A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
The movie is educational in mostly faith-based ways, retelling the story of the Nativity. In secular ways, the movie shows aspects of the historical era, including Herod's reign, how people of the time dressed and lived.
The movie's messages are rooted in Christian faith and are mostly about believing in and following God's plan and focusing on the Nativity story and Jesus' birth as the reason to celebrate Christmas. There are also general themes about compassion, empathy, teamwork, and perseverance.
Positive Role Models
Mary is brave, compassionate, and willing to have faith in God and her pregnancy. Joseph is understandably conflicted about the news of Mary's pregnancy but is ultimately faithful to her, their engagement, and his place by her side. The three wise men come from different places and backgrounds but work together to follow the star to Bethlehem. The Romans and Rome-supported Herod are represented as a negative force.
Ancient Middle Eastern people are portrayed mostly by White European and American actors. Only a few characters are played by people of color: two of the wise men and one of Mary's sisters. Mary and other women (her sisters, mother, cousin Elizabeth) all have more agency and opinions than is usually shown in depictions of women from the ancient era.
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Violence & Scariness
King Herod is a murderous leader who orders a strict census, has people arrested and tortured, and threatens others with weapons (blades, swords). Herod orders his son to find and eliminate the unwed pregnant woman carrying the prophesied baby (even if that means killing every pregnant woman and newborn in Bethlehem). Herod's soldiers are about to arrest Mary and Joseph (and baby Jesus) until Antipater protects them. Joseph and Mary must hide under the hay of a barn. Joseph's conflict about what to do about his possible marriage is represented by a vision of two versions of him who fight each other. The donkey pushes a couple of people out of Mary's way. A woman humorously slaps a man with a bouquet of flowers.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Joseph and Mary hold hands, embrace, kiss on the cheek, and, in one scene, briefly kiss on the lips. Flirting. Oblique references to virginity and what it means if Mary is "with child" out of wedlock and lying about the circumstances. Both Mary and Joseph's families feel worried, shamed, and distrustful at first after Mary's news.
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Jokey reference to a donkey's other name ("ass"). Bathroom humor: One of the wise men mentions "sheep dung" several times and later says he's having "hygiene" problems.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Herod drinks wine. The wise men recommend that frankincense or myrrh can help alleviate his headaches/insomnia.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Journey to Bethlehem is a musical retelling of the biblical story of Jesus' birth. Combining classic Christmas songs and original modern pop fare, the film weaves together the perspectives of brave young Mary (Fiona Palomo); her compassionate betrothed, Joseph (Milo Manheim); the jealous and vindictive King Herod (Antonio Banderas); and Herod's conflicted son, Antipater (Joel Smallbone). There's some peril and violence, as well as brief moments of shame, betrayal, and confusion over Mary's pregnancy. Joseph and Mary flirt, hold hands, embrace, kiss on the cheek, and, in one scene, briefly kiss on the lips. In one musical number, two versions of Joseph fight each other. Herod instructs his son to track down all the pregnant women and newborn babies in Bethlehem and kill them if he can't find the prophesied future king. Herod's soldiers threaten and arrest citizens, and he's known to torture them. The king also drinks wine, and there's a jokey reference to a donkey's other name ("ass"). While the movie has themes of compassion, empathy, teamwork, and perseverance, it falls a bit short on the representation front, with ancient Middle Eastern people largely portrayed by White European and American actors. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
This is a heartfelt, charming musical twist on the classic nativity story. Director/co-writer Adam Anders (Glee, Rock of Ages) blends traditional Christmas music (like "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel") with new songs to retell the familiar story of the Nativity. The result is part coming-of-age tale (Mary and Joseph), part comedic buddy road trip (the three wise men), and part dynastic family drama (King Herod and Antipater). Palomo and Manheim are dynamic young performers, and Banderas' scenery-chewing portrayal is outsized but manages not to tip too far into camp. Contemporary Christian singer Smallbone is also notable as Antipater, and the three wise men are useful comic relief amid the otherwise more serious proceedings. The ensemble also includes other Christian singers, including Moriah (who's also Smallbone's wife) and Grammy-winning rapper Lacrea, who stands out as the angel Gabriel. There's even a trusty donkey named Fig that doesn't speak but is sure to delight younger viewers.
The musical works well as a pop counterpoint to the rock-opera musical Jesus Christ Superstar, which focuses on Jesus' ministry and death. The songs are earnest and catchy, ranging from upbeat to pensive to funny. And renowned Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman teamed up with We the Kingdom for the end-credits song, "Brand New Life." But this isn't just for families of faith: Journey to Bethlehem is a surprisingly effective musical that should appeal to all families who appreciate holiday movies.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.