Journey to Bethlehem review – Antonio Banderas steals show as evil Herod in Bible musical


If you are interested in watching a religious movie, this one is a good choice. It is a musical retelling of the nativity story with a similar feel to a live action Disney movie. The main character, Mary (played by Fiona Palomo), is like Belle from Beauty and the Beast or Jasmine from Aladdin – intelligent and yearning for autonomy instead of being forced into marriage with a stranger named Joseph (played by Milo Manheim). Fortunately, Joseph turns out to be charming and attractive (similar to Aladdin), and the Three Wise Men add some comedic relief to the story.

In Disney fashion, the villain is the most memorable character. Antonio Banderas portrays King Herod with a mix of scene-stealing and over-the-top acting, reminiscent of his devil character in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. The saying about the devil having the best songs rings true, as the three most lively musical numbers are performed by Herod, his son Joel Smallbone, and a dual-role number by Manheim, representing both Joseph’s loyal and skeptical sides as he grapples with his fiancee’s claim of an immaculate conception.

Unfortunately, the movie falls short of meeting the high points it sets up. There are too many forgettable songs, and once Mary becomes pregnant, her role is limited. The story of Herod also loses steam. These issues may stem from the original source material as the gospels are not known for well-developed characters or satisfying story arcs. However, the filmmakers have put in time and effort despite a modest budget, resulting in a visually appealing film with vibrant colors and impressive location work that adds a sense of realism, only occasionally hindered by questionable special effects. The choreography is particularly impressive, surpassing that of another popular musical centered around a similar mystery – Mamma Mia.