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Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! (U)

When you've produced a family Christmas film with the charm, musical clout and silliness of Nativity! (2009), starring Martin Freeman, what do you do to follow it up three years later?

Well, if you're director Debbie Isitt, you don't mess with a winning formula: cute kids from Coventry schools, a quality cast (David Tennant, Joanna Page, Marc Wootton, Pam Ferris, Jessica Hynes, Ian McNeice, Jason Watkins), a silly seasonal storyline and a spectacular musical finale packed with sparkle and jaunty songs.

And the good news is: it works. While the film takes a little while to get warmed up, the assured big names work well with the charm and cheek of the children, and the improvised dialogue gives it a freshness and energy that rarely lets up.

David Tennant does a great job in his dual role of twin brothers Donald and Roderick Peterson – one an earnest teacher at St Bernadette's, a struggling primary school, the other a highly acclaimed composer and conductor. Their paths cross in the national Sing A Song for Christmas competition, when Donald is unwillingly bundled off on a road trip by his good-hearted but childish classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton) to the Welsh castle hosting the final.

Cue lots of stunts and silliness as the ragtag choir – plus a donkey and a baby – negotiate the wilds of the Welsh countryside before the climactic musical finale. And rival posh school Oakmore, led by Machiavellian music teacher Mr Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) are there to challenge them ...

There's lots of silliness, and some fun songs in the competition climax, as well as a bit of a family subplot and a gentle message about the real meaning of Christmas. Your under 10s will love it, and most adults will find enough charm and amusement to keep them happy.

It opens on nationwide release on 23 November (although as the official 2012 Children in Need film, 42 Cineworld cinemas had a charity screening earlier this month). Damaris have produced some resources for schools, churches, Cubs and Brownies to use with the film, and you'll find them at www.damaris.org/nativity2

Russ Bravo

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