“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” stars Forest Whitaker, Madalen Mills, Keegan-Michael Key, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Hugh Bonneville, and Ricky Martin. Released on Netflix on November 13, 2020, the film is about a toymaker and his granddaughter who race to create a magical invention.
The film is written and directed by David E. Talbert, who also directed “First Sunday”, “Baggage Claim”, “Almost Christmas”, and “El Camino Christmas”. It’s finally November once again. You know what that means? Yep, it’s time to start watching some Christmas movies. Seriously, when are we going to get some more movies that are Thanksgiving-themed? Where’s the love for the turkey? Netflix is getting the holiday festivities started with the latest Christmas-related film from writer/director David E. Talbert, who has been spreading some holiday cheer for the past four years. But here’s the catch: it’s a Christmas-related musical film that’s produced by singer/songwriter John Legend. How’s that for an early Christmas gift? I realized that Netflix already released a couple of Christmas films before “Jingle Jangle”, but I wouldn’t want to waste my time with those films when I got something that interests me more. It has a well-known cast and plenty of holiday cheer in its premise and music, but are they enough to make this the next Christmas classic?
The film takes place in a vibrant Christmas-like town called Cobbleton, where a legendary toymaker named Jeronicus Jangle (Whitaker) creates fantastical inventions at his toy shop. These inventions are known for bringing joy and whimsy to every boy and girl in town. He’s basically the African-American version of Santa Claus. His passion took a nasty dip when his trusty assistant Gustafson (Key) steals one of his inventions as well as his book of inventions, resulting in him feeling distraught and losing his creative spark in the process. Many years later, Jeronicus’ shop is facing financial hardship and is now racing to pay off his debts before he loses it for good. When his granddaughter Journey (Mills) discovers one of his inventions, The Buddy 3000, she attempts to protect it from falling into the hands of Gustafson. The major thing that stood out the most when it comes to this film is the representation. This is a holiday fantasy film that’s packed with a diverse cast. Sure, we have plenty of live-action Christmas films, but one that is filled with fantasy elements and musical numbers? That’s something that we don’t get that often, so major props to Netflix and David E. Talbert for releasing this kind of film to the public. They deserve a pat on the backs, or should I say presents underneath their Christmas trees? Aside from that, how is the film itself? Honestly, it’s pretty much what I expected it to be. It’s a whimsical and dazzling holiday musical that’ll make any viewer’s heart swell up like a balloon. While I wouldn’t call this the next Christmas classic when it comes to its storytelling, I would say that it offered enough music and good cheer in its plot and its heartwarming messages to dance its way to the top. Similar to the other live-action musicals like “The Greatest Showman”, the cast in “Jingle Jangle” pulled double duty as both actors and singers, and they did a good job with both of them. Forest Whitaker did pretty well with his performance as Jeronicus, but I think Keegan-Michael Key as Gustafson was the most entertaining out of all of the entire cast. Despite his character being a by-the-numbers antagonist, Key still managed to keep things moving with his own style of energy in his performance and his singing. Newcomer Madalen Mills made a solid first impression as Journey, Jeronicus’ granddaughter who shares the same passion as him. It’s far from a perfect performance, but she does know how to shine bright when the spotlight’s on her. I also want to point out that Kieron L. Dyer’s Edison, Jeronicus’ assistant, was a hit-and-miss for me in terms of his performance. The character was fine for the most part, but his style of humor didn’t quite work for me. As for the musical numbers, which were written by Philip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, Michael Diskint, and John Legend, they’re quite decent. They definitely have that specific vibe in the film's sequences and choreography that made “The Greatest Showman” a show-stopping phenomenon, which, in my eyes, worked very well in the film’s vibrant Christmas setting. They’re kinetic, heartfelt, and more importantly, enjoyable. I think the ones that stood out the most for me was “Magic Man G” by Key, “Square Root of Possible” by Mills, and “Make It Work” by Whitaker and Anika Noni Rose. The former for being catchy and energetic, and the latter two for the inspiring lyrics. I also think the CGI effects and the visual representation of its storytelling were pretty solid. The film has sequences that uses CGI marionette puppets to describe the events of the story, which looked very impressive, in my opinion. Even though most of the CGI effects looked a bit iffy at times, they did manage to put some effort into them, especially the design of The Buddy 3000. The only issue I have with the film was the execution of its story. I was able to enjoy the story for what it is, but I couldn’t help but think that the way it was told could’ve been a lot more fun. It got off to a promising start during the first act, but then it struggled a bit to keep its lively momentum consistent during the rest of the film. There are certain narrative elements that felt either rushed or underdeveloped, including the relationship between The Buddy 3000 and Journey, the rivalry between Jeronicus and Gustafson, and Journey herself. I’m thinking if there have been more time to develop those narrative elements, the film would’ve been more enjoyable for both kids and adults.
Overall, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is a lovely early Christmas gift for fans of holiday films and musicals in general. The story can be a bit underdeveloped or a bit slow at times, but its sense of joy and wonder was able to overshadow its flawed narrative and spread some holiday cheer. This is another worthy addition to the “Christmas Films” collection due to its suitable cast, its engaging musical numbers, and its heartfelt messages. It’s worth checking out on Netflix if you’re in a holiday-like mood this season, and remember, if you believe hard enough, anything is possible.