Even at age 39, DeVon Franklin is moving and shaking Hollywood. Having successfully navigated Columbia Pictures with The Pursuit of Happyness, Hancock, and Seven Pounds, Franklin formed Franklin Entertainment in 2014. From his vantage point, he arranged deals for the dramatization of Heaven is For Real and last December’s hit animated film, The Star.
Working with a voice cast that included Oprah Winfrey, Zachary Levi, Tyler Perry, Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, and Tracy Morgan, Franklin produced a film that held to the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth while also adding splashes of humor and redemption. With talking animals, the road trip of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and a little adventure thanks to a centurion trying to track down the baby king, The Star became a fun, family film that served up plenty of faith-based material as well.
“It was so fantastic to see how families responded to the film,” Franklin shared, enthusiastically. “They told me afterward about how they laughed and cried. I’m just so grateful, and humbled, by the way people responded to the film.”
Franklin was quick to point out that even though The Star is his first animated production, it has similar ideals and values to the other films he’s made before. “This is based on a true story, too!” he proposed. “It’s similar, and the tools were different but I used the same process in this as I do with my other projects. We’re still asking, how do we make sure it’s authentic and adhering to what really happened?”
In The Star, the main storyline - Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem because of the census, and Jesus is born in a stable - stays the same. But thanks to the humorous vocal talents of the crack team of actors and comics, the vibe is different from the average Christmas story. Add in two centurion’s dogs, voiced by Ving Rhames and Gabriel Iglesias, who angrily pursue the animal friends of Jesus with an intent who do them harm, and there’s a tension we haven’t felt before. But Franklin’s production allows us to see that the dogs find redemption, a bit of the Easter cross’ power shining backwards into Christmas.
“We just tried to be true to the story,” the producer reiterated. “When you look at the life of Christ, so much of it is about redemption. Even though the dogs committed to themselves and their mission, once redemption offered, they were grateful. We wanted to put redemption into the story without being preachy. Even when people do something negative, they need grace and mercy.”
For Franklin, who says every movie is a miracle, The Star’s success is evidence of what his studio is capable of doing. He’s excited by the outcome, but not surprised, his eyes forward to the next story he’s called to share, the next miracle in the making.