Movie Review: “The Star” Struggles to Find Laughs in the Nativity Story

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“The Star” is a tepid comic re-telling of the Nativity Story as seen through the eyes of the talking, joking, saving-the-day animals who accompany Mary and Joseph, and the Three Magi, to Bethlehem.

The animation is stunning as befits the current state of the CG animation art. But the jokes — and yes, it’s supposed to be a comedy — flail and fail at every turn. There’s barely a laugh in it, and take away Tracy Morgan (voicing a numbskull camel transporting a wise man), even that’s gone.

You can sense, on screen, the tension between Sony Affirm, the faith-based studio offshoot distributing this Birth of Jesus holiday story, and Sony Pictures Animation, which KNOWS how to create funny characters, deliver a sight-gag and give a funny voice actor something funny to say.

Maybe the folks at Affirm smothered the comic life out of it. Maybe they got handed the movie when Sony Animation realized “This isn’t funny.”

Either way, as we follow Mary, from the moment the Almighty (a column of light) tells Mary (Gina Rodriguez) she’s going to raise the Son of God — “Thank you! Do I say thank you?” — through the perilous journey from Nazareth to the town with “no room at the inn,” pursued by Herod’s minion and his dogs, “The Star” begs the grownups in the audience to play a game of “Pin a Name on the Voice Actor.”

As in, “That’s Kris Kristofferson (as ‘The Old Donkey”). There’s Ving Rhames (as a vicious tracking dog). And who’s that impersonating Cheech Marin? Gabriel Iglesias! Do your OWN funny voice, Fluffy. No stealing! Christopher Plummer! (Herod). Kristin Chenoweth (as a mouse-like pygmy jerboa, who overhears God’s plan).

Steven Yeun voices “Boaz,” the little donkey who escapes a life of millstone slavery to live with the newlyweds, Mary and Joseph (Zachary Levi), plotting his escape with doltish dove Dave (Keegan-Michael Key, funny-ish) until he realizes Mary’s in danger.

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Meanwhile, Herod’s gotten wind of the “newborn king” about to become a threat and sent his dogs looking for him. The camels (Oprah, Tyler Perry and Tracy Morgan) carrying the wise men? They’re taking bets on where they’re headed.

“Birthday party!”

“Maybe a baby shower!”

“What’s a baby going to do with Frankinsense? BIRTHday party!”

Maybe they’re both right. But only very young children will find anything funnier and more entertaining in “The Star” than that.

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MPAA Rating:PG for some thematic elements

Cast: The voices of Steven Yeun, Keegan-Michael Key, Gina Rodriguez, Tracy Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Zachary Levi, Ving Rhames, Mariah Carey, Christopher Plummer, Kristin Chenoweth, Kris Kristofferson, Gabriel Iglesias

Credits:Directed by, script by . A Sony Animation/Sony Affirm release.

Running time: 1:26

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