Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020) Review
BRILLIANCE BECKONS. GENIUS AWAITS.
Christmas movies have been a “time honored” tradition. During the holiday Christmas season, seasonal feature films get their chance to shine; dazzling viewers with its yuletide cheer and overly sentimental narratives of love, family, and Christmas celebrations. With plenty of holiday classic films and TV specials making their circulation during this time of year, it’s been a struggle to find a somewhat “new” memorable / timeless holiday Christmas film of late. Sure, there has been a plethora of holiday themed flicks that have recently appeared such as The Knight Before Christmas, Let it Snow, The Princess Switch, The Christmas Chronicles, but none of them have been quite that memorable to match the same theatrical / cinematic timeless feeling to that of the same caliber of It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, The Nightmare Before Christmas, or Elf. With the rise of streaming services, various streaming outlet / platforms have begun to branch out in producing (or buying) holiday themed Christmas films to help promote their streaming services during the holiday season. Now, Netflix and director David E. Talbert presents the latest Christmas movie of 2020 season with the release of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. Is this movie the worth the watch for to ring in the “yuletide” spirt or is it musical mashup journey that simply doesn’t work?
Years ago, in the wonderous and vibrant town of Cobbleton, legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell) is the owner of Jangle and Things, an imaginative emporium tinker shop that’s bursting with his creative inventions of whimsy and wonder to all ages. With his family, including his wife Joanne (Sharon Rose), and Jessica (Diaana Babnicova), by his side, the popular toymaker is at the top of his game; receiving an important invention piece on day that could bring his greatest creation to life. However, after Jeronicus’s apprentice, Gustafson (Miles Barrow), is persuaded to betray his master, Jeronicus shutter his entire world around him. Years later, Jessica (Anika Noni Rose), now estranged from her father, sends her daughter, Journey (Madalen Mills) to spend some time with her grandfather, who is a shell-of-a-man of what he used to be; falling to produce anything that works and who has lost the spark of his imaginative creativity. With Jangle and Things on the verge of bankruptcy, its up to Journey to rekindle the hope in Jeronicus’s brilliance and discover the magic of one of his lost inventions, while Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key), who has now become a renowned toymaker, has run out of fresh ideas and now schemes to figure out his next big invention from his old master’s shop.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Borrowing a few lines from my review of Operation Christmas Drop…..I am a fan of Christmas movies. Always have and always will be. Christmas time is a big holiday for me since my childhood, so the marriage of the good old yuletide cheer and cinematic tales in holiday themed movies have always been to my liking. Of course, I love a lot of the more traditional /classic holiday movies, especially ones that have become classics within their own right like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or the ones that were released when I was growing up like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Home Alone. Still, one of favorite ones would definitely have to be Polar Express (love that entire movie) or maybe Elf (before actor Will Ferrell became increasingly unfunny). As mentioned above, there has been a ton of new Christmas themed movies from rom-coms, to raunchy comedies, to dramedies, and to several other genres. However, not a whole lot have become timeless. Stuff like Disney+’s Noelle seems like a forgettable dud, while Netflix’s Klaus was received with universal acclaim. So, it’s kind of a hit or miss.
This brings me to back to talking about Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, a 2020 musical fantasy holiday adventure that seems to be prime to be the next “big thing” in Christmas features. Like a lot of Netflix original movies, I really didn’t hear much about this movie when it was first announced nor was it being played out as a “must see” movie during the holiday 2020 releases. So, I really didn’t pay much attention to it. In fact, my first really taste for the film was when the film’s movie trailer dropped online back in October and I do have to say that I was definitely hooked to see this movie. Judging from the trailer, I was quite taken with the feature’s visual look and appeal. Plus, it was musical…. heck yeah! So, I was definitely looking forward to seeing Jingle Jangle when it got released in early November. However, with work demanding a lot of my time (tis the holiday season in retail), I had to wait a couple of weeks to where I finally had caught up with some other personal business and finally sat down to watch this particular movie one night. And what did I think of it? Well, I actually really liked it. Despite some minor nitpicks, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is widely fun musical fantasy adventure that surely will delight all ages. I have feeling that this particular film is destined to be a new modern holiday classic.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is directed by David E. Talbert, whose previous directorial works includes such films like First Sunday, Baggage Claim, and Almost Christmas. Given his background, Talbert makes Jingle Jangle his most ambitious project and certainly does succeed in making the feature feel wonderous and magical. Right from the get-go, Talbert seems to know what the target audience of the movie is and keeps that tone throughout the film’s runtime; generating a very whimsical holiday fantasy-esque adventure that’s fueled by a colorful palette, musical numbers, and plenty of heart. What best works for the film that Talbert does is makes the feature’s story feel lighthearted and whimsical…as if Jingle Jangle is a long-lost children’s Christmas tale. Additionally, Talbert’s utilizes music in the movie’s story with plenty of musical songs and numbers, with feature boasting several musical songs, which are quite captivating and toe-tapping, with Talbert’s team demonstrating plenty of amazing choregraphing dance moves and sequences that are flashy and stylish into almost every scene. Personally, my favorite song in the movie is “This Day”, which is the movie’s first song to be played and definitely sets the tone for what is to come in the next two hours of Jingle Jangle.
