Review by Adam Donato
With the holiday season upon us, Journey to Bethlehem arrives early to generate buzz before the Christmas season. Adam Anders is a relatively unknown director, and the most famous person in the cast is Antonio Banderas. Sony is relying on faith alone to sell this one. What a year for religious films, though, as Sound of Freedom exploded at the box office. Without the controversial word of mouth to propel its box office, hopefully this musical and family friendly adaptation can capture the hearts of families. Does Journey of Bethlehem have a catchy enough soundtrack to justify this adaptation’s existence?
Wide release musicals don’t grow on trees, so it’s nice to see one grace the big screen. The Nativity Story has been told at nauseum. It’s as commonplace as seeing Bruce Wayne’s parents murdered in an alley. The musical touch would be more welcome if it didn’t have the quality of a Disney Channel original movie. The actor who plays Joseph, Milo Manheim, is most notably from the Z-O-M-B-I-E-S series on Disney Channel. The musical numbers are generally fun, but nothing memorable enough to add to your Spotify playlist. The biggest compliment from a musical perspective is that the movie is packed with songs, instead of taking the easy way out with only a couple songs.
This adaptation is definitely aimed at a family friendly audience, and that’s reflected in the childish sense of humor the movie showcases. The one-liners are cheesy, and there’s not a genuine laugh in sight. Banderas is not only the most notable of the cast, but also the most fun character in the movie. He plays a villainous king desperate to hold onto his power. The song he sings is by far the most delicious, as he leans into the heel role and is the only one who seems to be having fun here. The internal conflict his son faces in the movie due to his overbearing nature is the most compelling stuff in the movie. This is much needed, as Fiona Palomo’s Mary is as boring and unlikable as a wet blanket.
While it’s nice that this religious film has no propaganda intentions, it fails to charm family audiences in the way it intends. Tepid humor and generic musical numbers are a recipe for a mostly forgettable film. Religious fanatics will enjoy it on principle, but non-Christian moviegoers should steer clear. Save your musical appetite for Wish or Trolls: Band Together, which are both sure to delight family audiences more.
Journey to Bethlehem hits theaters on November 10.