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Review: Imaginative and diverse musical 'Jingle Jangle' seeks to spread Christmas cheer

Courtesy of Netflix


David E. Talbert’s holiday film “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is trying to offer a slice of imaginative entertainment for the whole family during the yuletide season. It’s also a peppy, upbeat musical populated with a catalogue of catchy tunes ushered in by an incredibly diverse cast. While it doesn’t rewrite the playbook on seasonal flicks, there’s enough enchantment hiding in the cracks to squeak out something memorable.

“The Night Before Christmas” this is not, “Jingle Jangle” is Netflix’s latest bid to create seasonal favorites (“Hubie Halloween” and “A Christmas Chronicles” among them) and delivers a more inclusive experience. The film is not subtle about the predominantly African American cast and flaunts their talents exuberantly. The film should garner mass quantities of eyeballs considering parts of the world are headed for a depressing winter and most will be searching for quick rays of light. “Jingle Jangles” has that in strides, even if the presentation is a bit cheesy.

Part “Willy Wonka,” meets “Annie” meets “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” Talbert originally envisioned the film as a staged musical and judging by the opening number, its theatrical roots, complete with immaculate production and costume designs, are obvious. The score was polished by John Legend and Phillip Lawrence who give the underlying songs a spruce of hip-hop flavor.

Each actor shows of their singing chops, though none are more surprising than Forest Whitaker in the lead role of the precariously named Jeronicus Jangle, an ambitious toymaker in the imaginary town of Cobbleton. The plot is all over the place in terms of substance, something that won’t detract young children infected by the energetic musical numbers, as it centers on Mr. Jangle suffering a crushing blow to his business. Betrayed by his apprentice (Keegan-Michael Key turning in a delightfully overzealous, sugar coated performance) and reeling from the death of his wife, Jeronicus turns what was once a beacon of light in the community into a pawn shop, fending off the local bank for payment in an effort to invent the next best thing. Helping tend to the shop and keeping a positive spin on events is young granddaughter Journey (amicable newcomer Madelen Mills) who tries to reignite her grandfather’s passion for toymaking and the holiday season.

There are handfuls of colorful elements that populate and accompany scenery, including mechanical contraptions Jeronicus creates, notably the scheming miniature figurine Don Juan Diego (voiced by Ricky Martin) and a lovable robot named Buddy 3000. It’s all big and bright suggesting “Jingle Jangles” will be best suited on a big screen, and the variety of musical interludes ranging from traditional Broadway style ballads to savvy, south soothing, R&B will be appreciated by a wealth of theater fans.

What “Jingle Jangles” has in visual aesthetics, lacks in substance. There are several subplots that manifest during the films overstuffed two-hour runtime, including forced love interests, loosely defined family relationships, and the occasional tune that doesn’t land as resounding as you’d hope.  While it’s not likely to impact younger viewers, the adults in the room will probably roll their eyes. Time will tell if Talbert’s film will join the ranks of other notable Christmas classics, but he deserves credit for infusing the holiday season with some much-needed diversity and class. 

Grade: B-

JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY is now playing in select theaters and debuts on Netflix November 13th.


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