There’s a mounting cynicism to modern children’s films that, while probably always there in some form, has started to creep into my view of movies overtly aimed at a young audience (discounting eighty per cent of animated films). I thus went into Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger, a sequel no less, with minimal expectation that it would change my mind, Even with David Tennant joining the cast. I’m very happy to report, then, that the film is actually a lovely slice of Christmas entertainment that hasn’t a bad bone in its body. Like the first film, starring a now-departed Martin Freeman, this is something you can take your kids to with a clear conscience, and the parents may even enjoy the 105-minute holiday from reality it offers.
As mentioned, with Martin Freeman trekking across Middle Earth this Christmas, David Tennant has stepped up to the role of put-upon teacher Donald Peterson, who signs on to teach Mr Poppy’s (Marc Wootton) class at St Bernadette’s. With a year’s worth of teachers coming and going, Mr Poppy and the class are a team of underdeveloped troublemakers, dedicated to making life incredibly difficult for the new man in charge. Keen to make a go of things for the sake of his heavily pregnant wife (Joanna Page), he’s brought on side for a ‘Song for Christmas’ competition that the headmistress (Pam Ferris) has forbidden them to enter.
Things from here descend into good-natured chaos, as the film uses all of the obvious talent show parodies across the audition process and beyond. Tennant gives his best exasperated face, as he’s somewhat unwillingly brought along for Mr Poppy’s crazy plan, and the kids are charming. The joke at this stage is that St Bernadette’s are a talentless bunch. In contrast, the competition from neighbouring entrants is strong, one of which is led my Donald’s estranged twin brother, Roderick. This, of course, means double David Tennant for your money, and there’s rarely a scene in the film that doesn’t feature the actor in some capacity. It also provides plenty of opportunity for mistaken identity hijinks later on, which is always a winner for young audiences.
With the demographic-crossing appeal of a former Doctor in their arsenal, Wootton’s returning teaching assistant is used purely to entertain the young-uns, and results are mixed. Given that I’m well over the age his fart and poo jokes are aiming for, I’ll leave my criticism as vague as that. That said, nothing in this film insults anyone’s intelligence, and there’s actually a good mix of jokes suitable for all, but designed to hit different people with varying intensity. The eventual talent contest is shown almost in its entirety, and is an unexpectedly razor sharp parody of various light-entertainment shows airing in the UK right now. There’s a Justin Bieber-esque kid and a group of private school children singing about poverty, just to give you a taste.
But, before they get there, there’s a fairly epic journey across the mountainous Welsh countryside, with a magic donkey, a bus that turns into a boat, and a stolen baby no one’s sure belongs to anyone in the group. Parents will get a kick out of Tennant’s increasingly frantic reaction to the madness of it all, before he resigns himself to the situation and stops continuously shouting. If nothing else, this big middle of the film is a great advert for Wales, with a lot of beautiful countryside and a picturesque castle just a couple of the inviting images we’re treated to. Amazingly, despite spending most of the running time in the company of children, a man-child, and one maddened teacher, no character becomes incredibly annoying.
As you’d expect from a Christmas-themed sequel, semi-improvised by the adults and kids alike, only about half of the film works. But those bits that make you smile and those bits that make you role your eyes are all mixed in together is a mess of entertainingly chaotic family fun, meaning the end is just as strong as the film’s beginning. It’s in no way perfect, and I doubt it’ll become a Crimbo classic, but everyone looks as if they’re enjoying themselves. You probably will, too.
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