JINGLE JANGLE (NETFLIX) (2020)
SYNOPSIS: A musical adventure and a visual spectacle for the ages, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a wholly fresh and spirited family holiday event.
Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. But when his trusted apprentice (Emmy winner Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.
From the imagination of writer-director David E. Talbert, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey reminds us of the strength of family and the power of possibility. Featuring original songs by John Legend, Philip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, and "This Day" performed by Usher and Kiana Ledé.
‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ is among one of Netflix’s big-budget seasonal offerings, and no matter what reservations you may have over its candy-coloured overstuffed revelry, it is a sprawling musical-fantasy that stands to join the ranks of holiday movie classics.
The invention belongs to writer-director David E. Talbert, a prolific playwright who reportedly envisioned the concept for the stage before translating it into film courtesy of a generous budget from the aforementioned streaming giant. Framed as a 19th-century bedtime story by narrator Phylicia Rashad, whom you can guess will be related to one of the characters in the story, it tells of the toymaker Jeronicus Jangle, who owns a whimsical toy store called ‘Jangles and Things’ in the quaint, imaginary town of Cobbleton.
Played briefly by Justin Cornwell and then by Forest Whitaker, Jeronicus was ‘the greatest inventor in all the land’ until his impatient young assistant Gustafson (Miles Barrow, followed by Keegan-Michael Key) steals his treasured book of inventions. To be fair, Gustafson wasn’t acting alone; instead, he was egged on by Jeronicus’ prize creation, a self-centred matador doll named Don Juan Diego (voiced with absolute flamboyance by Ricky Martin).
Their betrayal crushes Jeronicus; and 30 years later, we find that ‘Jangles and Things’ has become a dusty pawnshop and is at risk of being repossessed by the bank. As coincidence would have it, Jeronicus’ equally inventive tween granddaughter Journey (Maladen Mills) decides to pay him a visit, setting the stage for his eventual reunion with his daughter Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) and him to rediscover his belief; in particular, Journey will team up with her grandpa’s eager if klutzy apprentice Edison (Kieron Dyer) to revive a father-daughter forgotten creation in the form of a flying, talking robot called Buddy 3000 (think a mechanical version of E.T.).
Needless to say, Gustafson will return to threaten their journey (pun intended) to happily-ever-after: not only has Gustafson finished pilfering from the book he had stolen from Jeronicus, he desperately needs a new idea in order to preserve his reputation and his business. So Gustafson aims to steal the Buddy 3000 and claim it as his own, which gives reason for a number of exhilarating action set-pieces, including a death-defying race through a twisty, fiery tunnel.
Though running at a little over two hours, ‘Jingle Jangle’ moves swiftly through thrilling sequences and rousing song-and-dance numbers; the latter, written by Philip Lawrence, Davy Nathan and Michael Diskint (plus one by John Legend, also a producer here) and exuberantly choreographed by Ashley Wallen, includes toe-tapping showstoppers like ‘Magic Man G’ performed by Key, quieter duets like ‘Make It Work’ by Whitaker and Rose, and memorable standouts like ‘Square Root of Possible’ (equivalent to the film’s ‘Let It Go’.
Parts of the film no doubt veer on cliché, but there is delightful fun to be had in this Yuletide celebration bursting with boundless energy and joie de verve. From the costumes designed by Michael Wilkinson, to the production design by ‘Star Wars’ alumni Gavin Bocquet, to the enlivening visuals from Talbert’s imagination, there is sheer holiday escapism to be had with ‘Jingle Jangle’, alongside a surprisingly poignant story that champions hope, belief and inclusion.
Packed with both joy and sentiment, it is a beautiful embodiment of the Christmas spirit, and just the panacea for a year that could do with a lot more cheer.
Review by Gabriel Chong