Sports Drama ‘National Champions’ Available on Blu-ray and DVD March 8

The sports drama National Champions will be released on Blu-ray and DVD March 8 from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.

It is available now on digital.

In the film, three days before the college football national championship game, star quarterback LeMarcus James (Emmy nominee Stephan James; If Beale Street Could Talk, 21 Bridges) and teammate Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig; “Vikings,” “The Hunger Games” franchise) ignite a player’s strike declaring they won’t compete until all student-athletes are fairly compensated. With billions of dollars at risk and legacies on the line, only hours until kickoff, the head coach (Oscar Winner J.K. Simmons; Whiplash, Being the Ricardos) and various power brokers — played by Emmy Winner Kristin Chenoweth (“Pushing Daisies”), Emmy Nominee Timothy Olyphant (“Fargo,” “Justified”), Emmy Winner Uzo Aduba (“Orange is the New Black”), Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Free Guy), Tim Blake Nelson (“Watchmen”), Andrew Bachelor (Holidate), Jeffrey Donovan (Sicario) and David Koechner (Anchorman) — must race against the clock to protect or destroy the prevailing collegiate athletics system.  

Bonus features include “Behind the Music,” “The Game” and “Sports Trivia.”

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The Star

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 2/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Animated;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘PG’ for some thematic elements.
Voices of Steven Yeun, Gina Rodriguez, Zachary Levi, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Aidy Bryant, Anthony Anderson, Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Ving Rhames, Gabriel Iglesias, Mariah Carey, Phil Morris, Roger Craig Smith.

This fluffy faith-based animated adventure frames the tale of the Nativity from the point of view of a group of animals whose lives intersect with the coming of the Messiah.

The Star follows a little donkey (Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) with big dreams who befriends the pregnant Mary (Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin,” playing another woman pregnant by unusual means here) before she leaves for Bethlehem, then sets off with his animal friends to protect her after learning King Herod (Christopher Plummer) has sent hunters after her in his attempt to prevent the birth of the King of the Jews. The camels (Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey) of the Three Wise Men also seek out the impending birth of Jesus to protect him.

Lest anyone worry about the film straying too far from scripture with its talking animals, one of its best running gags involves the fact that the animals can communicate freely with each other, but just sound like animals to the humans around them.

It’s a testament to the earnestness of The Star, and a sign of how it expects its audience to approach the film, that an early scene involves Mary returning home to her husband, Joseph, after being away for an extended period of time. Visibly pregnant, she explains it’s the Son of God and that it’s his duty to help her bring the child into the world, and he embraces the calling. Were this not a faith-based movie aimed at children, I suspect most men being told that story by their wife might have a different reaction.

The film’s screenplay was originally intended for a live-action production of the Jim Henson Company, which reportedly would have employed a style similar to Babe, using visual effects to make the animals appear to talk. When that didn’t pan out, the project was revived at Sony Pictures Animation by DeVon Franklin, a prominent Christian preacher and motivational speaker who has produced a number of notable faith-based films, such as Heaven Is for Real.

The end result is a cute adventure that, despite some broad Looney Tunes-type humor, remains grounded in its piety. While not a musical, the film relies heavily on a soundtrack consisting of modern renderings of some classic Christmas songs.

The songs are the subject of a good portion of the Blu-ray’s bonus materials, which include several “lyric videos,” two sing-alongs and a dance-along video.

The Blu-ray also offers some typical behind-the-scenes featurettes, such as the 13-minute “An All Star Cast” and the two-minute “Creating the World of 9 Months B.C.” There’s also a commentary with executive producer Franklin and director Tim Reckart.

But the Blu-ray also has ambitions to serve as a faith-based teaching tool, and to that end it includes the 10-minute “Faith All Year Round With DeVon Franklin,” in which the producer discusses the film’s message with a group of children. For those who prefer something more interactive, there are three arts-and-crafts videos.

Finally, the Blu-ray offers a bit of background art for special occasions in the form of an animated Nativity scene that runs on a 21-hour loop.