Netflix’s ‘Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey’ Sings a Tune of Inventive Holiday Cheer

Leave all cold hearts or any latent cynicism at the door when you sit down to watch Netflix’s “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.” This is not a movie for scrooges but for those who love to bask in goofy holiday fun. In a season beset by a pandemic where families might not have the option of catching a good Christmas movie at the multiplexes, here is one that combines fairy tale vibes with a few stylish musical numbers. Sometimes we just need a little escapism, the question should always be if the escape has been delivered with heart. This one has a lot of it, even when you feel those Christmas clichés about to start.

The story takes place in an imaginary place that seems conjured out of every holiday daydream and then combined with steampunk aesthetics. We are told the story of Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell), a brilliant toymaker who awaits the arrival of a device that will allow his greatest creation to come to life. But Jangle is unaware his assistant, Gustafson (Miles Barrow), harbors resentment over getting little credit for the toys being made at the shop, which is already named Jangles and Things. When Jangle’s awaited package arrives it is all he could hope for and he brings to life Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin), an arrogant toy who wants to be the only of his kind. He even convinces Gustafson to steal Jangle’s book of inventions and run away. Cut to a few years later and Gustafson (now played by Keegan-Michael Key) is the world’s most powerful toymaker, while Jangle (now played by Forest Whitaker) languishes in debt and near-ruin. When his granddaughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), she might just help Jangle get back on his creative feet.

“Jingle Jangle” works as a pure visual delight. Writer/director David E. Talbert is telling a fairy tale without the pretension of being anything else, which means it also features some heartwarming and clear messages. It is also immensely refreshing to see a genre movie of this kind celebrate cinema’s growing sense of diversity by featuring a Black cast. But what first captivates is the stunning production design by Gavin Bocquet and wardrobe by Michael Wilkinson, which vividly imagines some alternate world of steampunk technology in all its rusty glory, pristine holiday snow and buildings that look like every ceramic Christmas town come to life. The costumes are out of the 19th century Victorian era while cars from the early 1900s rumble by. Flashbacks are told with carved toy animations. Talbert opens the movie with an exhilarating musical number inside Jangle’s shop. With John Legend as one of the producers, “Jingle Jangle” is also a fun hybrid, part holiday adventure and part musical. The choreography is by Ashley Wallen, who also worked on that famous surprise hit, “The Greatest Showman.” John Debney provides a rich music score that pulls at those heart strings. Debney also recently brought some potent melancholy to another family movie, “Come Away.”

Because these visual and choreographed elements are so good, the rest of the plot has the energy of a romp with heart. Journey comes in with energy and enthusiasm, but Jangle is a broken man. She meets his new assistant, the loveably dorky Edison (Kieron L. Dyer), and the two uncover an astounding invention by Jangle that has been hidden from the world in his attic. This latest toy, a figure that looks like a steampunk Wall-E, could save Jangle’s shop. But of course Gustafson, now decked in lavish green suits with bodyguards, will want to spoil any chance of his former boss rising. The resulting adventure has some wonderfully maniacal acting and singing by Key (although everyone in this movie pulls off their numbers well) and exciting action sequences involving flying through tunnels, evading giant flames and watching Gustafson scheme with Don Juan Diego. 

Yet on a level of family drama “Jingle Jangle” still celebrates all the good things you want in a decent holiday offering.  Anika Noni Rose plays Jessica, Jangle’s estranged daughter, and her storyline becomes quite powerful in the third act when she debates mending fences with her father. Forest Whitaker’s Jangle defies the usual holiday movie grandfathers. His character can teach younger viewers about how adults have rough patches and there are moments in life where we experience betrayal. The glistening opening scenes turn into gloomy shots of Jangle arguing with a banker and feeling finished. It is healthy to make a popcorn entertainment that has some real maturity in its story. Talbert wants us to feel joy, but happiness works better when it follows despair.

We are now approaching the Christmas season in a year of pandemics and tumultuous elections. “Jingle Jangle” will happily fill the void left by not being able to seek a holiday treat at the multiplexes. This one can be enjoyed at home whether with family or solo, preferably with some holiday snacks. Even when the plot goes for those time honored clichés we love in a movie full of songs and snow, it is so enrapturing in its design that we can’t help but be pulled in. The performances and songs hit the perfect key, and there is nothing wrong with a fantasy that inspires genuine smiles even in a difficult season.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” begins streaming Nov. 13 on Netflix.