The Star and all the images you see in this review are owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment
Directed by Timothy Reckart
Man, Coco was such a good movie. Too good in fact! I need to find a way to bring myself down to Earth again if I want to be fair to any other movie coming out this year. Wait, is that what I think it is!? A POORLY ANIMATED RELIGIOUS FILM… WITH TYLER PERRY!? JACKPOT!! It seems that movie going audiences had the good sense to ignore this film to go see Coco instead which seems like an INCREDIBLY obvious move given how uninspired the trailers look, but let it never be said that I am not a fair critic and will try to give everything at least a CHANCE to try and impress me! Okay, I know better than to hope much from ANY religious film not made by Darren Aronofsky (and even THAT is a bit of a crapshoot), but compared to some of the OTHER films in that category, there’s no way it could be THAT bad… right? Let’s find out!!
The movie follows the misadventures of one Bo the Donkey (Steven Yeun) who remained aimless and nameless for most of his life working in a mill and only getting brief glimpses of the outside world. His one dream though is to be part of the Royal Procession which… I guess is like a super lame parade or something? Anyway, he’s given a chance to escape with his wise cracking friend Dave the Dove (Keegan-Michael Key) and he winds up hiding out with a newly married couple; one of whom seems to have gotten to the whole pregnancy thing a little early. Yes, this hapless donkey winds up in the possession of Mary and Joseph (Gina Rodriguez and Zachary Levi) with the former giving him the name Bo and the latter being a total throwback to goofy nineties sitcom guys; as if the entire male cast of Friends was fused together into one not especially charming homunculus. While this is going on, a trio of camels (Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Tracy Morgan) are carrying the Wise Men across the desert in search of the new king who’s due in just a few months and end up running into King Herod (Christopher Plummer) who doesn’t take too kindly to there being another king out there and sends his scariest brick shit house of a guard with two mix-matched attack dogs (Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias) to go hunt down the happy couple and murder them to bloody chunky bits. Bo the Donkey gets wind of this and decides to help these two out before running off to join the Royal Procession and even meet a friendly sheep along the way named Ruth (Aidy Bryant) who left her flock to follow the titular star to… whatever’s at the end of it (spoiler alert: it’s Jesus). Will Bo the Donkey keep these two safe and deliver the savior unto us so that we all may be saved from the burning fires of Hell? Will King Herod realize that sending only ONE dude to stop the only person who could challenge his throne was a really half assed approach to this problem? Can animals be saved and accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior? I’m just curious what’s gonna happen to Bo once he dies considering how much he busted his ass (nyuk-nyuk-nyuk) to help Jesus out in the first place!
I’m not gonna be THAT hard on this movie considering it really doesn’t do anything offensive, but BOY is it a shoddy and mediocre slog to get through that had WAY too many resources to work with yet still not enough to make this a film worth projecting on the big screen! This is like when Good Times tried to make the leap to feature film and the only reason this isn’t THAT big of a financial flop is because they put Jesus in the freaking movie. There is literally no other reason that this wasn’t released straight to DVD with a much more obscure cast than the fact that this is trying to ride the wave of religious films in the wake of Gods Not Dead, Heaven is For Real, and Kirk Cameron Fucks Up Christmas; yet I still can’t get too mad at it because… well it’s just not offensive! I’m so used to these films being monstrously close minded and vicious towards anyone they consider different which is something that this movie (barring MAYBE one or two moments) doesn’t indulge in, which I guess is a… good thing? I’m still loath to say many positive things about this movie because it falls under a DIFFERENT kind of cinematic pet peeve for me (the unambitious and half assed kids film), but it at least passes the bare minimum of common decency which is lost on SO many religious films released nowadays.
