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The Star

At the end of director Timothy Reckart's computer-animated road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a title card materialises bearing a solemn apology to anyone offended by the artistic licence or sense of fun of this reimagining of the Nativity. The filmmakers, we're earnestly informed, strived in every digitally-crafted frame to adhere to the "spirit and values of the greatest story ever told". It's hard to imagine many people taking umbrage at this family-friendly dramatisation of the birth of Jesus, glimpsed through the eyes of talking four-legged and feathered critters, who will eventually congregate around the holy manger. Admittedly, very young children might be scared by a sword-wielding henchman and his snarling dogs, who are dispatched to slaughter pregnant Mary before she can give birth. However, in almost every respect, Carlos Kotkin's faith-heavy script is piously and politically correct to a fault, lightening a reverential mood with groansome gags that wouldn't be out of place as Christmas cracker mottos. Competently executed set pieces, including a frantic marketplace chase, are accompanied by an uplifting soundtrack of festive cheer that begins with a cappella group Pentatonix harmonising perfectly on Carol Of The Bells and reaches a crescendo with Mariah Carey's full-volume trill of the title track. Nine months, BC, and an angel visits Mary (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) to inform her that she has been chosen to bear the Messiah. A few months later, Mary shares the miraculous news with her incredulous husband, Joseph (Zachary Levi). Subsequently, they embark on the long and arduous journey to Bethlehem to register for a census. The couple are blissfully unaware that King Herod (Christopher Plummer) has dispatched a hulking underling and bloodthirsty dogs Thaddeus (Ving Rhames) and Rufus (Gabriel Iglesias) to track down the unborn. "This new king is a problem," Herod snarls. "Get rid of the problem!" When Bo (Steven Yeun), the miller's donkey, and wisecracking dove buddy Dave (Keegan-Michael Key) learn of Herod's nefarious plan, they try in vain to warn Mary and Joseph. Bo and Dave join the ramshackle caravan, guided by the light of a new star. En route, a kind sheep called Ruth (Aidy Bryant) befriends the travellers. Meanwhile, three wise men head towards Bethlehem aboard trusty camels Cyrus (Tyler Perry), Deborah (Oprah Winfrey) and Felix (Tracy Morgan) - carrying gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The Star is geared towards Christian congregations, but audiences of all faiths will be able to engage with a menagerie of cute protagonists, who play instrumental roles in the birth. Key comes closest to a scene-stealing vocal performance, but he is repeatedly reined in - with that end credits apology clearly in mind. The script preaches thanksgiving, peace and good will to all (wo)men. Those sentiments, if not the quality of the filmmaking, merit a hearty hallelujah.