A cheerful, stridently energetic Christmas musical, with spectacular visuals
Starring Forest Whitaker, Madalen Mills, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Davina Phillip, and Ricky Martin
Massively uplifting, with lively, rousing musical numbers, stunning sets and costumes, this is practically the perfect Christmas musical.
Unfortunately, due to Riverdale’s strangely named drug, it’s somewhat impossible to actually take the title of Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey even remotely seriously, but what it offers is an unapologetically festive, touching and pacy musical spectacular. Produced by Netflix, who are becoming almost as notorious as the Hallmark channel with their holiday offerings, truly no expense has been spared here, with dynamic and engaging choreography performed by an enormous chorus, and a cohesive and intriguing visual aesthetic throughout, not to mention a diverse world and cast.
The audience is gently led into the world of Jeronicus Jangle through our narrator (Phylicia Rashad) telling the story to her own grandchildren, allowing the film one of its highly entertaining stop-motion inserts that are truly breathtaking. The aesthetic of the world is highly stylised: heavily influenced by steampunk in its use of technology, with the costumes combining deep, vibrant shades like green, purple and scarlet with Victorian silhouettes with African-inspired patterns thrown in for good measure. What’s also apparent, though the movie does not make a big thing of it (not that it should) is just how diverse the world that’s being depicted here is – an intentional choice by David E. Talbert to allow children to see themselves represented on screen in a way that he, as an African-American child, did not.
The story of Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) takes place over many years, but is first introduced to the audience through an epic opening musical number, that is perhaps a little too heavy on exposition, and could have been shared more judiciously out through the entire film. It feels like too long until Journey herself (Madalen Mills) enters the picture. Journey, Jeronicus’ granddaughter, finds him far more jaded than the energetic, optimistic man we are introduced to in the opening. In many ways, the film might have been more interesting if the opening prologue hadn’t already spoiled the reason for this dramatic change.
As the opening number reveals, Jeronicus’ hopes of success for his toy shop are scuppered when his apprentice, Gustafson (played in the present timeline by Keegan-Michael Key), steals Jeronicus’ latest invention, Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin), and uses it to propel himself into stardom. The foreknowledge of this does somewhat mar the amount of tension, as well as slowing down the pace, as we find ourselves first introduced to the narrator’s grandaughter, then a young Jessica, and finally Journey, all of whom share many common traits, all within the first forty minutes.
Having said that, the entire movie comes alive once Journey steps into frame. With a bright-eyed optimism, and an electric, lightning fast intellect, Journey immediately sets herself apart as an extraordinary heroine. Even the way that she interacts with the world around her visually, with calculations materialising almost magically in front of her, merely serves to emphasise this fact. Her musical number “Square Root of Impossible” is utterly entrancing; a true goose-bump raising anthem that is sure to be massively inspirational to myriad young girls watching the movie.
The plot in general takes a bit of a back seat to the musical moments, which provide the audience with the frenetic, bombastic energy of a full-scale Broadway production. Choreographed by Ashley Wallen, the large chorus find themselves flipping and spiralling around the incredible sets, and it’s practically impossible not to feel your spirit lifted in these moments. The music itself is inspired by rock, classic ballads and Motown, and with musical minds like John Legend as part of the music writing team, it’s small wonder that they’re so aggressively catchy.
That’s not to say that the story isn’t emotional regardless. Seeing Jeronicus form relationships with Journey and be lifted out of his curmudgeonly demeanour, as well as mend his broken bond with daughter Jessica (a sublime Anika Noni Rose) are highlights, though the actual problem at the centre of the storyline is solved deceptively easily considering the runtime of the film.
Full of heart and picturesque Victorian Christmas visuals, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is also boosted by the performance of Lisa Davina Phillip as the frankly hilarious postwoman Ms Johnston. There’s also the vaguely cute robot Buddy, who the film tries to make a highly appealing audience favourite in the vein of Olaf in Frozen, but he isn’t given nearly enough screen time for him to make much of a significant impact.
Ultimately, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a tremendously spectacular production, with well rounded characters, beautiful, catchy songs and striking visuals throughout. It’s sure to be a Christmas classic, to be pulled out year upon year.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is streaming now on Netflix.