Sometimes your kids out-Christian you. It’s a complicated emotional moment, because on the one hand, you’re a great parent since your kid did the good Jesus-y thing! On the other hand, you didn’t.
So when my daughter eliminated all of my Santa-themed Christmas movie options and insisted on something about “the real reason for Christmas,” I had to scramble a bit.
I landed on The Star, a 2017 film about the Christmas story from the animals’ point of view. It looked like nativity-meets-Madagascar. It has a cast full of big to mid-sized names, such as Keegan Michael-Key, Zachary Levi, Tyler Perry, Tracy Morgan, both Kelly Clarkson AND Mariah Carey, and even Oprah. Weirdly, Joel Osteen makes an appearance voicing one of the wise men.
The story follows a donkey named Bo who dreams of doing something truly great. He ends up in the company of Mary and Joseph and has to choose between staying with this lowly couple or pursuing his dream of greatness. There’s a veritable heavenly host of funny animal companions, from a tiny jerboa to three camels from the East who can’t agree if they’re on their way to a baby shower or a birthday party.
It was delightful! The movie is playful with the story, but it’s overall faithful to both the plot points and the themes. Mary and Joseph clearly state that the baby will be the Messiah foretold by the prophets. The baby is also identified as the Son of God, though a comic relief character dismisses the statement. True biblical scholars will quibble with the timeline of the wise men and the age of Joseph. I liked the other-wordly representation of angels and that the characters’ skin tone is, well, Middle Eastern.
I was impressed by how the movie handled Joseph learning of Mary’s pregnancy. Parents and Sunday school teachers know that this can sometimes raise questions we’re not prepared to answer. The Star sidesteps questions of adultery and instead focuses on the significance of the coming baby. Joseph’s distress in the film is more about his overwhelm at the responsibility of raising the literal Messiah and King.
You won’t hear a clear gospel declaration in this movie, nor will you hear the words “sin” or “savior.” But, there is what I would call a gospel moment near the end of the film. It’s a slight spoiler so I’ll put in a paragraph break if you want to skip.
In this retelling, Herod sends a hunter with two evil dogs to find Mary and destroy the soon-to-be newborn king before he’s even born. In a final showdown, the good animals knock the hunter and his dogs over a cliff. Bo saves the dogs and pulls them to safety, releasing them from their chained collars. One of the dogs, Rufus, says, “We’re bad dogs.” Bo tells them, “You don’t have to be. You’re free now.” As the dogs approach the newborn Jesus, Rufus asks, “Are we good dogs now?” to which the other dog responds, “We have to try.”
Watching this scene in view of the whole of Scripture, we can see the full journey from repentance to justification to sanctification. They acknowledge their wrongful actions–and even that their sin sits at the root of their identity. As they approach the infant Savior, they are forgiven and reconciled to the other animals and, in response to the grace they’ve received, they want to be better.
It’s the story of Saul on the road to Damascus in miniature: They were trying to kill the baby Jesus, but now that they’ve seen him, they want to serve him. It’s the biblical image of the chains of sin being broken and the forgiven sinner being freed to a new life in Jesus.
You probably won’t watch The Star unless you’re watching it with children, so a quick content note: This is a remarkably clean movie. No bad language, no adult innuendos. There are some mild poop and butt jokes. The mean dogs were a little intense for my two-year-old, but he stuck it out.
We watch the original animated Grinch at least once each Christmas, and my husband just introduced our kids to the 1964 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I think our oldest girl will love White Christmas this year (the costumes! the dancing!). But if you’re looking for a fun family flick about the real reason for Christmas, you could do a lot worse than The Star.