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I recently sat down with Oscar-nominated director Timothy Reckart to discuss his work on The Star, an animated feature about the first Christmas as told from the perspective of the manger animals. Reckart had the delicate task of blending Scriptures with a new story about Bo, the donkey that accompanies Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. I asked him how he found the balance in tone between the direct Biblical references and the lighter story of Bo and his friends.
“Generally our thought was anything that is in the Bible, let’s try to be faithful, period,” Reckart said. “Our sandbox was the animal point of view, so that was where we thought we would use most of our creative freedom. When it came to Mary and Joseph and King Herod and all that stuff that you do read about in the Bible, we thought, let’s stick to that. And actually, there’s this play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which is a take on Hamlet where occasionally they enter into the story of Hamlet, and then Hamlet goes off stage and we stick with the characters that normally go offstage. So it’s a similar type of structure for this movie, and it only works if you stay faithful to what’s in the Bible, because you’re sticking to the beats of the story. That’s why you get that creative freedom – if you stick to the Bible story, that means you can put more of the Bible story offscreen, because people know what’s happening.”
A helpful tool in creating the film’s atmosphere was its charming soundtrack, which reimagines several standard Christmas carols with a new feel to set the mood for each scene. Reckart told me that it was important to use music as a storytelling vehicle.
“We knew that we wanted to do a Christmas album with the movie, and if you make a Christmas movie you’re just missing out on a real opportunity if you don’t use those songs, because they have such an inherent power to make you feel those warm fuzzy Christmas feelings,” he told me. “But I didn’t wanna just shoehorn them in, so I wanted to try and find ways where the carols could actually help us tell the story. And a good example of where I think that works really well is when Joseph is processing what Mary has just told him – that’s where we decided to put What Child is This? because it actually seemed like the lyrics there helped communicate what Joseph is going through mentally. We tried to take that approach to what songs we used when, and what the tone would be -which is to say that we wanted them to tell the story for us.”
Reckart called on the talents of the soundtrack’s musicians to help set the scene for Bo’s journey. “The process of working with the artists was that we put in some temp music, [so] they can kind of use that to see what the intention is, but then they basically brought whatever they had to the piece. Another good example of that was Children Go Where I Send You – that’s the song that we hear when Bo is doing the scene with the miller chasing after him. And in that, Kelsea Ballerini’s version has this Do doo doo, doot doot doot – which I never anticipated at all, but because I had given the direction that we want this to be fun, and energetic, then she was able to work together with that note and both be creative and also make it work for the film.”