We’ve both been gagging to get into this one, not to pin all our hopes and dreams for the rest of the year on this one movie – but here we are – and I think it would have to do something very bad indeed not to be any good. With the cast it has, the fact it fits our Black director/writer/cast criteria so perfectly. Forest Whitaker. Animation. Music.
It’s magic already, even before you add the Christmas elements.
Everything is possible.
An imaginary world comes to life in a holiday tale of an eccentric toymaker, his adventurous granddaughter, and a magical invention that has the power to change their lives forever.
Jeronicus Jangle is an inventor, all-round revolutionary toy-maker, total babe and owner of Jangles and Things, the hottest store in town. One day, the final component for his latest invention arrives. This invention will change the course of his, and his family’s lives forever, so it’s kind of a big deal. And actually it does, just not in the way he’d hoped.
The component works a treat and helps create a sentient matador doll called Don Juan Diego (voiced by Ricky Martin). JJ plans to mass produce the little fella and bring joy to every child who owns one. Don Juan however, on discovering that he won’t be the unique, one-off edition he believes himself to be, manages to persuade JJ’s envious apprentice Gustafson to steal his book of inventions and leave Jangles and Things to pursue his own destiny.
Of course this crushes JJ and his family but worse, without evidence he can’t pursue Gustafson and his inventions, nor can he keep up with his bills or payments on the shop. After the death of his beloved wife Jo, JJ closes down even further and becomes estranged from his daughter Jessica.
Fast forward 30 long years and JJ (Forest Whitaker) is a husk of the man he once was, barely holding on to Jangles and Things, which is now a pawnbrokers. His creative mojo is lying dormant and not particularly sympathetic banker Mr. Delacroix (Hugh Bonneville) gives him an ultimatum: come up with one new invention by Christmas, or lose the shop once and for all. Meanwhile, Gustafson has grown up into Keegan-Michael Key and is a famous toy tycoon, dining out on JJ’s best inventions.
Well, you can’t keep a good man down forever (thirty years maybe) and when his granddaughter Journey (Madalen Mills) comes to stay he’s forced to start looking at his life anew. While JJ is a cantankerous old coot now, he reluctantly agrees to let Journey stay, warming to her when she reveals her own talents as an inventor. Little by little the two form something of a relationship. JJ also starts working on a new toy, the adorable Buddy 3000 which is based on a design of his daughter Jessica’s.
While our man works on Buddy, Gustafson has run out of JJ’s designs and launches one of his own, the Twirly Whirly. Something’s missing from the invention though and it injures one of his party guests, jeopardising his reputation. Don Juan persuades Gustafson to steal another Jeronicus patented design, which just so happens to be The Buddy 3000.
Will Gustafson succeed in ruining JJ a second time? Will JJ ever get his dues – and honestly, does any of that really matter when he’s lost his daughter, possibly forever? Well, it’s Christmas so it would be pretty unusual if Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey bucked tradition and let the bad guys win.
There are serious lessons learnt along the way, there are tears and heartache – and there are children not even being that annoying, which is impressive in a Christmas movie. Above all though there is triumph and a whole lotta love, and there are way worse ways to spend your Sunday afternoon, let me assure you.
I messaged Jillian six minutes into this to tell her I loved it, I was that blown away by the stunning opening. It truly is magical looking, blending quirky animation with beautiful costuming – and a decent collection of musical numbers. I enjoyed the story within a story aspect (which I haven’t even mentioned above) and while it doesn’t reveal any particular surprises, it does add depth to the narrative. I love Phylicia Rashad, she’s just so beautiful and poised, and I could settle down and listen to her tell stories forever.
Forest also seems very comfortable in his role, while I really enjoyed his scenes with the smitten post woman Ms. Johnston (Lisa Davina Phillip), who wants to break off a piece of that ass, and who can blame her?
This says more about me than the film maybe, but there were a couple of moments I drifted off and didn’t follow the story as tightly as I should have. There’s a lot going on and it’s very stylised, maybe that distracts at times but overall, it’s pure magic and it’s so refreshing to watch an almost purely Black cast light up the screen.
I am looking forward to watching it again soon but I guess only time will tell if this is to become as neo-classic Christmas gem.