The Star cannot possibly be as interesting as the pitch that preceded it:

“Hey, the birth of Christ is great and all, but you know what’s missing?”

“What’s that?”

“How about – a talking, praying donkey leading the way.”

Oh, Sony Pictures. Of all the pitch meetings in all the world, I wish I could’ve seen that one.

And in the end, in a twist worthy of Shyamalan — as the money-men sat, enraptured on Aerons, spiced lattes forgotten — behold, it was greenlit! Abandon belief, ye hordes. Whatever rational world you think you live in, you’re wrong. The world is this. It is only this.

And I’ll dial it back now, partly because that last bit was a shade too much but mostly because The Star is a pretty dialed-back movie.

The Star tells the story of Jesus Christ’s birth (loosely retold in the most gentle, Sunday-school way), as witnessed by a donkey named Bo (voiced by Stephen Yeun).

Bo dreams of something more than his life in a mill, and sets off on a grand adventure with Dave (a dove, Keegan-Michael Key), and Ruth (a sheep, Aidy Bryant), ultimately crossing paths with a trio of camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, and Oprah Winfrey) and other animals (Kelly Clarkson, Kristin Chenoweth, Patricia Heaton, and others) as they follow the titular star. We see King Herod (Christopher Plummer) dispatch a couple of mean Roman dogs (Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias) to chase them down and ferret out the prophesied King. Meanwhile, Mary (Gina Rodriguez) and Joseph (Zachary Levi) make their way to Bethlehem only to discover that the inns are full –- so they end up relegated to a particularly Paleo birthing suite (a barnyard manger). I apologize for the spoiler if you’re among the handful of people on earth not at least somewhat conversant with this narrative.

The Star boasts a surprisingly deep bench of voice talent. I first discussed this movie on Phil Hulett & Friends, during which Phil -– himself an accomplished voiceover artist -– raised an excellent point: With the crush of established names crowding the sound booth on movies like this, would-be voiceover artists might as well throw in the towel. Good luck breaking into the game when even a five-liner camel is voiced by flippin’ Oprah.

The voice acting is solid, but boundaries are not pushed. So it is with so much here. The animation is fine, the story is fine. The Star is fine.

Despite its zany premise (I don’t remember talking barnyard animals pulling strings and dropping hints in the Bible), The Star is a mostly unremarkable movie that plays very much by the rules, and offers some heartwarming moments amid thick, brimming ladles of faith. (Even the animals pray.)

Of course, Job One for a G-rated cartoon feature is to mollify the cooing yard-talls with bright colors and pratfalls. The Star does this. But the good films also manage to engage and amuse adult chaperones with clever, even subversive humor -– the type that flies right over your kid’s head (see, e.g., The Lego Batman Movie). The Star does not do this.

Director Timothy Reckart delivers a pleasant, middle-of-the-road picture, a decent and wholesome but predictable product that ruffles not a single feather. There’s no angle, no Easter egg, no reading between the lines –- no secret catnip here to perk up dozing dads. Junior will cackle at some slapstick before being eased into appropriate hushed reverence for the birth event, and adults must content themselves with the very same material.

The scriptural nativity is not without its share of conflict and desperation –- and if either had made its way into this film, The Star might have filled out into something special. But Sony chose a safer road: There’s never any question that a great and joyous moment is nigh, and before long it seems every character is in on the secret. Ultimately, they, like the target audience, are content to sit back, serene and unchallenged, and let unfold what must.

Haus Verdict: A pleasant, unambitious nativity tale with milquetoast talking animals.  

The Star opened Friday November 17.

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