A couple of years ago, Netflix came up with what turned out to be the festive treat of the year. We can look forward to a second instalment of The Christmas Chronicles later this month but, in the meantime, the streaming service puts in an early bid for this year’s seasonal surprise – and the most unashamedly opulent one.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is an extravagant Christmas fantasy. Its setting could be Victorian England. Or not. Its timescales are all out of kilter. And it comes wrapped in, would you believe it, steampunk. Although, given that the film is such a mixture, you probably would believe it. Yet, instead of being dragged down by this unexpected combination of the traditional and the more contemporary, the film almost manages to pull it off. It’s the story of Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), previously a highly successful inventor and toymaker who faces losing everything because all his designs were stolen by a former employee, who is now making a mint out of them. A visit from his granddaughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), who has inherited his talents, helps him get back his belief in himself and his abilities.
That’s the simplified version. There are sub-plots galore, from the near-customary one about following your dreams to the Christmas Day deadline for the bank foreclosing on Jangle’s home (delivered by Hugh Bonneville, which softens the blow), all packed into a visual feast, which alternates between appealing CGI animation depicting all the characters as wooden toys and vibrantly coloured live action. But wait. There’s more. It’s also a musical, with more than a hint of The Greatest Showman about it. That’s partly because both are choreographed by Ashley Warren with his customary energy, and partly because some of the songs are in the same style. The dance sequences come off a whole lot better – especially the one featuring Keegan-Michael Key as the villain of the piece in a set-piece that gives the film a shot of adrenalin exactly when it needs it.
Not that there aren’t downsides. Some of the storylines are under-developed, especially the one involving Key, who deserves an even bigger chance to shine. The songs, even with John Legend writing one of them as well as co-producing the film, are instantly forgettable, adding very little to the action and, at two hours, it’s too long, certainly when it comes to holding on to the attention of the younger viewers sat in front of the screen. Most noticeable of all is the way it takes its inspiration from anywhere and everywhere within its grasp – Jangle’s transformation has more than a hint of Scrooge about it, his flying robot brings Short Circuit to mind, all those clockwork mechanisms remind you of Hugo ….. you get the picture. In truth, it bursts at the seams with visuals and ideas, some great and some not so successful. It’s as if its creator, David E Talbert, has thrown the kitchen sink, its contents and perhaps the entire kitchen itself at it.
The result is a hit and miss affair, with more hits than misses, but with its heart conspicuously in the right place. Yes, it’s excessive, especially in the last half hour or so but, even in 2020, it’s one to watch at the time of year when we all go a little OTT. And we can all forgive a bit of excess at Christmas, can’t we?
Fantasy, Musical, Family | Cert: PG | Netflix, 13 November 2020 | Dir. David E Talbert | Forest Whitaker, Madalen Mills, Anika Noni Rose, Keegan-Michael Key, Ricky Martin, Hugh Bonneville.