Ahead of the fourth entry in a festive franchise that nobody expected to still be going after almost a decade. I thought it was time to give the third instalment of the Nativity series a go, for reasons that remain unclear as I wouldn’t call myself a fan of this homegrown film series.
All three of the Nativity movies have been made in support of Children In Need, a worthwhile cause that helps millions of at-risk Children every single year. I am all for supporting Children In Need, let me be clear about that. You can pledge money to this year’s fundraiser in a multitude of ways or via this BBC link. Now that I have attempted to make myself feel less like a monster, Nativity 3: Dude Where’s My Donkey was a creative low for the series that never had a high benchmark in terms of quality. The release of Nativity Rocks with a largely new cast might claim that title, but it will likely be a good few years before I get around to watching the latest instalment.
In keeping with the tradition of a new lead character in each movie, David Tennant has regenerated into the grumpier Martin Clunes. Riffing on his comfy chair and warm frothy soup persona as Doc Martin his role as teacher Jeremy Shepherd is not much of a stretch and even he has trouble staying awake. Prepare the cliche-o-meter, Jeremy loses him memory and forgets why he loves Christmas. As if that tawdry excuse for a plot wasn’t bad enough, the school nativity has lost its beloved donkey, and they need to find it pronto to save the show.
To their credit, the affable kids do their best with the largely improvised material, and I’m sure everybody had a jolly nice time making the movie, so it’s a shame none of that enjoyment translated to the end product. The improv gimmick might have worked okay first time round, less so second time and for the third go, some of the cast look uncomfortable with the free reign. Part of the problem with this lazy sequel is it doesn’t have the charms of Martin Freeman or David Tennant to fall back on. Martin Clunes might be edging towards national treasure status for some, but he can’t carry a feature film with his bedside manner. Only Catherine Tate walks away with a shred of dignity, but Marc Wooton’s unbearable Mr Poppy is dialled up to eleven, and his zany antics quickly become so irritating you’ll be willing those end credits to roll.
Had Nativity 3 been a TV special then you could look past its ‘that’ll do’ approach to filmmaking as nothing about this second sequel belongs on the big screen. Had it been on the telly at Christmas where it can be hazily watched after eating too much dinner, that puddingy sweet spot between half asleep and complete food coma. You nod off for ten minutes yet don’t feel you’ve missed anything important, you know they’ll be a singsong at the end so you slip back into dreamy potatoland for another little rest. That’s the place that Nativity 3 can be enjoyed, not enjoyed, tolerated.
I know that people watch movies (or content as you crazy kids are calling it) on their phones, but there isn’t a screen small enough to make Nativity feel like a cinematic experience. By all means support Children in Need, dress up, have a bath in beans, go on a fun run, bake a cake, but please stop making Nativity sequels. The forthcoming Nativity Rocks is in cinemas later this month if you’re so inclined to see it, or just give Children in Need a donation and save yourself 90 joyless minutes. That said, I just wasted 90 minutes watching Nativity 3, then wrote about it, there are no winners here.