Recently, I traveled to Los Angeles to cover The Star Movie Press Junket. With such talent as Zachary Levi, Gina Rodriguez, Patricia Heaton, Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan, and Kelly Clarkson, how could I say no? If you are looking for a Christmas movie – this is for you. Told from the animals’ point of view, this is definitely a unique take on the Nativity story.
In Sony Pictures Animation’s The Star, a small but brave donkey named Bo yearns for a life beyond his daily grind at the village mill. One day he finds the courage to break free, and finally goes on the adventure of his dreams. With his best friend Dave, who’s a Dove, they meet Mary and Joseph (yes, THE Mary and Joseph). He also befriends Ruth, a loveable sheep who has lost her flock. The three Wise Men come in with their camels (who were hysterical – played by Oprah, Tyler Perry, and the hilarious Tracy Morgan). Bo and his new friends follow the Star and become unlikely heroes in the greatest story ever told – the first Christmas.
The film stars the voices of Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Anthony Anderson, Aidy Bryant, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Christopher Plummer, and Tracy Morgan and Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey. Directed by Timothy Reckart, the screenplay is by Carlos Kotkin, with a story by Simon Moore and Carlos Kotkin. The film is executive produced by DeVon Franklin, Brian Henson, and Lisa Henson, and produced by Jennifer Magee-Cook.
We had the chance to sit down for some interviews the day after the movie. Our first interview was with Zachary Levi (who plays Joseph) and Gina Rodriguez (Mary). Zachary was very funny and kept making us all laugh. He told us that in The Star, Joseph has a good heart. And in Shazam, which he is also in, his character has a good heart. He told us that he keeps gravitating toward these roles or these roles gravitate towards him. When talking about playing Joseph, Zachary said growing up in the Judeo-Christian faith prepared him for this. He also said that he thought the showing the movie from the animal’s point of view gives it a fresh take on the Nativity story.
Gina also remarked that,“I grew up with the Nativity Story my whole life, and all the different versions, I really enjoyed it. It is really cool to be a part of this one.” Zachary told us that this (The Star) is a movie that you could watch as a family tradition every Christmas.
Zachary also talked about “It’s A Wonderful Life” and how that was one of the greatest stories ever told. Gina agreed about “It’s a Wonderful Life”. She told us that it’s her boyfriend’s favorite movie, which he usually watches with his dad on Christmas Eve. Last year they weren’t with his family so he asked Gina to watch it with him. Cue the collective “aww” here. Gina related “It’s a Wonderful Life” to The Star, as she said, “That’s also the beautiful take on Joseph and Mary and The Star. I think the way they told the story is so beautifully done because it is such a delicate matter, but it is done with such a light joyous way. And that element that we all are just attempting to be the best versions of ourselves and we all fail, we all fall. And Joseph feels that way, and Mary does throughout their entire journey. But it’s done in such a hopeful way that the context and weight isn’t so heavy that children and adults with their different perspectives can see the value in it.“
Zachary and Gina said they didn’t record their voices together until the end at the photoshoot — which is pretty standard in animation voiceovers. He brought up Tom Hanks and Tim Allen (for Toy Story), they don’t record the voiceovers together because the audio could bleed together. It’s just not done. You see them at a photoshoot for promotion. The producers are incredible and tie it all together, Zachary told us. H0wever, he’s known Gina for a while, as they met on “Hollywood Game Night”.
We also talked about rescue animals (one of Gina’s unfortunately passed away) and the soundtrack (more jokes from Zachary – he suggested that the Carpenters were on the soundtrack). We also spoke about what’s next for Zachary and Gina. Zachary told us he’s in Alias Grace (just came onto Netflix), he also did a movie for Psych (USA Series) that comes out on December 7 and then Shazam. Gina also stars in Ferdinand (animation) as Una the Hedgehog, Jane the Version, a movie called Anhilation (sci-fi thriller) and a movie called Gloria.
Next, we sat down with Director Timothy Reckart.
About the movie — he told us, “So from the beginning, the idea was to do it [the movie] from the animal point of view and that was the reason I thought we could actually pull it off because otherwise, I think we risk doing something pretty dry that you’ve seen before. So this was a way to keep it fresh.”
There is a lot of music in the movie that really helps to let the story unfold. Timothy said this,
“We knew we wanted to do a Christmas album along with the movie. If you make a Christmas movie you really miss out if you don’t use those songs because they have an inherent power to make you feel those warm fuzzy Christmas feelings. But I didn’t want to just stick them in, so I wanted to find ways where the Carols could actually help us tell the story.“
Talking about how he kept to what was in the Bible, Timothy told us,
“Generally, our thought was anything that is in the Bible, let’s try to be faithful. Period. Our sandbox was the animal point of view and so that was where we thought we would use most of our creative freedom. And when it came to Mary and Joseph and King Herod and all the stuff you do read in the Bible we thought ‘Let’s stick to that’. It only works if you stay true to what is in the Bible.”
Lastly, we got to sit down with Patricia Heaton, who is one of my personal favorite actresses. We are faithful watchers of The Middle and she was just so sweet, as well as beautiful and funny.
In talking about The Star, she said the message is, “To bring the nativity story to them through animals. Kids love animals and it’s a new fresh way to look at the story. I think that’s what is going to be so much fun, they relate to them. I think it is a wonderful, entertaining, funny, and heartwarming way to bring the nativity story with a fresh perspective.”
Patricia also talked about how much she loves to cook for her family and her favorite Christmas movie to cook to is Elf (which is one of my faves). In referencing The Star, she said, “To have an actual nativity story about Christmas, at Christmas, is a wonderful addition to this whole sort of library we have as Americans of our traditional Christmas movies. I think it is nice because it has a little bit of comedy in it. I’m glad that my contribution will be this [movie].”
I loved checking out The Star Movie and getting to talk to Zachary Levi, Gina Rodriguez, Director Timothy Reckart, and Patricia Heaton. The Star Movie is in theatres now.
Thank you to Sony Pictures for taking care of my expenses to cover this press junket. As always, all opinions are my own. Transcription Help provided by Heidi Johnson of The Bragging Mommy.