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‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ well worth taking

November 16, 2020
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Making a holiday movie is easy. Studios large and small alike churn new ones out every year with metronomic regularity. Throw some snow and lights into your basic romance and you’re basically there.

Making a GOOD holiday movie? Well, now we’re talking about something different. Different, and decidedly more difficult. To create something beyond the bland vanilla sameness of the usual Christmas movie claptrap takes vision, effort and a willingness to move beyond the tired tropes of the genre.

Netflix’s “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” – written and directed by David E. Talbert – brings a welcome new energy to the holiday movie landscape. With an engaging story, great music and performances and some dynamite production numbers, it’s a celebratory romp of a film, one that might well find its way into many people’s regular rotation of seasonal offerings. It is energetic and original and an absolute blast, packed with the sort of excitement and fun that one expects from the best Christmas movies.

Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell, TV’s “The InBetween”) is a renowned inventor and toymaker, the owner of the beloved shop Jangles and Things. Word of his creations has spread far and wide, but his latest toy is also potentially his greatest – a self-aware, autonomous matador doll named Don Juan Diego (pop star Ricky Martin). However, in the course of seeking to celebrate with his wife Joanne (Sharon Rose in her debut) and daughter Jessica (Diaana Babnicova in her feature debut), he leaves the shop. Diego convinces Jangle’s apprentice Gustafson (Miles Barrow in his feature debut) to steal the plans for all of Jangle’s inventions and strike out on his own.

The loss devastates Jangle. And when his wife passes all too soon, he utterly falls apart, sending his daughter away and slowly descending into ruin.

Years later, a much older Jangle (Forest Whitaker, TV’s “Godfather of Harlem”) is living in the rundown remains of Jangles and Things, now a pawnshop. He’s bitter and lonely, dismissive of his young self-styled apprentice Edison (Kieron L. Dyer in his debut) and trying to duck both the affections of mail carrier Ms. Johnston (Lisa Davina Phillip in her feature debut) and the demands for repayment from banker Mr. Delacroix (Hugh Bonneville, “Downton Abbey”).

When now-grown Jessica (Anika Noni Rose, “Body Cam”) sends her own daughter Journey (Madalen Mills in her debut) to visit Jangle for the holiday, he struggles to figure out how to deal with her. Further complicating matters is Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key, “All the Bright Places”), who has built a toymaking empire with Diego at his side; however, he’s finally reached the end of the plans he took from Jangle and needs to figure out whether there’s anything more he can steal.

As it turns out, perhaps the greatest invention of them all is still at Jangles and Things, gathering dust in the attic. All it needs is for someone to figure out how it works – perhaps someone like Journey, who is very much her grandfather’s granddaughter. But with Jangle refusing to move forward and Gustafson lurking in the shadows, can Journey make this a holiday to remember?

“Jingle Jangle” is a delight. From the sweet story to the killer choreography to the banging original songs to the depth of representation, it fires on all cylinders. It is brightly-colored Christmas candy, a sparkling bauble that is a joy to behold. It is a bustling, busy film – the cinematic equivalent of the crowded snow-covered streets at Christmastime.

Let’s talk production numbers, because “Jingle Jangle” has loads of them – and they’re all excellent. There are a couple of big bold song-and-dance extravaganzas, brought to vivid life through exceptional choreography, exquisite costuming and an unrelenting Yuletide joyfulness. These are top-tier showstopping numbers; one would be great, but this movie has three or four. And that leaves aside the more intimate musical moments, which are incredibly impactful in their own right.

(My favorite musical moment in the entire film is one of these smaller numbers; Madalene Mills absolutely CRUSHES her turn on the sweet “Square Root of Possible.” Other highlights include the opening banger “This Day,” Forest Whitaker’s surprisingly moving “Over and Over” and Key’s goofball pomposity in “Magic Man G,” but your mileage may vary, because let’s be real – they’re all great.)

It would be disingenuous not to note the efforts made toward Black representation here, because the filmmakers have clearly worked very hard to make them. And yet, it’s somewhat odd to mention those efforts because it all feels … effortless. This isn’t representation for the sake of representation; it’s a phenomenal holiday musical extravaganza that tells the story that those involved seek to tell. It’s a great time, full stop, no qualifiers necessary.

The performances are wonderful across the board. Whitaker is the perfect choice for a role like this; few actors can combine a cantankerous exterior with a squishy soft inner light the way he can. He’s wonderful as usual (and who knew the dude could sing?). Madalen Mills somehow manages to hang with a powerhouse like Whitaker despite her youth; she is a brightly shining young talent who brings a lovely voice and loads of charm to the table. She’s an ideal heroine for a story like this one. Key is a scenery-chewing hoot as Gustafson; the sheer joy he is taking in every moment of this performance is a delight to watch. He is having a ton of fun, and hence we are as well.

Speaking of having fun – Ricky Martin clearly embraced the moment as the voice of Diego. Phillip and Bonneville both manage to evoke the precise nature of their respective characters despite not a ton of screen time. Oh, and Phylicia Rashad is perfectly-cast as the story-reading grandmother who anchors the film’s framing device. Everyone else has bought in as well – there’s not a weak link in the bunch.

“Jingle Jangle” might well develop a following going forward, becoming an addition to the Christmas movie canon for generations to come. It has all the pieces – wonderful characters and killer songs, beautiful production design and great production numbers – and a thoughtfully inclusive vibe to boot. All in all, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is a journey well worth taking.

[5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 17 November 2020 11:01

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