It would appear that Netflix wants you in that early Christmas spirit, with the recent influx of festive themed originals hitting the streaming service this past week. Of that fast growing list, none seem to provide that ‘Christmas classic’ potential quite like David E. Talbert’s, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.
Set in the Victorian era, this musically motivated, family friendly piece, promises to tell a story unlike anything you’ve heard before. At least that’s how it’s perceived in its opening act, with Phylicia Rashad blowing the dust off an old magical book, that she’s about to read to her grandkids for the very first time. The contents of which transport you to the time of a famous toymaker/inventor named Jeronicus Jangle.
Jeronicus was once the talk of his town. A family man that was full of life and spent his days meticulously crafting toys for the children, whilst constantly looking out for his next project. In the wake of his biggest invention however, his fortune is snatched away by his young apprentice, Gustafson. We then jump ahead in time where the once amazing Jeronicus is now a shell of a man, living amongst the dust, bolts and gears of his prior accomplishments. His family driven away and his once bustling store is now swallowed by the dampness that he has allowed his life to come to.
After years of doubt and neglect to his craft, he comes across an old invention that could turn the tide on his way of life, and rival the huge success his once protégé, is now atop. There’s one vital ingredient missing however. His daughter, whom he’s had no contact with ever since they departed. After finally receiving a letter of invitation from Jeronicus himself, daughter Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) instead decides to send her kid genius, Journey (Madalen Mills), who has waited her entire life for this moment.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey has a real Dickensian demeanour to it, which provides distinct similarities to practically any iteration of A Christmas Carol. The cobbled streets, the timely costumes and the Victorian design of the buildings, all look extra special when being caked in snow. Add some musical numbers to it (something I wasn’t expecting), and you have something that plenty will find genuinely endearing about it all.
What you can expect is the quintessential, family forced tropes you’d usually associate with a holiday picture of this stature. The true value of Christmas spirit, what the holiday represents, and the imagination that fills the minds of kids, especially around this time of year.
Despite its best efforts though, it’s not an all singing and dancing affair. It clocks in at just under two hours, and with plenty of moments that are sure to draw the attention away from the screen, it could feel like quite the chore for adults and kids alike. Whilst it’s beaming with black heritage, and features a strong standing cast, many of the characterisations feel flat and lack the charm that this film solely rests on. It favours simplicity in that matter, as to appeal easier to kids (understandable), but fails to fully utilise what strengths it has.
The casting choices were for the most part, spot on. It was great to see Forest Whitaker take on such a role, with his portrayal of Jeronicus. Even providing a few musical numbers, which was wholly unexpected but welcomed. Keegan-Michael Key also features in an unfamiliar setting as the older apprentice, Gustafson. Bringing such suave charisma, and memorable gravitas to the role, you can see he’s having the time of his life.
Most eyes however fall on complete newcomer, Madalen Mills. A budding youngster beaming of huge potential, Madalen steals the show from the moment she enters frame. Strutting side by side with some esteemed performers, like she’s been doing it for years.
Whilst I don’t fully fall for much of the fluff this film provides, they’ll be plenty of you that will lap up every second of its otherwise contagious positive vibes. Some of the songs certainly stand out (some of which were written by John Legend), and its steampunk style may take you by surprise. It’ll likely be a divisive feature this holiday season, but I guess the more festive you’re feeling, the more you’ll let the soppiness swallow your soul.