Jingle Jangle stars Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker as Jeronicus Jangle, a much-loved, genius toymaker whose eccentric inventions bring elation and admiration to all those around him, year after year. But when his misguided apprentice Gustafson, played by Keegan-Michael Key, is persuaded to steal his book of inventions by a villainous toy (voiced marvellously by Ricky Martin), not only does Jeronicus have to fight to keep his business afloat, he’s also in danger of losing his passion for invention, and his loving heart forever.
The Netflix produced musical has all the ingredients needed for a great Christmas adventure; there’s an honest person with a good heart in a bad situation, a chance for them to overcome their obstacles, an orchestra full of strings and woodwinds, a dash of a moral message, and of course, a glimpse of snow.
Set in the 19th century, Emmy award-winning designer Gavin Bocquet (Stardust), and Oscar-nominated costume designer Michael Wilkinson, create a visual feast to be delighted in. There is so much colour and detail in this steampunk production that although this family film will likely be enjoyed slightly more by the children than the adults, the artwork will keep all viewers entertained throughout – and that’s without mention of the enchanting stop-motion and CGI animation.
With John Legend on board as one of the film’s producers and music by John Debney, the soundtrack was always going to be strong. The unquestionably talented cast are gifted numerous opportunities to shine vocally – which of course they do, with a wonderful fusion of soul and RnB meets edgy pop. The audio mixing and lip-syncing can be a little jarring at first, but if you’re able to suspend your disbelief beyond the solid opening number, you’ll soon settle into the rest of the movie with relative ease.
The storyline has a few holes in it and is a little too simplistic, as are one or two of the character choices at times. However, with Whitaker at the helm, despite the imperfections of the feel-good film, it’s held together well enough for the viewer to remain invested.
The film also introduced Madalen Mills (Journey) who makes her feature film debut. The talented 11-year-old has previously appeared on Broadway in School of Rock, and prior to that the 2017 national tour of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The Musical. It’s pretty clear that this confident performer has the potential to be a star and she uses this opportunity to showcase skills superbly, showing us that she is one to watch out for.
Writer and director David E Talbert had originally developed Jingle Jangle for the stage which shows in its glitzy, wide-framed ensemble numbers, snappily choreographed by The Greatest Showman’s Ashley Wallen. Filmed in Norwich, making room for British talent, eagle-eyed observers that love West End musicals will be sure to spot some very familiar faces from the circuit in those performance pieces. Several years after its initial conception, Talbert, unable to secure funding for the project, put it on the back burner until one-day watching Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with his son and realising that despite his nostalgic enjoyment, his son didn’t really connect or relate to it; and so decided to make Jingle Jangle different.
Thanks to casting outside of restrictive norms, this film does look and feel different, even the sounds have a more cultural richness and diversity. Yet this is not a film about colour, it’s a film that includes it. Talbert wanted to make something contemporary that reflected the world around him and that his son could relate to; to which I think he does a great job. However this is not David E Talbert’s first Christmas film; in 2006 he directed Almost Christmas, starring Danny Glover, which received mixed reviews but grossed over $42 million at the box office.
Verdict: This film is most certainly refreshingly different. But despite its early promise of that magical escapism we all crave this time of year, it was just a little too clunky and unconvincing in its narrative, leaving me fearful that while relatively enjoyable, this film may not become the year after year favourite we’d all hoped for.