23rd December: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Image: Netflix

The Reel Time Christmas Movie Advent Calendar is exactly what it says on the tin: a classic festive countdown, except instead of chocolate behind the windows it’s my ramblings on a host of Christmas films. In true advent calendar style, films will not be announced in advance, but revealed at 6pm each day. Get involved by shouting abuse at me on Twitter and Facebook, or even just reading and sharing. I hope this can bring a little cheer at the end of a miserable year. Enjoy!

Year: 2020

Director: David E. Talbert

Writer: David E. Talbert

Starring: Madalen Mills, Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Lisa Davina Phillip, Anika Noni Rose, Kieron L. Dyer

It is a marvel that we’re just two days away from Christmas and this is the first proper, all-out musical we’ve had so far. There’s a few songs in The Muppet Christmas Carol, and The Nightmare Before Christmas you could reasonably call a musical, too. But there’s something about the backing dancers, the spontaneous bursting into song, the spectacle of massive, choreographed numbers in this film that screams ‘this is a musical’ at the top of its very tuneful voice.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is another new effort from Netflix, one of a few big holiday releases on the service along with sequels to The Princess Switch and The Christmas Chronicles. When assessing it, I found Jingle Jangle (I refuse to tire my fingers by typing its full name) to be remarkably similar to those two films. Much like them, it has a very familiar feel to it, with a plot and themes ripped straight from the holiday movie textbook. The film’s subtitle is A Christmas Journey, and the main character is called Journey. That’s the level of subtlety and complexity we’re dealing with here. I mean, the movie’s message is about truly believing in yourself for crying out loud. That said, it’s great to see Jingle Jangle deviate from a lot of mainstream Christmas fare by having a predominantly Black cast, as yesterday’s The Best Man Holiday did too.

I am also pleased to report that Jingle Jangle belongs in the same camp as The Christmas Chronicles in my estimations, rather than The Princess Switch. The latter was a pretty-standard issue Christmas film, charmingly enough told to still be enjoyable. The Christmas Chronicles, on the other hand, elevated itself above a conventional plot to a much greater extent, thanks to an ace up its sleeve. In that film the ace was Kurt Russell’s Santa with rockstar charisma, in Jingle Jangle writer-director David E. Talbert has his musical numbers.

Blessed with a cast full of great singers, he rolls from one set-piece to the next, unleashing joyous colour and vitality at every turn. Some of the cast you might not have realised had these kind of pipes, like Oscar-winning old hand Forest Whitaker and comedy star Keegan-Michael Key, who has one of the best numbers all to himself. Every time the music kicks in, Jingle Jangle takes off. The songs, co-written by John Legend, instantly feel like ones I will want to listen back to later, and the staging around them is wonderful. I’m not really sure when or where this is set (the cast are a mixture of British and American), but I loved the steampunk-esque costume and set design, helping give the film a distinct flavour and personality that some films lack.

The problem is that, for much of the film, I was just waiting for the next song. I know it sounds like such an easy criticism to level at a musical, but it’s true. The performances (especially from young newcomer Madalen Mills) are good, and hold the attention long enough to make it through the music-less stretches, but the story doesn’t have enough to power us through. It concerns the magnificently named inventor Jeronicus Jangle. We discover that he was the toast of the town until his apprentice Gustafson stole all of his plans and hot-footed it across the road to set up a rival toy shop.

We then flash to about 35 years later and old Jeronicus (Whitaker) is a grumpy recluse, while Gustafson (Key) is the premier toy-maker in the world having ripped off every single one of Jeronicus’ inventions. A visit from Jeronicus’ granddaughter Journey (Mills) may be just what he needs to invent something again and return to his former glory. You can guess roughly where it all goes from here. The exact route we take has a few fun bits of action and the aforementioned musical highlights, hampered only by the weak overall story.

One final note is that this is possibly the furthest from a definite Christmas film we have had since Die Hard. It is set at Christmas, it looks gorgeous with all its snow, and the story is about toys, family and believing, but the fact it all takes place at Christmas has little to no effect on the plot. The songs, for example, could easily be listened to any other time of the year. For that I am grateful, however, as I enjoyed them very much.

Where it Ranks

As I said, this is very much on a par with fellow Netflix effort The Christmas Chronicles. So I’ll pop them next to each other in the ranking. I think Jingle Jangle just loses out in a head-to-head because the other film just has a bit more meat to the story.

  1. Die Hard
  2. Happiest Season
  3. Klaus
  4. Arthur Christmas
  5. Black Christmas
  6. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  7. Elf
  8. The Best Man Holiday
  9. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  10. How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  11. Scrooged
  12. Love Actually
  13. Gremlins
  14. Home Alone
  15. Krampus
  16. The Christmas Chronicles
  17. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
  18. Last Christmas
  19. Nativity!
  20. The Holiday
  21. Noelle
  22. The Santa Clause
  23. The Grinch
  24. The Princess Switch
  25. A Bad Moms Christmas

Andrew Young