In Sony Pictures Animation’s THE STAR (opening in theaters November 17, 2017), a small but brave donkey and his animal friends become the unsung heroes of the greatest story ever told, the first Christmas. Unsung heroes. Come to think of it, perhaps there are more unsung heroes than these animal friends.
We talked to one of those heroes–THE STAR’s director Timothy Reckart, about the challenges of making an animated movie based on the Bible, how the movie impacted his faith journey, and the encouragement he would give to church leaders about filmmaking.
Keeping It Real and True
Reckart emphasizes that while an animated story can take liberties, the team worked hard to ensure that the movie was faithful to the actual Christmas story. “We do want to be faithful to the Christmas story so every piece that covers the Christmas story was our priority to make sure that we were faithful to what’s in the Bible,” says Reckart. “Where we saw our opportunity to have creative license was in the fact that there is actually a lot of space, so to speak, between the lines of the biblical story. We get the annunciation, the angel and Mary, Joseph’s reluctance when he first hears the news, and conversations between the wise men and Herod. But there’s a lot of space in between those.”
Because THE STAR used animated animals to move the story forward, it was an opportunity for creativity. “The fact that we are telling the story from the point of view of the animals means that we can basically use them as like these viewpoint characters where we can be as creative as we want without risking sort of contradicting anything that is in the Bible,” explains Reckart.
Reckart and his team, including executive producer Devon Franklin, have done a good job of packaging the truth of the Christmas story in a way that appeals to kids and parents. At the same time, they’ve held to the biblical story’s truth. “So doing that point of view thing actually lets us be completely faithful to the story while also giving us room to sort of have fun and do some comedy,” explains Reckart. “So it means we can have comedy without making Mary and Joseph into comedy characters.”
THE STAR’s Impact on Faith
Because church leaders are interested in how the Christmas story impacts people’s faith journeys, we asked Reckart if there were ways that THE STAR impacted his faith journey. Just as God speaks on many levels, it seems that He spoke to Reckart in a very personal way since the movie is coming out at a time when there’s a lot of conversation in Christian circles about a Christian’s relationship to the environment and natural world.
“I suppose thinking about the story of Christmas from the point of view of the animals really brought home to me the fact that not only the God that created human beings came to earth as a human, but the God that created donkeys and cows and chickens and horses came to earth as a human being and their creator touched them with human hands,” says Reckart. “And that really brought home to me the fact that the stewardship of humanity toward nature that we read about in Genesis in some ways was even upgraded when God actually touched nature physically with human hands.”