It’s been three years since Debbie Issitt’s heartwarming tale of a primary school class’ attempt to put on the best Nativity play that Coventry has ever seen. Now, Class 7B return with the man-child figure Mr Poppy (but minus Martin Freeman, who can be seen as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit) in their effort to enter the Song For Christmas competition being held in Wales. Trouble is, the school doesn’t have the funds to send the children to the event, and their new teacher Mr Peterson (David Tennant) also opposes the idea: he believes the kids should be learning maths and literacy. So what’s the logical step for Mr Poppy to take? Kidnap them all and get to the competition by any means necessary, obviously.
For a film aimed at young children, there’s a worryingly high rate of crime committed by their supposed authority figure of Marc Wootton’s Mr Poppy; there’s assault, kidnapping children and a baby, theft of an animal, and worst of all thinking Parker coats are still fashionable. Not only that, but there’s a blatant disregard for the children’s safety, with one scene seeing them abseiling down a cliff face, all for the sake of entering a singing competition. If there’s any positive to take from his character, it’s that he’s as dedicated as they come. But Nativity 2 never was going to be a serious and accurate portrayal of a oworking class primary school, and Mr Poppy is a character that the target audience love. And rightly so: what child wouldn’t like an adult who acts like them, letting them get away with being a bit naughty? Sure, the situations he puts them in are preposterous and he should probably be incarcerated many times over, but his juvenile enthusiasm makes it easy to forgive him.
David Tennant as the easily stressed (but rightly so) Mr Peterson lacks the warmth and likability that Freeman had as Mr Maddens, but his attempt to fill those shoes is amicable. Once again though, the stars are the children themselves and they shine brightest in the audition scenes and the final songs. The aforementioned auditions are longer here, mostly due to them being the highlights of the first film, with each youngster getting longer to exhibit their “talent”, whether it be singing Amy Winehouse’s Rehab or simply sliding on the floor and calling it break-dancing. The rivalry between Tennant’s class and that of posh private school Oakmoor is still going strong, with Jason Watkins returning as the pedantic Mr Shakespeare. There’s another competitor added to the mix though, with Mr Peterson’s brother (also played by David Tennant) entering the competition with his world class choir. This may be one plot point too far, as at times the story feels a little too bloated for its intended age group.
One of the strongest points about Nativity 2 is its original musical numbers sung by the competition entrants. With the lack of snow (or any kind of indication that it’s nearly Christmas) the songs manage to justify this as a ‘Christmas film’. The elaborate stage set-ups and grand location (exterior: a castle in Wales, interior: Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon) solidify the importance of the event, and ultimately make the journey for the class seem worthwhile. And whilst the finale is as straightforward and predictable as they come, it will still raise a smile.
Debbie Issitt has provided more of the same with her Nativity films, and that’s the best thing she could have done. The cute singing from the first is substituted for ludicrous scenarios in the middle of Wales, but the innocence of the kids is still there. There’s more antics from Mr Poppy than in the first, but that’s where the majority of the comedy comes from. There isn’t much here to entertain the parents, but their little ones will thoroughly enjoy every minute.