Two of my favorite Bible movies are animated films that came out within a couple of years of each other nearly two decades ago.
One is the brilliant 2000 stop-motion Jesus movie The Miracle Maker, co-created by U.K. and Russian animators who also collaborated on a series of Old Testament shorts (Testament: The Bible in Animation). The other is DreamWorks’ terrific hand-drawn musical-comedy-adventure Moses movie, The Prince of Egypt.
I would love to expand this brief list by adding the computer-animated The Star, from Sony’s faith-based Affirm Films imprint. For one thing, families looking to supplement secular seasonal viewing like Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and for all I know Die Hard (who am I to judge?) with something having to do with the birth of Jesus have limited options.
For another, one doesn’t see many Bible movies nowadays with a cast that includes the likes of Christopher Plummer, Oprah Winfrey, Kris Kristofferson, Patricia Heaton, Ving Rhames and Mariah Carey.
Attentive kids may notice that St. Joseph (Zachary Levi) sounds just like Flynn Rider from Tangled. Some parents might recognize the Virgin Mary’s voice (Gina Rodriguez) as the title character in the CW’s Jane the Virgin. The protagonist, Bo the donkey, is voiced by Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead. Bo’s best friend, Dave the pigeon, is voiced by Keegan-Michael Key, who starred in Comedy Central’s Key & Peele.
Finally, director and animator Timothy Reckart is a talented filmmaker as well as a devout Catholic. Ever since I saw his Oscar-nominated 2012 short Head Over Heels in theaters, I’ve wondered what he might do with a feature film.
I expect The Star, which retells the story of the birth of Jesus as a talking-animal comedy about a miniature donkey who wants to be a part of something big and important, will wind up in annual holiday viewing in many households. It’s a little like The Nativity Story meets The Secret Life of Pets, which probably sounds like a winning formula to some people.
If you think The Secret Life of Pets is as mediocre as I think it is, you may be less charmed. Both films are full of haphazard plotting and lame gags. Oh, and both include mean characters who are redeemed by narrative fiat, with no emotional arc or narrative reckoning, a kind of cheap grace.
Timothy Reckart is the talented creator of one of the most original and memorable animated shorts in recent years, the 2012 Oscar-nominated stop-motion gem “Head Over Heels.” He is also a devout Catholic working in Hollywood.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.