It is once again Christmas time, and we all know what that means! CRAPPY HOLIDAY MOVIES!!! Ugh… I was not looking forward to having to do a Christmas movie considering how chock full of crap the genre is filled with, and the knowledge that I COULD be watching much better holiday films instead of whatever one I decide to review. Netflix must have heard my thoughts (I think that’s part of their license agreement) and delivered unto me a holiday film called Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger starring the one and only David Tennant! Well it HAS to be good, right? I mean, Dr. Who wouldn’t sign on to anything that sucked… would he? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to keep on reading!!
The movie begins with David Tennant narrating over himself and his wife preparing for Christmas with a healthy dose of shtick thrown in.
Tennant’s wife is about to have a baby and he’s about to start a new job at a nearby school (St. Bernadettes). We then cut to said school where we get introduced to the one and only Mr. Poppy. Ugh…
He’s a teacher’s assistant, but there never seems to be a teacher there because he always chases them out of the school on the first day without fail. I don’t know why the TEACHERS keep on quitting instead of this bozo getting his ass fired (*cough*nepotism*cough*) but regardless he’s the only one in charge of this class most of the time. So what’s he teaching them? To be selfish, whiney, privileged, and to always do whatever you want whenever you want to. Case in point, his class finds out about the Song for Christmas competition for school singing groups in Wales (i.e. VERY far away) that is happening ONLY A COUPLE OF DAY FROM NOW and decides, FUCK IT! LET’S DO IT!!!
That’s right. This movie is a School of Rock knock off. Naturally, the Principal says no to the idea (who just so happens to be Mr. Poppy’s aunt) but the obnoxious asshole won’t be deterred so easily. Despite the principal saying REPEATEDLY that there’s no way in HELL they are going to the god damn competition, the idiot gets it into his head that they can go if they get a proper teacher before the competition. Guess who happens to be that teacher?
Yeah, David Tennant (his character’s name is Donald Peterson) comes by for his first day and is immediately attacked by Mr. Poppy and the lost children for no god damn discernable reason. DIDN’T YOU JUST FIND OUT THAT A REAL TEACHER IS NECESSARY FOR YOU PLAN!? The principal comes out and chases off Mr. Poppy and the kids (who just leave the fucking school to visit Father Christmas) and takes Mr. Peterson inside to discuss his job offer. She practically begs the guy to tolerate Mr. Poppy in exchange for getting a huge promotion almost immediately. While the principal bends over a barrel for the benefit of her stupid nephew, he’s off at some… mall I think where Father Christmas is seeing kids. When they get there though, a rival school (Oakmoor) is there and for some reason is practicing their song for the Song for Christmas competition. Um… why did they have to leave their school to practice? Shouldn’t they be learning math or something?
The old guy in an elf costume is Mr. Shakespeare and he’s the teacher of Oakmoor’s singing group. When Mr. Poppy finds out they are also going to the competition (and Mr. Shakespeare starts talking some mad shit about the other kids), the two “teachers” get into a slap fight.
After Mr. Poppy lands the deciding blow by licking Shakespeare’s face, they go in to see Father Christmas and ask him to grant them their wish to win the competition. I just can’t get into this. There’s no reason these kids should go to this competition. The school said no, and I have to imagine they are WAY behind on their lessons if Mr. Poppy is the only one around most of the time. The kids are cute enough, and Mr. Poppy has a genuine rapport with them, but I don’t see them as underdogs. They’re just a bunch of kids with no direction who are being led by an irresponsible man child. They get back to school (no one seems to care that Mr. Poppy took the kids away for an hour) and find Mr. Peterson waiting for them and ready to start the lessons. For one moment, it seems like he’s actually gonna do what he’s SUPPOSED to do and that is to tell Mr. Poppy to shut up and get the kids started on some reading exercises.
Instead, the kids bring up Song for Christmas and Mr. Poppy starts badgering Mr. Peterson to sign some sort of form to let them in. He doesn’t sign the paper, but he DOES indulge them by letting them do their song for him.