Looking beyond that, Talbert, who also does “double duty” on the film as director pens the film’s script, keeps Jingle Jangle in a very familiar and comfortable ground; drawing upon common themes of childish’ s wonder and imagination, which are of course universal, as well as presented messages of dealing with grief and the power of believing in oneself are always fundamentally for all ages. While the film has a certain type of bigness to the feature, especially with the film’s story, color visuals, and music, Talbert keeps Jingle Jangle rather focused on and almost like a intimate project. Altogether, Talbert’s efforts in both the script handling and in the director’s chair on Jingle Jangle makes it’s a “breath of fresh air” for most of Netflix’s plethora of holiday Christmas; making the film feel that much more memorable / entertaining from onset to conclusion. All in all, Jingle Jangle is a musical wonderland adventure that’s full of heart and imagination.
As a whole, the overall presentation for Jingle Jangle is absolutely amazing and definitely a visual feast for the eyes. From every detail in the film’s first moments, the entire project looks and feels like a long-lost Christmas magical tale that is bursting with color and imaginative designs. The whole storybook feeling that’s mixed with the Victorian-era style motifs / apparel and the steampunk nuances feels quite unique and definitely adds a wondrous “once upon a time” feeling that’s very welcoming and inviting. Did I mention the colors! The entire film is brimming with lively colors; creating an incredible bright and vivid colors that definitely “pop” and create a visual wonderland for the eyes. Thus, I really do have mention a lot of the various “behind the scenes” players, including Gavin Bocquet (production designs), Rob Cameron (set decorations), Michael Wilkinson (costumes designs), and all the members in the film’s art direction, for imagining / bringing this fictional (and vivid) town of Cobbleton to life. Plus, the visual cinematography perfectly compliments the movie beautifully, thanks to cinematographer Remi Adefarasin for bringing creative / sweeping camera angles and lightning to the production. Additionally, the visual effects are quite solid. Of course, they aren’t top notch and / or the “best of the best” of today’s blockbuster of CGI, but what’s presented works and adds its own personal charm to the feature’s narrative cinematics. So, naturally, there are traditional CGI animation that the film utilizes, but also CGI animation for its sequences of storytelling narration (in short burst), which adds to its storybook feeling. Lastly, in addition the film’s music (as mentioned above), the movie’s score, which was composed by John Debney and Michael Diskint is superb and feels amazing melodical that harmonizes with many of the various scenes or musical overtones moments.
While I do like the movie, I do have to say that there are a few points of criticisms that have with Jingle Jangle that, while doesn’t take away from my likeability of the feature, feels like it could’ve been better in the final presentation of the film. How so? Well, for starters, the big complaint that I have with the movie is the fact that its quite predictable. Yes, I do understand it’s supposed to be made for kids and follows the traditional journey of discovery and believing. However, most of this style of storytelling has been done multiple times in various platforms. So, while the movie is always dazzling with its visuals and musical numbers, the actual plot seems a bit recycled. What’s presented works…I’m not disagreeing with that, but it feels a bit hollow at times and becomes a bit predictable how things would eventually pan out in the narrative. Thus, its quite easy to see where Jingle Jangle is heading and a lot of its big “twists” and “turns” seems formulaic; lacking the sharpness that I was hoping. Another problem is that the movie feels a bit long. I was a bit surprised when I saw that the film’s runtime clocked in at around two hours (122 minutes in total) and it’s kind of feels long. In truth, the beginning of the film feels a bit rushed as I wished they spent more time in this area, while the third act is a tad bloated and could’ve been trimmed down to short the feature’s runtime. Additionally, there is a lot to unpack throughout the movie with several meandering story threads that certainly ties it altogether by the film’s ending, but it kind of takes a while to get there. These criticisms are merely minor complaints that I have with the film and didn’t take away that much of my enjoyment of the movie.
