This year, the holiday season arrives ahead of schedule with the enchanting presentation of “Journey to Bethlehem,” where Adam Anders, famed for his role in the music of “Glee,” takes the helm in his directorial debut. Embracing a fresh perspective on the timeless tale of Jesus’ birth, the film weaves familiar melodies like “Silent Night” and “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” into a narrative that caters to the devout audience’s desire for a more traditional retelling.
Hailing from a background of crafting hits for boy bands and Disney Channel artists over a span of two decades, Anders, along with his wife Nikki Anders, infuses the minds of Mary (Fiona Palomo), Joseph (Milo Manheim), and their families with pop stylings and poignant lyrics. Set against the backdrop of Spanish desert locations masquerading as the Holy Land, the film boasts commendable production value, ensuring a rewarding theatrical run in early November before finding a more permanent place in home formats.
A whimsical card at the beginning, playfully stating, “Inspired by a true story… the greatest one ever told,” sets the tone for a movie that strikes a balance between entertainment and reverence. Collaborating with co-writer Peter Barsocchini, known for his work on “The Passion,” Anders aims to captivate audiences with a blend of broad comedy and heartfelt emotion.
The Three Magi, portrayed by Omid Djalili, Geno Segers, and Rizwan Manji, add a touch of silliness reminiscent of the Three Stooges, while Mary and Joseph grapple with the complexities of their impending arranged marriage. Their love story unfolds through a heartfelt duet, “Can We Make This Work,” and gains momentum as they come to terms with Mary’s immaculate conception, hilariously conveyed by Lecrae as the angel Gabriel.
The Anders duo, accompanied by “Glee” partner Peer Åström, deliver a peppy pop appeal reminiscent of “The Greatest Showman,” particularly evident in the catchy end-credits track, “Brand New Life.” Yet, the standout moment belongs to Antonio Banderas, donning heavy eyeliner and a molded breastplate, as he steals the spotlight with the campy-fun solo, “Good to Be King.”
“Journey to Bethlehem” emerges as a family-centric movie, offering a musical experience with a hint of early-aughts charm. While its soundtrack may not transcend into classic territory, the film gracefully occupies a festive niche in the current cinematic landscape, ensuring a delightful six-week run leading up to Christmas.