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  • Writer's pictureDavid Osgar

Ready the humbugs - Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

It's mid-November and Netflix continues to plough on with their big line up of Christmas content, determined to become the next Hallmark Christmas Channel. But in a year such as 2020, surely it's a welcome addition, no?

The trailers, music, and cast for Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey certainly did seem promising, and while it's efforts and occasional originality is commendable, unfortunately, this won't get you rushing to set up that Christmas tree just yet... (that is if it's not up already).

Phylicia Rashad as The the Grandmother in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

Many may shout "bah-humbug" or call one a scrooge for criticising a family Christmas tale, and while its timing may play a part in my struggle to get on board with the story, Jingle Jangle to me was simply a largely unoriginal story.

After watching its trailers and previews I was more than willing to get on board with this very festive, and sweet story. Its main song This Day from singers Usher and Kiana Ledé was a standout of its advertising, immediately making it into my daily playlist as I felt it a very catchy and energetic track.

But in many ways, This Day reflects a lot of the problems with Jingle Jangle as a highly polished, and manufactured piece of entertainment, without much charm or purpose at its centre.

It is a narrative that has become all too frequent with Netflix productions especially with other offerings in 2020 such as The Old Guard and Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The latter especially which also featured a catchy and endearing soundtrack as Jingle Jangle does, but without the engaging or fresh script there to back it up.

The story sees a grandmother reading her grandchildren the story of Jeronicus Jangle, a genius inventor who has his ideas stolen by his jealous apprentice. Jeronicus's granddaughter Journey attempts to reignite her grandfather's passion and bring the next big Christmas toy to the people of the world.

Madalen Mills in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

Jeronicus and Journey certainly share the stage as the two main protagonists of the piece, with both characters played by talented and eccentric performers. Jeronicus is played by none other than Forrest Whittaker, making it hard not get onboard from his portrayal alone. Unfortunately, Whittaker is let down with dull and repetitive dialogue that never gives him the chance to create the compelling Willy Wonka/ Scrooge-like character, the film wants him to be.

Madalen Mills is too a standout in the production, especially with her infectious charm, and energy. Mills's performance lifts many of the more generic moments in the film, and at-least makes its core story that bit more compelling.

In fact, the entire cast is largely fantastic as it is especially refreshing to see so many actors of colour not only take centre stage but own the story. The film never panders or plays on its diversity, but celebrates it through its normality and character.

But again, it makes the story, and script all the more disappointing for not supporting such a great effort made by its cast and production team. The sets and visuals are all beautiful, especially the practical designs. The hair, makeup, and costumes all enrich the screen with vivid, and inventive Christmas costumes, the likes of which you wish you could see on your doorstep come Christmas morning.

Keegan-Michael Key in Jingle Jangle A Christmas Journey (2020)

Aside from some catchy musical numbers and lavish Wizard of Oz-like sets, this is largely where the positives end for Jingle Jangle. The story fixates on bringing in tired troupes like the clumsy assistant, and the obsessive wannabe wife, all on top of a story that is massively derivative. The villains are lacking any real depth or motives, becoming just pantomime like characters, there for a laugh and theatrics.

The transparency of the filmmakers wanting to mimic the likes of The Greatest Showman, Oz The Great and Powerful, and Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium is abundantly clear from the offset.

What is more baffling is that all those projects were too plagued with the same problems, and misgivings as this one. Its lack of logic and world-building is troublesome, as the film falls into the pitfall of explaining away everything with bland magic, and brightly coloured props.

The story and script never supply us the emotion and charm that’s needed to get invested in its larger than life theatrics. Instead of showing us certain moments, the film always chooses to tell its audience, with any visual storytelling being reserved for its nonsensical plot.

In a rare occasion, animation is actually used to the detriment of a project, as Jingle Jangle constantly uses the albeit charming, 2-D/ 3-D imagery to show us certain moments of the film. Though they envoke the storybook aesthetic the project strives for, it just comes across as lazy, and contrived. Characters are killed off-screen in a Disney-like fashion, but with no setup or justification especially in what is meant to be a happy tale.

Along with generic songs (sorry John Legend, but what does Square Root of Possible even mean?), and a very uninspired talking flying Wall.E. sorry, Buddy 3000, it leaves little for the imagination. The onset performances feel very disconnected and separate from the musical tracks playing over the top of the visuals, while the inventions of the film never seem to elicit genuine intrigue.

With such a creative and inventive look, along with talented cast members, and genuinely inspiring moments like the Grandpa Me Nei' song, it's unfortunate Jingle Jangle is largely a generic and repetitive story that never supports the shimmers of genuine creative flair.

Though it may be fine in the background as you cook your turkey, and prep for the big festive day, unfortunately, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is only a testament to the saying- style over substance.


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