Jingle Jangle all the way

Diverse Netflix movie offers family-friendly Christmas magic


Photo courtesy of IMDb

“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” chronicles the tale of a down-on-his-luck toy maker. His estranged daughter and granddaughter inspire him to believe again.

Emma Baker, Catalyst Editor-in-Chief

Movies like “Elf” and “Home Alone” will forever be known as staples of the holiday season; it only makes sense that they’d be included in your yearly Christmas movie marathon. However, it wouldn’t be a very exciting marathon without the help of some newer, fresher and much more diverse takes on a Christmas tale.

That’s where the heartwarming family film “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” enters the picture. Released to Netflix on November 13, the musical movie, displaying a primarily Black cast, has already garnered rave reviews from top critics like The New York Times and Common Sense Media.

It all starts by the light of the fireplace as a grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) takes out a book about a toy maker and his family. As the grandmother begins to read, the world of the book comes to life, and she fades into an intermittent narrator until the end of the film.

Inside this framed narrative, the real story begins in the bustling toy shop called Jangles and Things where the middle aged Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell), also known as the world’s best toy inventor, lives and works. His young apprentice Gustafson (Miles Barrow) also manages to attract customers’ attention, but his inventions always fail. Gustafson desperately and repeatedly asks Jeronicus for help, but the busy Jeronicus merely says he’ll help later. Gustafson therefore feels ignored and yearns to make a toy that actually works. Thus, when Jeronicus leaves Gutstafson to close up shop and keep an eye on his newest and most revolutionary invention, resentment and greed easily gets to the troubled apprentice. 

What’s the revolutionary invention? A tiny, animated and scheming matador doll named Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin). Don Juan convinces Gustafson to steal (what he calls “borrow”) Jeronicus’ book of inventions, and they leave Jangles and Things without a trace or goodbye. Soon, Gustafson rises to toy making fame while Jeronicus fades into pawnbroker oblivion.

The tragedy continues when Joanne Jangle (Sharon Rose), Jeronicus’ wife, dies and leaves Jeronicus so depressed that he neglects the attention of his daughter Jessica (Anika Noni Rose), eventually saying that she’d be better off without him. Their estrangement lasts for years until one day, Jeronicus’ granddaughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), travels to meet him for the very first time. 

Slowly but surely, the old, gruff Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) warms up to the vibrant, smart and inventive Journey. Together, they work to save and revive what once was Jangles and Things and stop the older Gustasfson (Keegan Michael Key) from stealing anymore toy designs.

Overall, I thought the story was fresh and fantastical. The moral to believe in yourself and the magic of your imagination, however, is a bit overused in Christmas movies. Kids may enjoy the motif to “just believe!” but the idea will probably cause some eyerolls for adults. I, for one, thought that it was one of the most unoriginal aspects of the movie.

What is original, however, is the modern soundtrack and energetic choreography. The jazzy song “Magic Man G,” showcasing Keegan Michael Key, is sure to get your toes tapping and hands clapping. It’s jam-packed with an incredible range of vocals all the while emphasizing the greed and corruption of Gustafson. The song “Square Root of Possible” landed low on my list of favorites. Although young, Madlen Mills just didn’t shine and the song seemed like one I had heard before. The best song of the musical, though, was “Make It Work Again,” featuring Anika Noni Rose and Forest Whitaker. It brilliantly ties in two characters: Jessica who doesn’t know if her relationship with Jeronicus can work again and Jeronicus who is busy trying to make a toy work again. If you watch nothing else, watch this song play out because Rose and Whitaker’s voices work so well together and the cinematography of the scenes is stunning.

Thankfully, the beauty of the shots extends further than just the musical numbers. Everything is rich with color and the costumes blow my mind. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson called it “Afro-Victorian;” an ode to the diversity of the cast.

“Jingle Jangle” also sprinkles in a bit of stop motion animation every now and again. The simplistic, yet gorgeous designs of the animation make it seem as if it was made by Jeronicus himself and only adds to the richness of the film.

But, like anything rich, there’s always the chance of it being too much. The film was right on the edge of that “too much” line. There was an abundance of unnecessary characters and subplots and the ending seemed unfinished and abrupt. It most certainly would not deter me from watching it again, but it definitely added time onto this over two hour movie.

All in all, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” has earned a new spot on my favorite Christmas movie list. I appreciated the diversity in both the cast and the soundtrack and enjoyed the beauty of the world that the film revolved around. I’d say you have got to “make it work” into your next Christmas movie marathon. 4/5