I’ll feel like a real jerk for saying this, but the longer Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey went on, the less I enjoyed it.
I was very excited to hear that David E. Talbert, writer and director of one my favorite Christmas films, Almost Christmas, had created a family-friendly Christmas adventure film for Netflix. Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, and Phylicia Rashad were all attached to boot. What was not to be excited about?
It took me a little while to get around to it–once I found it was a musical, my excitement dimmed a little bit–but now I finally have, and while I’m glad it exists, I don’t think I’ll be putting it on again anytime soon.
Jingle Jangle is a lot of things, and I think that may be my issue with it. It is difficult to really identify the main character. Is it Forest Whitaker’s Jeronicus Jangle, a genius toymaker who’s fallen into obscurity after his book of inventions was stolen by an impatient young apprentice years earlier? Is it his granddaughter, Journey, played by the perfectly cute and vocally spectacular Madalen Mills? I hardly feel like either one of them was developed as much as I wanted, and by the end, I wasn’t especially attached to either of them.
Whitaker, as we all know, has great acting chops. But he’s employing them in a pretty weird way here. At times he’s effecting a persona I could imagine Adam Sandler playing, and while that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s not something I ever got used to over the length of the film.
I don’t want to get too bogged down going over the actors here because they were all good, just like everything else about this film’s production. It is beautiful to look at. Its shots aren’t anything to write home about, but they’re very active and give the movie a real sense of liveliness. The colors are superb, and really scream “Christmas movie!” which is great…however, not much else about the movie does.
At the start of the picture I was positive this movie had its Christmas spirit all in order. It might be a model for others! But as it went on (and on–it’s two hours long), I lost sight of that Christmas spirit. The plot didn’t revolve around Christmas. There was no open-armed forgiveness near the end. While the plot was all about toys, their connection to Christmas was never really laid out beyond the obvious assumption the audience will make about their eventually winding up under trees.
I just keep going back and forth about this movie. I also understand that I’m not at the top of the demographic priority list here. I’m not a child, a parent, or a black American. It is easy to understand how this movie would work better for me if I were any of these. But what I’m looking for here are more universal things, I guess. Is the comedy really great? I don’t think so.
What a bout the music, by John Legend? I thought it was hit or miss (but I’m not one for modern movie musical tunes anyway, as my mother will eagerly tell you about all of my awful takes regarding the Greatest Showman). There also wasn’t much in the way of universal philosophical or ethical truth, which I always find good in a Christmas movie. And I should point out that my tolerance for wide-eyed, CG robot buddies is extremely low (the one in this movie was literally called Buddy 3000). I found the villains disappointing as well, but I don’t want to spoil anything there because the setup for them is at least unique.
And that’s the point in this movie’s favor: it is wholly unique. We (I) complain endlessly about how everything is an adaptation or a remake. And here comes a film which is unique from its head to its toes. It didn’t do it for me, but that’s all right. It is still a very well-made movie. Its heart is in the right place, and it will make a lot of families happy this year and for many years to come. It’s just not at the top of the David Talbert stack for me.
GBU Holiday-Adjusted Rating: 6/10
You can watch Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey on Netflix.