You know what? Fair enough. He’s new and has to find some way to wrestle control of this class away from Mr. Poppy. Giving them a bit of leeway will help endear him to the kids. After the song, he reiterates that going to Song for Christmas in a couple of days is just not possible. Oh no wait, Mr. Poppy talks over him and tells the kids to bring in their baby brothers and sisters to audition them as Jesus and to use as a prop during their performance. WHY DOES ANYONE TOLERATE THIS GUY!? Mr. Peterson reiterates that no babies will be brought tomorrow and we cut to the end of the school day where Mr. Peterson opens Mr. Poppy’s private closet or something. Inside there are pictures of Martin Freeman all over the place which as far as I can tell is the only direct reference this movie has to the first one (which I have not seen).
Mr. Peterson tries once again to make peace with Mr. Poppy (he’s probably just resigned to the fact that this dumbass will be around for no reason) and they leave for the day on somewhat conciliatory terms. Then Mr. Peterson comes in the next day and finds out that Mr. Poppy has completely disregard everything he’s said and is now holding a baby pageant to find the best one to play Jesus in the show that they won’t perform because it’s in fucking Wales.
One thing you’ll notice if you watch this movie is that it’s filled with montages. The scene where a bunch of kids show off their baby siblings is at least the third such scene in the movie and it’s getting old. This movie an hour and fifty minutes which is too damn long for a film this light. Taking these scenes out of the film would help to fix this problem, but I guess that would be missing the fucking point of this movie. LOOK! CUTE KIDS DOING CUTE THINGS!! They apparently spend the entire day doing this because Mr. Peterson doesn’t have a damn spine and instead unloads all his pent up frustration at his pregnant wife.
Mr. Peterson’s troubles don’t end with Mr. Poppy though, because his cartoonishly evil father has decided to spend Christmas with his son for no other reason than to talk shit to him. It’s amazing. The guy just goes on an endless tirade about how absolutely ashamed he is of his son for becoming a teacher and how much more he loves his twin brother (who incidentally is a famous musician that will be competing in Song for Christmas). The bastard cuts so fucking deep that you actually buy it when Mr. Peterson starts tearing up. Where the hell did this come, and why is it in a movie this juvenile!?
The next day, Mr. Peterson arrives at school to find that Mr. Poppy has acquired (or most likely stolen) a tour bus and is boarding the kids to get them to Song for Christmas. Rather than call the cops, Mr. Peterson gets on board and tries to convince Mr. Poppy to stop what he’s currently doing. It goes about as well as you’d expect.
While stopped at a store to buy supplies (the funds for which were provided by Mr. Peterson against his will), the Oakmoor class drives by and for some reason this gets their Mr. Shakespeare worried. WHY!? How could you POSSIBLY see this lunatic and his rag tag group of untrained kids as a threat for your chances to win!? For whatever reason, he considers them SUCH a threat that he has one of the kids turn around a sign during a rest stop.
In his zeal to destroy one of his competitors, the dumbass leaves one of his kids behind who gets picked up by Mr. Poppy later that day. Apparently this kid didn’t have a cell phone or even think to get some help in the nearby village. Oh well, she’s now with the misfits from St. Bernadettes and they’re headed towards Song for Christmas but are going in the wrong direction. Now here’s where the film gets downright confusing. I know it’s hard to believe that a movie that cares so much for continuity that it’s MOSTLY IMPROVISED would have ANY sort of questions about logic or continuity, but it does happen. They are SEVERAL hours into their trip, and only now discover that a baby has been on board the entire time. WHAT!?!?
No one coughs up to bringing the infant on board, but it doesn’t dampers anyone’s spirits except for Mr. Peterson, but he’s long since lost all authority over the situation. Mr. Poppy keeps on driving and ends up smack dab in the middle of a lake. Luckily, the bus turns out to also be a boat. Okay…
Despite having the one fucking vehicle that can survive being driven straight into a body of water, Mr. Poppy still manages to fuck this up by forgetting to get any gas on their last stop, so they ended up stranded on a bank on the other side of the lake. So let’s recap where Mr. Poppy’s decisions have left our heroes. They are stranded in the middle of nowhere with no car, no phone (he threw away Mr. Peterson’s long ago), no money, and at least a dozen kids as well as a baby. Oh, and they find a donkey because why not.
