If you are giving side-eye to everyone who already has their Christmas tree out of the attic, perhaps Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is not for you. For those of you willing to heat up some cocoa and settle in for a night of holiday fun, however, this movie will make it feel like Christmas is just around the corner. For the record, my tree is already up. That should let you know from the start that I am always ready for a good holiday-themed film.
The movie begins with narrator Phylicia Rashad opening The Invention of Jeronicus Jangle, a mechanical and magical book, to tell her grandchildren the story of Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell). He’s the world’s greatest inventor and owner of the fantastical toy store “Jangles and Things”. Accompanied by his wife Joanne (Sharon Rose) and daughter Jessica (Diaana Babnicova), Jeronicus invents a sentient robot matador named Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin) that should put him on the verge of unparalleled success. This all changes when his frustrated apprentice Gustafon (Miles Barrow) doublecrosses Jeronicus.
We rejoin Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) decades later and learn that he never recovered from Gustafon’s (Keegan-Michael Key) backstabbing. The now-adult Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) has a daughter of her own named Journey (Madalen Mills). Journey travels to meet her grandfather, hoping to become an inventor herself and perhaps reclaim some of the magic that has long been missing from Jangles and Things.
Jingle Jangle feels familiar, with the essence of The Greatest Showman and Hamilton combining comfortably with classics like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. While thematically similar to holiday musicals of the past, the welcome addition of a non-white cast breathes new life into the traditional tale. The modern take on the musical numbers, provided in part by John Legend and Philip Lawrence, gives the film some really fun opportunities for over-the-top dance numbers. The talented cast goes all-in, and the moments they burst into song add to the film rather than eliciting an, “Ugh, they’re singing again…”
The colorful Victorian-inspired costumes and steampunk aesthetics add additional layers of fantasy and whimsy. I particularly enjoyed the stop-motion animation used during some of the story transitions. It was delightfully well done, and right at home in the Victorian setting.
I tend to be overly critical of CGI, but the computer-generated effects were mostly well done. The climactic scene in the third act was a bit rough around the edges, but overall forgivable. The film also included a fair amount of flying scenes, and the wirework performances looked stiff.
Clocking in at just over two hours, the film definitely had a few moments in the second act that could have been trimmed. The length will be daunting for the very young to stay fully engaged, which is truly a shame since this is a great family movie night selection. The movie also has an over-the-top earnestness that will be challenging for the more Ebenezer-like among us to overcome. If, however, you are not a Scrooge and can tolerate a little saccharine in your films, this is one you will want to watch.
Director and writer David E Talbert delivers a real gift this season with Jingle Jangle, one that is long overdue for those kids who will be seeing characters who look like them in a classic holiday film for the very first time.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey begins streaming on Netflix on November 13, 2020.
About Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
PG (Peril|Some Thematic Elements)
A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event. Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within. From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility. Featuring original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, and “This Day” performed by Usher and Kiana Ledé.