Stephen Yeun, from The Walking Dead TV series, is the voice of Boas the donkey in The Star. His best friend, Dave the Dove, is played by Keegan-Michael Key. Photo courtesy Sony Pictures Animation

Nativity story takes a look at the wild side

By 
  • November 16, 2017
The story of Christmas has long been a classic. 

Seeing the nativity story from the animals’ point of view … well, that’s another story altogether, though the director of animated film The Star has hopes for it becoming a classic, too. 


The story follows a donkey named Boas who accompanies Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem. Boas, or “Bo” as Mary affectionately calls him in the movie, and his animal friends embark on a journey to follow a bright star in the night sky and witness the greatest story ever told. 

The film, in theatres Nov. 17, is American animator Timothy Reckart’s directorial debut for a feature film. He is best known for his stop motion film Head Over Heels, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film in 2013. 

Reckart said The Star is not just about exploring a new take on the beloved nativity story. It’s also a story about vocation. 

“Bo the donkey feels he is called to do something great which I think is really in everyone’s heart, that feeling of something that’s bigger than myself,” he told The Catholic Register. “I’m hoping that people come away with the idea that the great thing that God is calling you to do might be at the place you’re already at.”

Reckart said making the film has prompted him to look at his own Catholic faith. When he became a part of the film, he said looking for a fresh take on the nativity story was an interesting balancing act. 

It was important to remain faithful to the Scriptures, said Reckart, but telling the story through the animals’ perspectives also gave the film creative freedom. 

“We can have complete creative freedom to make it as funny and as adventuresome and sort of suspenseful as we want because we’re making an animated family movie,” said Reckart. 

The film features a star-studded cast of voices. Stephen Yeun, from The Walking Dead, plays the starring role as Bo the Donkey. Keegan-Michael Key plays Bo’s best friend, Dave the Dove, and SNL cast member Aidy Bryant rounds out the trio as Ruth the Sheep. 

The supporting cast includes Gina Rodriguez as Mary and Zachary Levi as Joseph. Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer plays King Herod. Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey and Tracy Morgan play the camels of the three wise men.

Reckart said he was surprised by the immediate response he got from the cast members when they were approached about the film.

“When we contacted all of these people, we didn’t know what they’d say and they all said yes because they were really in to the idea of being a part of a movie they can share with their family,” he said. “That was a surprise but in retrospect, it shouldn’t have been because ... the true story of Christmas has a really broad appeal.”

As in the biblical story, a dark cloud looms over Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem in the form of King Herod. In the film, Herod sends one of his guards and a pair of guard dogs, Thaddeus and Rufus, to seek out the baby King. 

Bo and his friends, Dave the Dove and Ruth the Sheep, have made it their mission to protect the young couple as they make their way closer to the mysterious star. 

The movie portrays an interesting relationship animals have with God. Reckart said that in early development of the film, he reflected a lot on the animals’ relationships to God and to human beings. He referred to C.S. Lewis, known for creating a world of talking animals through his Narnia novels. He recalled Lewis’ observations that the more his dog was in his presence, the more human he seemed to be. In the same way, Lewis explained, the more we spend in the divine presence of God, the more divine it makes us. 

“Human beings are in some way the bridge between the animals and God. I guess I let that be the main inspiration to how the animals relate to God in the film,” said Reckart. 

More than anything, he added, the animals in the film relate to the bright star which is a manifestation in the natural world of the presence of God. 

“There is a scene in the movie where Bo the donkey prays,” said Reckart. “And in that scene, it’s really charming where he mentions how he doesn’t really know how this prayer thing works but he’s seen Mary do it many times, so he’s going to make an attempt. Whatever Bo the donkey knows about praying, he learned from Mary, his human master ... from whom we can all learn to pray.”

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