We cut from the impending Lord of the Flies recreation to Oakmoor students arriving at the castle that Song for Christmas is being held at. It’s only now that he notices one of his kids are missing, but Mr. Shakespeare is SO determined to win that he just pushes it off to the side and gets the other kids (who seem just as unconcerned) to go inside. While they’re walking to the front gates though, they notice another group approaching the building that causes Mr. Shakespeare to crap his pants.
That’s right. Mr. Peterson’s twin brother (named Roderick and also played by David Tennant) has just arrived and Mr. Shakespeare knows exactly how fucked he is. It gets even worse when they get inside the castle and the woman promoting the event is a very close friend of Roderick and is practically guaranteeing him the win because Nepotism is awesome, am I right? Hell, they’re already in a god damn castle which is where Nepotism was the rule of law for a long ass time!
Wait a minute. Now the snooty school with the uptight teacher is the underdog!? Now that I think about it, if this movie had been about Mr. Shakespeare being borderline psychotic about this competition and slowly learning how unimportant this competition is, then I actually think this would have been a decent movie. The actor playing Mr. Shakespeare is actually really good in the role (even if he’s a bit too cloying at times) and has some clearly defined character flaws that could be resolved in this film. The problem is that him and his kids are NOT the focus of this story (they’re mostly there to be a plot device later on), and I really can’t bring myself to like this guy after HE LEFT A CHILD IN THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING NO WHERE AND IS NOT CONERNED ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH IT!! After that, we get a scene of the principal having to explain to a room full of parents why her irresponsible nephew was even PUT in such a position so that him kidnapping their children could actually happen. Actually, the parents are barely concerned about this situation. The only one pissed off right now is Mr. Peterson’s father who showed up with his son’s wife and is there just to yell a lot.
The plan (just like in School of Rock) is to get their asses to where the kids are going, only in this case the kid’s aren’t there because THEY’RE LOST IN THE BRITISH WILDERNESS!! Speaking of which, we cut back to the group who find a small shack to hole up in and change the baby. Yeah, not going to dignify that scene, so let’s skip over that and talk about what happens next.
Okay, maybe we need to back up a bit. After the baby changing, they head back out and JUST SO HAPPEN to find a bunch of Kayaks as well as safety equipment sitting next to a fucking river. HOW FUCKING CONVIENENT!! The scene of them in the boats is pointless because the movie doesn’t give us any indication that they’re any closer to their destination by going down the river, so the only reason it’s there is to watch David Tennant act wacky and to watch a bunch of kids having fun. Because cute things are just as good as decent writing. Sure, whatever. After that, they go to a cave because fuck you, we need to pad this already too long movie for some reason. Too be fair, this is the one chance the movie has taken to slow down and give us some character development for Mr. Poppy and Mr. Peterson. It’s nothing all that special (daddy issues) but at least Mr. Poppy isn’t manipulating the kids into doing something dangerous. Okay, he convinced them to go into a cave, but it’s a movie cave where the ground is perfectly level and there’s plenty of room to move about without the risk of falling into a hole and cracking your skull open. Towards the end of the scene, Mr. Poppy reveals that he had a cell phone the entire time which gets Mr. Peterson rightfully outraged, but he holds back from beating the shit out of the guy and instead tries to call his wife.
He’s barely able to get a signal (because Great Britain has shitty cell phone reception apparently) and is only able to tell his wife that he’s out in the middle of fucking nowhere with the kids and the guy responsible for kidnapping them. At this point, his wife and father have arrived at the castle (but not the principal or the other parents for some reason), so all the dad does with this information is talk shit about his son and tell Roderick about it as well. The wife on the other hand is planning on finding him, but I’m not sure exactly how she plans to do that considering she’s nine months pregnant. The news of a group of kids lost in the wilderness does nothing to damper the Song for Christmas contest which proceeds uninterrupted. The Oakmoor class is trying to practice, but Roderick is muscling them out of the room so that HE can practice because HE’S so fucking important and what not. Aw… Mr. Shakespeare is being snubbed by the professional cocky asshole. Isn’t the guy who left a child and didn’t report it to anyone so sympathetic now? Anyway, he buggers off so that Roderick can prepare his choir for the sound check before the performance later on. Shakespeare and his rag tag group of kids go to the theater to look on as Roderick’s choir files in for their sound check and… I guess they do a good job?
