Nativity 2: Danger In The Manger, is the sequel to the 2009 family comedy Nativity! that sees primary school children compete once again in the nationwide Song For Christmas. Nativity 2 makes a pretty brave decision not to simply re-hash the original story. Instead, the song for Christmas is composed within the first 20 minutes of the film, with the short first act spent with the children desperately pleading to compete.
The children’s sad faces combined with lines like, ‘nobody believes in us any more Santa,’ ooze sweetness and build audience investment. The plot then centres on a bizarre road trip to the competition which lurches from one calamity to another. As the journey moves along, the scenarios become increasingly ridiculous - the children travel down rapids on inflatable dinghies, rest in a ready lit cave complete with glowing campfire and abseil down a mountain, all with a newborn baby and donkey in tow.
Martin Freeman is out, replaced this time by David Tennant who plays a new and equally charming teacher, Mr Peterson, reluctant to participate in the Song For Christmas shenanigans. With his pregnant wife (Joanna Page), Mr Peterson’s Christmas looks promising until his vile father shows up, bringing to light Peterson’s issues with his identical twin brother, Roderick - a successful composer who features as the film’s central bad guy. The emotional turning point of the film comes mid-point in the journey, backed by a sentimental song entitled, ‘Everybody’s Got A Dad But Me’. Tennant puts in a fierce performance as both Mr Peterson and his twin Roderick, single handedly pulling together the disparate elements of this absurd plot.
Marc Wootten returns as the energetic and kind-hearted classroom assistant, Mr Poppy, whose intelligence level is a closer match to his primary school children than the teachers around him. Mr Poppy’s silliness is the main driver of the ludicrous plot but brings an enthusiasm and energy that’s appealing and fun.
Jason Watkins also reprises his role as Oakmore’s private school teacher, Gordon Shakespeare, with his rival choir group. Watkins is treated to some great dialogue that thoroughly demonises the privileged backgrounds of his class as he insults Mr Peterson’s group, ‘not only are you poor and thick,’ he says. But when the Oakmore class don the clothes of Dickensian children, they attain new levels of sympathy and the audience becomes pitted against the real villain, Mr Peterson’s twin and his uber-posh choir from St Cuthbert’s.
Throughout Nativity 2 there’s an irrepressible feeling that this should be on television rather than the big screen, but it’s supported supported by some great new Christmas songs that make the most of the powerful sound systems cinemas have to offer - Snow Angel, Born In The Hay and Christmas Fairies are just some of the highlights.
Nativity 2 is silly and absurd but it appeals to a sense of fun and magical Christmas fever. Brimming with cuteness and unrelenting energy, children will love it and, wrapped up in the spirit of Christmas, adults might just enjoy it too.
Running Time: 105 minutes