When presented with the prospect of an animated version of the Nativity, in this day and age, the first thing that comes to my mind is: "What are they going to do with the story?!" Will they water down, disrespect or even ignore the birth of the Christ Child? Or will there be a well intentioned but ignorant slant or politically correct agenda?
I am delighted to say that Affirm Films (in conjunction with the Jim Henson Company and others) have produced a movie that is not only suitable for all ages, not only appropriate for the Christmas season, but one that is faithful to the Biblical story of the Nativity and resonates with the familiar features of many of the best children’s animated features.
Dating all the way back to Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who wanted to be a boy, main characters of feature length cartoon movies have centered about main characters who wanted to be more or different from the life which first appears to be their lot. Simba dreamed of being a king before he was ready. Nemo craved to be adventurous despite his shriveled fin. Turbo the snail wanted to be fast. The street urchin Aladdin wished to be a Prince.
And Bo, a miniature donkey and the lead character in The Star, dreams of becoming a member of Herod’s royal procession, despite his obvious unsuitability. Injured in his escape from the mill house where he works he seeks refuge in the home of newly married Mary and Joseph who take him in like a stray puppy, unaware that he is a runaway. When they are called to Bethlehem to participate in the census Bo refuses to let Joseph harness him to their humble wagon and after an amusing tussle is left behind. The fact Bo does not want to go with the Holy Family because he seeks to become a member of a "royal" procession is an irony not missed by the audience and is one of the elements of the intelligent and bittersweet humor which permeates this faithful and cleverly written adaptation of the Nativity story.
Lots of familiar and soon to be familiar actors do a delightful job in bringing to life the animated characters. Kris Kristofferson, is a wise old donkey who works with Bo in the mill and provides Bo with sage advice. Christopher Plummer voices the evil King Herod who seeks to do harm to the Holy Family. Keegan-Michael Key of the Youtube short famous comedy team Key and Peele brings to life the comically scheming bird Dave, Bo’s best friend. Zachary Levi, who voiced Flynn the male lead from Tangled is an endearingly human Joseph. The award winning Gina Rodriguez beautifully and sincerely gives voice to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ophray Winfrey plays Deborah one of the Wise Men’s camels. And Steven Yuen, the Korean born, self described Christian raised actor does a great job bringing Bo to humorous life.
While strict adherence is kept to the main story, it is embellished with a relatively sanitized interpretation of the martyred infants killed by Herod. Because of a well meaning but blabber mouthed mouse who was an unknown witness to the Annunciation and Gabriel’s message to Mary from God, Herod zeroes in on the Holy Family and sends a mercenary after them. This interrupts Bo’s plans and sets Bo on the adventure to catch up with and save the kindly couple who took him in. Unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, in an almost Road Runner/Coyote fashion, Bo and his friends repeatedly intercede between this mercenary and the Holy Family. Although objectively a serious scenario, the presentation of the "rescues" in serendipitous Rube Goldberg machinations (such as a Domino effect of disasters at a bazaar end up with the assassin ending up in a well), and occasionally preposterous Road Runner/Coyote style evasions keep this lethal cat and mouse game from becoming too suspenseful for even smaller children.
The result is an accurate retelling of the Nativity which is both Biblical and funny, appropriate for everyone from even the youngest children but clever enough to keep the adults entertained without detracting from the respect and devotion which this story demands.