I’m no music export, especially choir music, but I don’t see what’s so intimidating about this guy and his crew. They wear fancy clothes, but the song is dull as dishwater. We follow that up the Oakmoor class doing THEIR performance and it’s actually significantly better. There’s just one problem with it…
Where did this come from? Sure, it’s a decent song, but this is the EXACT opposite of what they were singing before! When they were visiting Santa, they were singing about RICH people at Christmas. Did they switch their songs, outfits, sets, and EVERYTHING else when they realized they weren’t the rich school anymore!? Roderick and the lady running the thing (Angel Matthews) watch on thinking that this performance might just win the contest which… I guess could happen? I mean, it’s too fucking dower to win a populist Christmas song contest, but then again, I don’t see many people going for the Choir either. Let’s face it; Mistletoe by Justin Bieber would kick the crap out of both of them if we’re talking about a popularity contest. Back in the wild wastelands of Wales, the St. Bernadettes group is still no closer to their destination and Mr. Peterson finally blows up at Mr. Poppy. He doesn’t just tell him the LAST thing he did was stupid, he gets right at him for everything wrong he’s done and how it’s all culminated in a group kids and a baby lost in the woods with night slowly approaching.
For some reason, the movie still thinks that Mr. Poppy is endearing, so the movie spends the next five minutes having Mr. Peterson feel guilty and eventually apologizing for his perfectly reasonable response. There’s also a scene where the baby is missing for about thirty seconds, and we find out that one of the unnamed kids was the one who brought the baby. Who could have guessed?
Mr. Peterson and Mr. Poppy make up and continue on their journey with the kids when they finally spot the castle they’ve been trying to reach this whole time. The problem is that the only direct path is down a fucking cliff. Instead of doing something SENSIBLE like walk around (they would miss Song for Christmas), Mr. Poppy suggests they all climb down with nothing more than a long piece of rope they have for some reason. You wanna guess that they find some contrived and schmaltzy reason for Mr. Peterson to go along with it!?
At this point, it’s not even all that unrealistic that they’d do something this stupid and dangerous. Hell, it’s a fucking kids movie so why not? It’s not like bad things ever happen in those, am I right? All but one of them make it down just fine, but the one who didn’t gets stranded halfway down when the rope breaks. Mr. Poppy convinces Mr. Peterson to use the remaining rope to get down there and save him. On his way down though, a helicopter shows up and his wife is there (still nine months pregnant) to save them all! Yay!!! Our heroes have been rescued, the children are safe, and we’ve still got forty minutes left in this movie. No seriously, the third act is fucking nuts, and considering how crazy this movie has been so far, THAT is saying something. The third act is all about the St. Bernadettes class at Song for Christmas where shenanigans ensue, but it’s padded like HELL because EVERY group who competes in this gets their entire song shown in the movie. Sure, we intercut between them and what St. Bernadettes is doing backstage, but I’ve rarely seen a movie about a talent show where they spend THIS much time on all the other contestants. Usually we get brief glimpses of one or two and maybe the full show of the antagonists, but this comes across as an actual feature of the movie. Shouldn’t we be MORE invested in the plot of this movie so that having it interrupted with full performances by characters we’ve never seen before would be a DISTRACTION instead of a feature? I mean, they’re not BAD per se but they pad this movie out like hell.
For the purposes of this review, we’re gonna ignore it whenever the movie cuts to one of these performances and just focus on what Mr. Peterson and his class of kids (plus one man child) are up to behind stage. They finally arrive at the castle (unescorted by the police or Mr. Peterson’s wife) and go inside to register for the contest. Apparently, all it took to convince this teacher that the contest is a good idea is to get kidnapped and dumped in the middle of the wilderness for a day. I don’t know, let’s just say it’s Stockholm syndrome. The concierge (who WISHES he was Tim Curry in Home Alone 2) is all “too late assholes!” to them, but he’s pushed aside rather quickly.
The make it backstage where they find Mr. Peterson’s wife waiting for them. Wait, what?