Despite its Unique Selling Point of being the first Nativity film to get a wide release in quite some time (I think the movie from 2006 was the last one), it’s SO much more of a crappy talking animal movie in the vein of Madagascar, Open Season, and Alpha and Omega; some better than others, but mostly farmed out by mid to low tier studios to earn a quick buck during slow weeks at the box office. Not a great starting point for any animated feature and the lack of creativity shows through every scene in this movie. The art style is bland and the animation is without personality, so everything has the appearance of an upscale car commercial or a low rent Nickelodeon television spin off of a much better movie. It’s a film that would have looked out of date a decade ago; much less now when many animation studios are either pumping LOADS of money into their films or are getting VERY creative with how the way they animate it. I’ll give it credit that it looks A BIT better than say… Ratatoing or that awful French Puss in Boots movie, but even compared to what was until NOW the worst looking animated film of the year Rock Dog, there’s just such a lack of passion or heart to ANY of the animations or character designs that it never grabs your attention or makes you believe even for a second in the world the movie is taking place in.
Now there are movies that have managed to be good despite AWFUL animation (*cough* Hoodwinked *cough*) by compensating with sharp writing and funny jokes. Is this the case here? OF COURSE NOT! Heck, the writing is actually WORSE than the animation. At least the animation is FINISHED and it doesn’t have any GLARING FLAWS despite being completely unambitious and boring. It feels like they didn’t even WANT to make a movie about talking animals considering how little they film bothers to develop their arcs and payoff earlier set ups, which honestly might have been the case because NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN MAKING SURE WE ALL TALK ABOUT JESUS!! Even with movies that AREN’T actively hateful, I still can’t stand most religious films for this very reason. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is more important than to prostatitis, so ALL the film’s efforts (despite ostensibly being ABOUT the animals) is to the story of the nativity. We get scenes with King Herod even though he never does anything of significance and doesn’t have any sort of comeuppance by the end. We get constant back and forth sitcom moments with Mary and Joseph as they travel to Bethlehem despite being supporting characters at best. Bo the Donkey has a I WANT SOMETHING MORE storyline, but it never gets explained WHY he’s after said goal (being part of a royal procession) or what part of his life he’s hoping to approve by being a part of it. The movie can’t even be bothered to go all the way to the logical endpoint of that storyline by having him ACTUALLY GET TO BE A PART OF THE PROCESSION and just jumps to the IT’S NOT WHAT I REALLY WANT conclusion before we even get there! Why couldn’t they spend four extra minutes having him get what he wants and realizing its not all it’s cracked up to be!? That would have AT LEAST given his arc a sense of closure instead of him just deciding midway through the movie to give up on his dream! Oh, that’s right! They needed to throw in ONE more montage set to crappy religious music (good GOD the music in this film is terrible) so the character development gets chopped out and left on the cutting room floor.
So is there ANYTHING to like about this movie? Not really as the bad elements are never QUITE at a level of SO BAD IT’S GOOD, but there are a few moments in here, particularly with the integration of religion into a rather straightforward talking animal movie, that give this film at least SOMETHING uniquely terrible about it. There’s a scene where the donkey prays. Did you ever expect to see THAT in a movie? Well you can see it here! I’m pretty sure a sheep summons an angel at one point in order to convince her flock to follow her which is… odd, as is the idea of animals being followers of Christ in the first place. Seriously, the final scene in this movie is pretty much the ending to The Lion King only it makes LESS sense because at least Simba was King of the Animals (being a lion and all). It’s just… WEIRD at times which I guess could be considered a positive in some sense, but it’s certainly not enough to keep this from being a total slog to get through.
The fact that this got into a theater at all is the greatest miracle to be found here, though even with that I still wouldn’t recommend going to see this. Even when it hits home release, it honestly wouldn’t be worth seeking out unless you find it in a dollar bin because there’s not enough here for anyone who isn’t looking for something SIMPLY BECAUSE it’s religious. Animation buffs can find so many better films even in the realm of Straight to DVD features, and even the ones who are morbidly curious about the recent spate of half assed Christian films won’t have a whole lot to chew on as everything about this is incredibly straightforward and mediocre. To quote God in something MUCH better, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”, which I whole heartedly agree with! The best thing this movie can do is come and go with as few people noticing it as possible!