A Christmas Spirit Machine

Review by Georgia Englot

If you’re anything like me, desperately trying to make the Christmas spirit last as long as possible, it can feel like you’ve watched every Christmas movie out there, including the controversial ones like Die Hard and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

In that case, it’s worth checking out Netflix’s Original Christmas movies. This year one of their most exciting releases for me was Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. I can’t exactly say that the movie let me down, but I also can’t say that it exceeded or even met my expectations. The movie was honestly just fine.

The plot and themes of Jingle Jangle hit many of the heartwarming Christmas movie tropes, but in a satisfying way rather than making the movie boring. It follows a toymaker, Jeronicus, who finally created a working version of his dream project, a “living” Don Juan doll. Unfortunately, Don Juan is perhaps too self-aware, and when he overhears Jeronicus’ plans to create more of him, he becomes infuriated and turns Jeronicus’ apprentice against him.

The apprentice Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) steals Don Juan and Jeronicus’ book containing all his most incredible inventions and passes them off as his own. Through a series of misfortunes, Jeronicus loses the magic of inventing. We are introduced to him as a defeated man who drove his daughter away. Luckily for him, he has a determined and creative granddaughter who worms her way into his life and tries to get him to find his magic again. It hits all those lovely Christmas movie tropes like family reunions, magical hijinks and snowball fights in a way that feels sincere, not forced in to fit a theme.

A unique element of Jingle Jangle is that it is made almost entirely by people of colour. The main cast (besides the villain, Don Juan) are all Black actors. It’s written and directed by David E. Talbert, and you might recognize one of the producers and songwriters, John Legend. It has wonderful and rare representation of Black Women in STEM, and features Ghanaian singer Bisa Kdei.

The main thing that got me excited for Jingle Jangle was that it’s a musical. I adore musicals, and it’s always seemed weird to me that there are so few Christmassy musicals. Unfortunately, the score just fell a bit short for me. The music seemed a bit predictable, and the lyrics rather basic. While the basic music was, well, basic, the vocals were incredible. I found that the women in particular, stood out with beautiful riffs and improvisation. The music was a bit more pop than traditional musical (think The Greatest Showman) but with a bit of Jazz and Gospel thrown in.

Visually Jingle Jangle is a maximalist steampunk explosion of fun that fits perfectly with the story. In some ways, the magical toy story reminded me of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. However, the settings and storylines are very different. I loved the bright (or specifically dark) and intricate set pieces and how the steampunk, STEM-inspired aesthetic was incorporated into everything from the set to the hairpieces.

Those hairpieces were especially beautiful. Every woman in the film had a unique and beautiful hairstyle, incorporating natural and protective styles in all their beauty. I found myself disappointed that the men in the movie had such simple hairstyles in comparison. The costumes were beautifully colourful historical outfits, but unfortunately, the swirling women’s skirts just got in the way of the more modern dance moves.

Journey, the main character, is an extremely likeable main character, with endless positivity and perseverance, and I found myself cheering her along. Forest Whitaker, as Jeronicus, plays the part of a grumpy old man well, and his growth as a character was gradual and natural.

Because so much of the story focused on Jeronicus’ growth, I found that the other characters were relatively static. It wasn’t an issue per se, but I wanted more for characters like Edison, Journey’s friend. There were so many characters that there wasn’t much time with them, so they appeared very one-dimensional. That, added to the perhaps overcomplicated plot, meant that I was left with more impressions rather than a clear storyline. I had to rewatch it a couple of times in order to write this review because I couldn’t remember all the important plot points.

I enjoyed watching Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, and watching it with hot chocolate, blankets and a snuggly puppy met my craving for cozy winter activities. With that said, I don’t see this movie being added to the yearly must-watch Christmas movie pile, and I don’t see it receiving critical acclaim like Klaus did last year. There are many movies out there that aren’t necessarily cinematic masterpieces but just fun and entertaining, and that’s where Jingle Jangle sits for me.

Go watch it if you’re craving some Christmas spirit, but don’t expect it to be a life-changing experience.

Jingle Jangle, a Christmas Experience
directed by David E. Talbert
starring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Davina Phillip, and Ricky Martin

streaming on Netflix