If we cut back to the scene where Mr. Peterson got the kid down the cliff, we can see that the movie didn’t ACTUALLY show the kids getting into the helicopter, so the fact that she’s waiting for them here instead of arriving with them must mean that the helicopter did NOT in fact pick them up, but were just there to help them get down the cliff! What the hell!? That was CLEARLY a rescue chopper, but they didn’t think it’d be a good idea to take the kids to the castle!?!? After the happy reunion, the group finds an empty changing room to chill out in, and it Mrs. Peterson pulls out a copy of the show’s program which CLEARLY says that they are in the show! So what the hell was NOT Tim Curry’s problem!? Wait, how did they even get in the show!? Did Mr. Poppy actually get them signed up ahead of time? I can’t imagine he’d be able to plan THAT far ahead. While this is going on, the principal (who has only JUST arrived) is looking for anyone from her school and finds Roderick which means that wacky misunderstandings must ensue!!
The NOT Tim Curry guy is able to drag her away (apparently he’s all the security this castle has) and we cut back to the St. Bernadettes class which are still backstage. The baby seems to need another diaper change, so Mr. Poppy drags it off somewhere to change it. Uh… do you REALLY want to trust this guy to not accidently drop the baby? I wouldn’t trust this guy with anything more delectate than an action figure. Somehow though, he’s able to change the baby (off screen) and instead of going back to the room that the class was in previously, he wanders around and finds Roderick. Again, WACKY MISUNDERSTANDINGS ENSUE!!!!
After giving the baby to Roderick, he then decides that NOW would be a good time to go to the dressing room where Mr. Peterson and the kids are waiting for him. Mr. Poppy has no fucking clue that this guy is NOT the guy he just gave the baby to, but Mr. Peterson figures out what happened and says “we have to save the baby.” Wait a minute, what? Does your brother eat children or something!? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THE BABY!?!? During their search for Roderick, they run into the principal who grabs Mr. Poppy and tells him off for what he’s done and fires him on the spot. No wait, she’s just relieved to see he’s alright.
Alright fine. I can actually sort of buy this. Consequences can come later, but considering how much danger he actually DID get them all into, I can buy the principal being relieved. Letting him go to do more shenanigans with the kids though? Less so, but whatever. The group finds the baby who is currently being held by one of Roderick’s choir members, and Mr. Peterson takes him back. Roderick then comes from behind a curtain and is now a straight up villain. He’s going to steal the baby (again I guess) because he thinks a cute baby will help him win the judges over (which incidentally was EXACTLY Mr. Poppy’s plan), but Mr. Peterson refuses and says “you can’t take this baby.” Roderick then replies with “I can take anything I want from you. Give me the baby.” WHAT THE FUCKI!? ARE YOU SEVEN YEARS OLD!?
Roderick then orders his choir of what appears to be composed of only boys no older than fourteen, to shove not only the kids but Mr. Peterson AND Mr. Poppy into a giant snow globe that they JUST SO HAPPEN to be standing in front of. Not only that, but they are SOMEHOW unable to escape their giant plastic tomb!
While they’re (somehow) locked inside, Roderick goes out with his choir (and the baby) to do his song. The baby adds absolutely NOTHING for them considering it’s a straight up choir performance without any theme, choreography, costumes, etc. Still. David Tennant knows how to ham this shit up!
Towards the end of the performance, one of the kids brings out the baby to hold while doing a solo. Not only did Roderick steal the baby, but the solo his kid is singing was stolen from the Oakmoor performance!
What, you don’t remember the school who were initially the rivals of Mr. Poppy’s class, but then got overshadowed once Roderick entered the picture? You don’t remember the guy in the elf costume who got in a slap fight with Mr. Poppy? THE GUY WHO LEFT A CHILD ON THE SIDE OF A COUNTRY ROAD AND DIDN’T BOTHER TO TELL ANYONE!?!? Well he sees Roderick steal his act and is NOT happy with it. In retaliation, he sets Mr. Poppy and co free, and when St. Bernadettes is announced to have been disqualified, Mr. Shakespeare lets our heroes take the place of Oakmoor. So Mr. Poppy and the misfit kids finally get to perform their song and it’s a smash hit! It’s so good, that everyone starts to get up and dance, including Roderick’s choir which upsets him VERY much.
