five percent of moviegoers who rated the film on Rotten Tomatoes approve of its idiosyncratic charm.
Indeed, it is the fresh perspective on this timeless story that makes it so charming. The Star reimagines the months leading up to the birth of Jesus and shows it to us through the eyes of some colorful animal characters. Unlike most nativity movies where Mary is front and center, Bo the donkey (voiced by Steven Yeun) is the star of the show. Along with his motley crew of friends, including Dave the dove (voiced by Keegan-Michael Key) and Ruth the sheep (voiced by Aidy Bryant), Bo manages to save the day by fending off a henchman sent by King Herod to kill the newborn that he believes threatens his throne.
Bo and his friend Dave have a lifelong dream of becoming members of the royal procession. Faced with a life of monotony grinding wheat in a mill, Bo yearns to achieve greatness by carrying a king. When he is given the opportunity to break free, he takes it and reluctantly ends up in the care of newlyweds Mary and Joseph.
Throughout the story there are elements of biblical themes. Not only do the producers weave in explicit references to the Bible through quoting Scripture verbatim, but they incorporate the Old Testament prophecies as well as the overarching themes of selflessness, grace, and the transformative power of love. Not love as in romantic love, but LOVE as in the love of God which is evident in the very person of Jesus and the story of His birth.
As Bo gets to know Mary, he is transformed from a selfish ass to a selfless donkey willing to endanger himself to protect Mary and the precious cargo she carries. Even the evil dogs who work with Herod’s henchman are touched by grace when Bo and his crew show them mercy and offer forgiveness if they will repent and turn from their wicked ways.
The film also highlights the miracle of grace, with numerous characters doubting their worthiness in participating in the greatest story ever told. Bo doubts his worth, worrying that he is only a miniature donkey who had never been anywhere or succeeded at anything. And yet, in an ironic twist of fate, he ends up carrying a king…just not the kind he originally had in mind. Joseph also doubts himself, voicing concerns to Mary about his worthiness to raise the Son of God since he is only a poor carpenter.
The choice of characters is no mistake. The unworthiness of certain characters in receiving grace or participating in the greatest story ever told points to the numerous times in the Bible where God uses unlikely or unworthy agents to carry out His plan for mankind. It also points to the miracle of Jesus’ birth. God sent His son to earth as a helpless infant to be raised as a commoner and one day die on the cross to save men from their sins. This was, perhaps, the most unlikely choice of them all…at least from our human perspective.
The high point of the film occurs after Mary has given birth, when all of the animals kneel in acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Son of God come to earth in human form – fully God and fully man. There is something profoundly moving at seeing characters – animal or human – kneel in reverence to the newborn King. Even as a 31-year old adult who grew up hearing this story every year, who has read it and heard it all before, this scene moved me to tears.
The Star will not be remembered for its jokes; they are only average, at best. It will not be remembered for its graphics — there is nothing to write home about in comparison to similar, higher-budget films. What it will be remembered for is its boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in a culture so vehemently opposed to Christianity in the public square.
I applaud both the actors and the producers for the bravery in making such a countercultural and controversial film. I would not be surprised if they are ridiculed by the Hollywood elite. However, I believe this is the type of movie that is desperately needed in our culture.
The Star makes the Gospel of Jesus Christ relatable, approachable, and easy to understand. Telling this controversial story through the eyes of animals and interjecting humor and playfulness into the narrative softens the blow, so to speak. It packages the Christmas story in a way that is capable of softening a hardened heart, perhaps just enough that they are willing to hear (if not accept the truth of) the story being told.
I give The Star a solid 5 stars for its creativity, humor, and integrity. It takes artistic license while remaining true to the most important parts of the story: the divinity of the baby Jesus and His identity as the Messiah whose coming was foretold in the prophecies.
Kudos to Sony and the rest of the production team for a job well done!