Starring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Madalen Mills. Directed by David E. Talbert.
As Slade famously said, “It’s Christmas!” or rather it’s the beginning of the time of year where things get cold and dark very quickly, and no one wants to go out, so now comes Netflix to drop some festive content among its bids for awards glory. The first out is this festive musical.
Jingle Jangle charts the festive tale of inventor Jeronicus Jangle who having suffered a heartache so deep shuts himself off from the world until his granddaughter comes to bring back hope, and an invention that might change the world.
From the off it’s clear that this film is looking to capture the classic Holiday feel that is missing from a lot of Christmas movie offerings. While last year’s wonderful Klaus did fill that void somewhat it’s been a long time since Elf came to make itself a staple of the family festive film-watching rotation. What the film feels like is a hybrid of those family films you watched as a kid in the 90s and The Greatest Showman.
Written and directed by David E. Talbert, this might his most compelling film thus far, but he shows a lack of style when it comes to directing the musical numbers, it lacks the stylish direction of the Jackman starring behemoth meaning that numbers don’t offer the kind of visual razzle-dazzle you would want from a big musical.
Even so, the songs themselves have the smack of modern hits, like The Greatest Showman, Jingle Jangle looks to bring modern music to the Victorian era (a non-specific place that is a fantasy land). The songs are variable, though the cast chew the songs for all their worth, meaning that you’ll be enthralled even if the lyrics aren’t as memorable as you’d hope. The big showstoppers “This Day” and “Make it Work” are the real stand outs; they’ll get your toes tapping and stick in your head.
There’s also a good message about having hope and believing in magic, even when you’re at a loss for inspiration: given that it’s this time of year, and the year it’s been, this is probably needed more than ever. The inclusion of the super cute robot Buddy that the film hinges on is a sort of Wall-E meets Johnny 5 and is destined to become a Funko Pop favourite for those that take the film to heart.
John Debney’s score confidently compliments the songs by John Legend and Philip Lawrence, meaning that if this proves popular you’ll be sure to find people at sing-a-long versions all years from now, and with good reason, when they hit they hit hard.
The cast is very game for the film as well, Forest Whitaker gives the film some soul as a man beaten down by pain and longing and his singing compliments his role. As is the norm for him Keegan-Michael Key chews the villainous role of Gustafson with camp relish, while aided by Ricky Martin voicing a tin matador toy with a soul who gives good villain.
The standouts here are Anika Noni Rose as Jessica, and Madalen Mills as her daughter Journey. Rose reminds us that the world really slept on The Princess and the Frog while Mills gives the songs her all and has the charm that you know means she’ll be destined for big roles in the future.
The device of a story being told means that transitions are filled in with beautiful CGI / Stop-Motion hybrid of puppets that are beautiful enough that you could watch an entire film in just that style, and makes you wish the film leaned into that more.
As it happens the film is at times poorly paced, which makes Talbert’s lack of flair a little more noticeable, at two hours the songs have long gaps between them and the wonderful design of the costumes and the sets can only distract you so long from the plodding nature of some of the elements.
Even so, it’s a Christmas film, and an enjoyable one at that, to go too hard on it would be to miss the point, this is a good-natured and well-intentioned Christmas film that looks to bring the spirit of the holidays to the fore, as well as entertain the entire family. Despite its shortcomings, the songs and performances lift the film higher than its flaws drag it down, and it is destined to become an ongoing family favourite that’ll sit happily on your watch rotation with other classics among your library. The season is upon us at last!