I’m always excited when another new Christmas movie comes along, especially when it looks as fresh and exciting as Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey does. Writer and director David E Talbert originally conceived this story as a musical play, but it now finds its home on Netflix as a feature film, and just in time for the holidays!
According to recent interviews, Talbert Made ‘Jingle Jangle’ so that his son could finally see a musical Christmas movie with black characters, after showing him his childhood favourite “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and realising that he just wasn’t able to connect with it. The result is a wonderful celebration of cultures and heritage, including Asian, Indian, African and Latin.
Things start off strong for Jingle Jangle – a grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) settles down to tell her two young grandchildren a story, read from a wonderous book with intricately moving gears on the cover. It’s the story of Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell), an energetic toymaker and inventor, whose shop, Jangles and Things, sits in a vibrantly colourful Dickensian street bustling with people. Jeronicus has a wife, a daughter and an assistant named Gustafson, who is also a budding young inventor. When the ingredient that Jeronicus has been waiting on for his greatest invention arrives in the mail, there’s an energetic song and dance number involving everyone in the shop, complete with somersaults galore. It’s all very Greatest Showman and this, along with a snowball fight scene number later on in the movie, are the musical highlights of the movie.
As his wife and daughter look on, Jeronicus adds a drop of the eagerly awaited ingredient to his creation – a small mechanical bullfighter called Don Juan (voiced by Ricky Martin), who is then magically brought to life. Jeronicus has plans to manufacture enough of these incredible new dolls so that there is one for every child in the world, but the arrogant little bullfighter has other ideas. He manages to convince Gustafson, who is already feeling pushed aside and ignored by Jeronicus, to steal him, and all of Jeronicus’s other plans and designs in order to run away and set up on his own.
From there, a beautiful CGI scene, depicting our characters as carved wooden toys, shows us how Jeronicus consequently managed to lose everything, including his wife and daughter. When we rejoin him, decades later, he’s now played by Forest Whitaker and his shop has become a pawn shop, under threat of closure on Christmas Day by the bank manager (Hugh Bonneville) unless he can turn the tide and come up with an exciting new invention. Gustafson (now played by Keegan-Michael Key) meanwhile, has become a huge success, winning toymaker of the year every year since he stole the designs from Jeronicus.
It’s at this point that I felt things took a downward dip. The song and dance numbers continue, but apart from the two that I mentioned earlier, none are particularly memorable and feel more out of place and forced into the plot than you would normally expect from a musical movie. It feels like they took elements from dozens of classic Christmas and family movies and threw them into a mixing pot. A bit of this, a dash of that. And the result is an overstuffed jumble of fantastic and wonderful moments which after a while begin to neither gel nor flow in any meaningful or enjoyable way. And there are even moments that feel out of place, seemingly thrown in just for the hell of it. Consequently, the pacing feels off and there is a lot of lag throughout, with far too many unnecessary or nonsensical moments.
Despite my negativity, there’s so much energy and goodwill on display that it’s almost impossible to completely dislike Jingle Jangle. The inclusiveness that David E Talbert set out to achieve is there and it works, providing an inspirational movie for all ages, no matter the colour of their skin. Hopefully, this will be enjoyed by many for years to come.
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