4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD copy; 2017; PG for some thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, iTunes (4K), YouTube and Vudu
Best extra: “Faith All Year Round,” a unique roundtable discussion with preacher/producer DeVon Franklin and a group of children
WHAT A charmer this turned out to be – for children and their adults.
Created for the faith-based Christian audience, “The Star” is an animated version of the Nativity told from the animals’ point of view. The concept left most movie goers and critics cold when it debuted in November 2017. Still, as of February 2018, it earned $62 million worldwide against a budget of $20 million. The film is now picking up new fans in its home theater presentation. Anyone who likes a good animated story can enjoy it.
Preacher-turned-producer DeVon Franklin of Franklin Entertainment (“Heaven is for Real,” 2014) gathered a horde of talent to bring personality to its human and animal “stars.” Steven Yeun, the late, lamented Glenn of “The Walking Dead,” is the voice of feisty miniature donkey, Bo who escapes his owner to become Mary’s pet and eventual transportation to Bethlehem, where she gives birth to Jesus. Yeun has a background in voice work through cartoon series such as “Trollhunters” and “Voltron.”
Then there’s Keegan-Michael Key as Dave the dove, Bo’s effervescent break-out buddy. Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias play a pair of Herod’s guard dogs, chasing Bo, Mary and Joseph to fulfill the ruthless king’s orders to kill the babies who threaten his rule. Yes, folks, this is the dark part of the story; as always, it’s disturbing, but it is not overplayed. Disney and DreamWorks have sequences just as scary.
Mary and Joseph are played by Gina Rodriguez and Zachary Levi; Christopher Plummer gives Herod a deep, resonant presence. Joel Osteen, Phil Morris and Fred Tatasciore voice the Magi, Caspar, Balthazar and Melchior. “Do you guys like frankincense? I never know what to get,” Caspar says. Co-staring animal voices include Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Patricia Heaton, Kris Kristofferson, Mariah Carey, Kristin Chenoweth, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, and Tracy Morgan. Most get a chance to talk about their involvement and character in “All Star Cast,” one of 11 bonus features from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Franklin and director Timothy Reckart provide production details in a commentary. Originally written for live action, Walden Media and The Jim Henson Company began the project in 2005. Humor is sharp, not rude. Events like the Annunciation, where an angel tells Mary she will give birth to God’s son, and Mary’s eventual explanation to Joseph – on their wedding day – is written for the youngest. The show belongs to the animals, their sense that something Big is about to happen because of the unusually bright star that has appeared in the sky, and their efforts to save Mary, Joseph and their baby from Herod.
There are no singing or dancing animals aside from Dave’s showboat performance to distract the dogs. Familiar carols and hymns – “O, Holy Night,” “Carol of the Bells,” “His Eye is on the Sparrow” – join a delightful main theme, “The Star,” written by Mariah Carey and Marc Shaiman, and performed by Carey. It can be found in the” Star-aoke Sing Along” extra. John Paesano (“Dragons: Riders of Berk”) composed the original score. The “Life is Good” dance along, lyric videos and “Animated Nativity” also showcase “Star’s” music.
Sony’s 1080p transfer (1.85:1 ratio) is a treasure of saturated color. Detail is not as complex as found in Pixar, Studio Ghibli or DreamWorks, but is consistently good and enjoyable. The palette lists toward warm jewel tones: gold, blue, emerald; red is generally de-saturated. The star and angel shine brilliantly. Vocals are delivered via an energetic and perfectly balanced DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack.
Additional extras include “Creating the World of Nine Months B.C.” in which Reckart and Franklin talk about how they perceived the settings. There were no photographs of the times, but they wanted to be sure it looked as it did when Jesus walked the Earth. “There have been decades and decades of movies on biblical subjects,” Reckart says. “A lot of them present the world of Jesus as a world that’s kind of dusty and old. That’s really because that’s how it looks now, those sites are now archaeological sites. We wanted to bring it into the present, because that’s what it was for the people who lived there.”
“Faith All Year Round” has preacher/producer DeVon Franklin talking with a group of children about how to keep the spirit of Christmas going throughout the year. It’s a sweet and inspiring feature encouraging children to follow their dreams and work through doubt, as well as the power of friendship, family, and faith.
End credits have illustrations of Jesus’ childhood and a quote from the creative team: “While having fun and taking some adventurous artistic license to tell this story, the filmmakers strived to remain true to the values and essence of the greatest story ever told.”
It's obvious a lot of thought, love and energy went into this production. No matter your faith – or lack thereof – there are good messages in “The Star” and lots of family friendly entertainment. Don’t miss it.
- Kay Reynolds