Friday 24 November 2017

"The Star" (Guardian 24/11/17)

The Star **
Dir: Timothy Reckart. Animation with the voices of: Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key. 86 mins. Cert: U

Some films are fated to be no more than the sum of their production companies. This seasonal digimation is almost exactly what you might imagine from a collaboration between Sony’s evangelical offshoot Affirm Films and Narnia deliverers Walden Media: it takes an idea with the potential for irreverent fun – retelling the Nativity from the animals’ perspective – then plays everything straighter than the average Sunday-school sermon. Little donkey Boaz’s quest to escape his yoke and serve some higher purpose meets the religious brief; accompanying him through the usual series of helter-skelter setpieces, the rotely wisecracking Dave the dove swiftly puts paid to hopes of divine inspiration, while kooky sheep Abby hews so close to Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory in personality that, even from this distance, you can hear the Pixar lawyers’ phones vibrating.

Any wit disappears with the opening intertitle (“Nazareth, 9 Months B.C.”); thereafter, we’re being preached at, an approach that cues sappy John Lewis-ad assaults on carols, and a Joseph and Mary who sound like runaways from Melrose Place. Joe’s response to the Immaculate Conception – “this is a lot for me to take in right now” – begs a “tell me about it” from the missus that never materialises; here, as elsewhere, “the greatest story ever told” (to quote the end-credits disclaimer) is taken entirely at face value. The bland visuals are, in their own way, a perfect fit for the piety of the storytelling: by design, intelligent or otherwise, there’s simply nothing here to frighten the horses – or, indeed, threaten Paddington’s box-office ascendancy. Some future shelf life in seminaries seems likely, but as festive treats for kids go, it’s like asking for a selection box and being forcefed communion wafers instead. 

The Star opens in cinemas nationwide today.

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