Simon Carver reviews a new animated version of the Nativity story
The Star re-tells the classic Christmas story. But with a key difference - the events seen through the eyes of some of the animals involved.
The characters are voiced by famous actors including Kelly Clarkson, Oprah Winfrey and Kris Kristofferson. The American megachurch pastor, Joel Osteen lends his voice to one of the wise men. The soundtrack includes songs from American Country artists, pop star Mariah Carey, gospel superstar Kirk Franklin and worship band Casting Crowns.
Mary and Joseph are portrayed as an all-American young couple, but it's the animals who get the best lines. For example, when the angel tells Mary she will bear God’s son, a mouse breathes a major sigh of relief, realising it's Mary and not she who is going to get pregnant. There's also echos of The Life of Brian and "Blessed are the cheese-makers" when the camels mishear the wise men talking about 'The King of the Shoes'.
Unsurprisingly, the film doesn’t complicate the story by separating out the visits of the shepherds and the wise men. Nor should we expect anything other than three wise men and that they are given the names that are part of Christian tradition, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. One of them asks Mary and Joseph, "Do you like frankincense? I never know what to bring." But kudos for choosing not to have an inn-keeper – included in most children’s nativities, but absent in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.
One of the story’s crucial points is that while we can understand what the animals are saying, Mary and Joseph can’t. This leads to Bo, the donkey, and Ruth a sheep, having to play charades to warn Mary and Joseph of impending danger.
"What impending danger?" I hear you ask. Well, Herod has sent one of his heavies armed with a long sword and two nasty dogs to kill Mary and Joseph before their son and the King of Jews could be born. Herod, malevolently voiced by Christopher Plummer, hasn’t waited to be outwitted by the wise men’s decision not to report back. Instead he has sent a henchman who wouldn’t look out of place in Game of Thrones to do in the holy couple.
Whether you consider this a worrying deviation from the biblical account or an interesting new spin on an old story is a moot point. The Nativity story that we read both in Luke and Matthew are spare when it comes to detail. To make an 86 minute film out of their few words requires some imaginative extra narrative. If we criticise The Star for this, do we also avoid T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi? My feeling is that it is better that children have some exposure to the Christmas story even if it’s not quite accurate, than that they get nothing at all.
Simon Carver is senior minister at Dagnall Street Baptist Church, St Albans and reviews films for Premier Christian Radio’s Inspirational Breakfast show
The Star is in UK cinemas now