After St. Bernadettes finishes their song (and an encore because they’re SO popular), Mr. Peterson is confronted by his brother and father who are there to just chew him out and make fun of him. Mr. Peterson finally stands up to them and tells them off. He starts explaining that it’s not about being the best or doing things the right way, it’s about having fun and being happy with what you do. Critics don’t matter when you feel good about yourself and having a good time!
WAIT A MINUTE!!! IS DAVID TENNANT TALKING SHIT TO ME!?
Well fuck you too buddy! The only time that someone criticizes a critic for critiquing their creative work is because the KNOW it’s shit and feel insecure about it. After his rant, he leaves the building and takes everyone with him before the winners are announced. They don’t need to hear if they won, because in their minds they already have. As they are leaving though, Mrs. Peterson starts to go into labor and instead of doing the sensible thing of going back inside the castle where they can get some help, they all drag her to a nearby barn so that the movie can make a direct parallel to the story of baby Jesus.
While this is happening, they announce the winners of song for Christmas which is Oakmoor (the school that St. Bernadettes was pretending to be)! Despite them NOT being the same class who performed the song earlier, Mr. Shakespeare gets his prize and does a little happy dance.
We cut back to find that Mrs. Peterson just gave birth to twin boys. Mr. Peterson’s father shows up (how the hell did he know where they were?) and for once is pleasant to his son. NOT BUYING IT!! Give it a day or two, and he’ll be back to his asshole self. Roderick as well shows up and his nice guy turn here is admittedly a lot more believable. Roderick just lost something he was all but guaranteed (and did some pretty ridiculous things to ensure), so now he has a reason for his change in perspective. He’s also still kind of a dick, but that just makes us realize that he’s REALLY trying here.
Roderick leaves after they have their nice moment, and the movie ends with Mr. Peterson and his wife sitting comfortably with their new children and surrounded by new friends. Oh, and then the donkey says Merry Christmas, because whatever. THE MOVIE’S OVER, SO DON’T QUESTION IT!!
This movie is terrible, and I don’t want to hear anyone start with the whole “It’s for kids” arguments! If you want a GOOD version of this, go watch School of Rock. The kids are all unique and aren’t just there to be cute and laugh. Jack Black as the irresponsible teacher WORKS because he (sort of) gets comeuppance for his deception, and changes from an irresponsible oaf to someone who actually cares about others. Just because this movie has a Christmas theme (and has Dr. Who in it) doesn’t give it a free pass to be cliché, stupid, and bafflingly tone deaf. The entire second act comes across as a wild romp in the woods with good friends and never acknowledges the real danger they’ve put themselves in. Hell, the RAPEL DOWN A FUCKING MOUNTAIN AT ONE POINT!!! Those kids can’t be any older than nine or ten, and yet we’re NOT supposed to be horrified that the irresponsible Mr. Poppy is lowering these kids down a cliff for no other reason than to make it on time to a singing contest!?!? On top of all that, character motivations are silly, the situations they get in that AREN’T dangerous are downright stupid, and the fact that this was mostly improvised makes itself very apparent with how broad it is and how tangential to the main story a lot of the scenes are. There is only one thing that I will give this movie credit for. David Tennant is a good actor, and he does what he can with what is written for both of the roles he’s been given. Mr. Peterson has some great emotional moments, and Roderick is amusing when he’s over the time. This movie WANTS to speak to kids on their own terms, what with the incredibly dangerous situations that have no sense of danger whatsoever and the fact that WANTING to win something is enough to do it. The thing is that while it’s clear that it’s trying, it fails and just does what so many other kids movies end up doing; talking down to their target audience. Of course no one’s going to get hurt while hiking through the woods without any means of communication and without anyone knowing where you are. It’s a silly Christmas movie! There are much better Christmas movies out there that you should watch instead of this one. It might be an okay pick as a “fun” bad Christmas movie, what with the baffling moments of child endangerment, and the weird as hell turns the story takes in the third act, but other than that you’re better off just rewatching one of the many classic Christmas films that we end up sitting through this time of year.
Oh yeah. HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM ALL OF US HERE AT THE REVIEWERS UNITE!!!