What’s actually a great positive that Jingle Jangle displays quite nicely is in its various cast of characters or rather within its acting talents to be play these colorfully animated constructs. Why so? Well, for the most part, the diverse cast of Jingle Jangle, which features mostly prominently of African American actors / actresses, proves to be effective, which definitely speaks volumes, especially considering the racial divisions and modernization of allowing inclusions in mainstream platforms. To be clear…. this is not a gimmick in the movie as the cast does truly shine and certainly brings life (both physically and vocally) to life within the film’s cinematic story. Leading the charge (and headlining) the movie is definitely Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker, who plays the film’s central main character of Jeronicus Jangle. Known for his roles in The Butler, Black Panther, and The Last King of Scotland, Whitaker has always been known for his subtlety within his voice when he acts and delivers stirring character performances…no matter how big or small. His involvement in Jingle Jangle is such a perfect example of his moniker acting talent; shaping Jeronicus Jangle into a fractured shell of a man, who has lost his faith in believing in himself, from the greatness of his imaginative toymaker inventor. Again, Whitaker is great in the role and his nervous sounding small-like voice is superb and seeing him transformation throughout the film’s narrative is heartwarming. Similarly, actor Keegan-Michael Key also shines in the movie in playing Gustafson, Jeronicus’s once aspiring inventor apprentice. Known for his roles in Keanu, Pitch Perfect 2, and Key and Peele, Key is fun in the role Gustafson; making for a more larger-than-life character in comparsion to Whitaker’s Jeronicus. And while, he’s more of the villain of the feature (in a more cartoon-ish type of way), Key’s Gustafson is still quite fun and makes for a convincingly / entertaining performance in the movie.
Behind those two, young actress Madalen Mills (The Tiger Rising) is perfect as the sweet and innocent character of Journey Jangle, Jessica’s daughter and Jeronicus’s granddaughter. She definitely holds her own in the movie; acting as the somewhat secondary main character to Jeronicus, and delivers a solid role within her performance as well as her singing (as mentioned with the song “Not the Only One”. Complimenting her in the movie is her young co-star Kieron L. Dyer (making his theatrical debut in the movie) as Edison Latimer, a young boy who befriends Journey on her adventure of discovery. Together, both Mills and Dyer act as the young stars of the feature and certainly pull it off in their work. Next, actress Anika Noni Rose (The Princess and the Frog and Dreamgirls) plays the role of Jessica Jangle, Jeronicus’s daughter, beautifully. The sad part is that the character isn’t in the movie as much, which is a bit disappointed and doesn’t give much screen time with Rose’s acting, who is actually quite good. Still, she certainly nails the character the right away. Additionally, singer Ricky Martin does an amusing / fun role in the movie as Don Juan Diego, a sentiment and miniature matador invention. Martin succeeds in bring the character to life with his singing, voice talent, and his body motion of which Juan is animated CGI creation.
The rest of the cast, including and actor Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey and Paddington) as Mr. Delacroix, actress Lisa Davis Phillip (Apple Tree House and The Royal Today) as Ms. Johnston, actor Miles Barrow (Scoop) as the younger version of Gustafson, actress Sharon Rose (making her theatrical debut in the film) as Jeronicus’s wife Joanne Jangle, actress Diaana Babnicova (Becoming Everything and Isolation the Series) as the younger version of Jessica Jangle, and actor Justin Cornwell (I am the Night and Training Day), are delegated to supporting roles throughout the movie. Some actually do shine in the limited screen time (most notably Justin Cornwell in singing “This Day” at the beginning of the movie). Overall, I liked these supporting players and do add plenty of lively warmth and fun to the feature. Lastly, actress Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show and Creed) gracefully bookends the feature as Grandmother Journey in a very nicely done storyteller of this musical fantasy adventure.
I think it’s time for a new story as a young girl shows her grandfather that brilliance of his once-genius mind and imaginative power of wonder in the movie Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. Director David E. Talbert’s latest film takes a leap into foray of Christmas holiday themed movies, which rises to the top of other memorable hits of the past, and produces something quite magical from start to finish. While the film does tread into formulaic narrative territory a few times as well as being a slightly too long, the bulk of the feature is teeming with yuletide spirt, thanks to Talbert’s direction, creative steampunk / storybook set designs, vibrant costumes, lyrical musical songs, a strong cast of talent, and reinforcing fundamental messages of grieving, believing, and wonderment. Personally, I really liked this movie. Though its slightly predictable, the movie still retains plenty of imaginative holiday magic wrapped altogether within a lyrical / colorful musical journey. It already feels like a modern timeless holiday classic to me. So, my recommendation for this movie is a “highly recommended” as it delivers on almost fronts of the whole “Tis the season” mantra as well as being wonderful feature. In the end, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey soars within its imaginative moniker; delivering a touching / timeless narrative of love and magic that’s perfectly wrapped in a colorful world of dazzling colors and musical numbers.
4.4 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)
Released On: November 13th, 2020
Reviewed On: December 5th, 2020
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is 122 minutes and is rated PG for some thematic elements and peril
Jingle Jangle used an old street (Elm Hill) in Norwich for some exterior scenes when it was filming last summer. I went there when the film crew were there- it was very weird seeing snow covered buildings and cobbles in the middle of an August heatwave! Not seen the film yet but it sounds like it could be a good watch over xmas.
I’m glad to see there’s a bit of fresh air on the Christmas movie scene this year! Sometimes I’m in the mood for Christmas movies and sometimes not, but often the “not” is because I get tired of the same old thing. Maybe this will be something new I can enjoy!
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