by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
A toymaker struggles with loss, theft, and failure in the marvelous Christmas epic, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.
Jeronicus Jangle is the most famous toymaker in the world. One day, he creates a sentient toy called Don Juan Diego with the plans to create one for every child in the world. Don Juan Diego is set on being one of a kind and runs away with Jangle’s apprentice, Gustafson, and Jeronicus’ book of inventions. Soon after losing the book and Gustafson, who now has become the master toymaker using the book, Jeronicus’ wife dies. Grief-stricken, he rejects his daughter Jessica as his apprentice and sends her away. Years later, the Jangle’s toyshop is now a pawn shop and Jeronicus Jangle is nothing more an inventor, just a repairman. When a girl shows up on his door claiming to be his granddaughter, can Jeronicus reclaim his magic before he loses his shop at Christmas?
Written and directed by David E. Talbert (Almost Christmas, Baggage Claim, First Sunday), Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey stars Forest Whitaker as Jeronicus, Keegan-Michael Key as Gustafson, Anika Noni Rose as Jessica, Madalen Mills as Journey, Ricky Martin as Don Juan Diego and Phylicia Rashad as the Grandmother. It also stars Lisa Davina Phillip, Kieron L. Dyer, and Hugh Bonneville.
Jingle Jangle is a Christmas fairy tale that can best be described as a mash-up of Willy Wonka, The Santa Clause and It’s A Wonderful Life starring a mostly Black cast. It celebrates all the best there is of the African-American experience from the inspiration for the invention to the inspiration of music. It is inspirational and outstanding. According to director Talbert, the script was outlined over twenty years ago. He was inspired to finish it when he and his son were watching Christmas movies and his son asked why there was no representation of people of color in them. Well twenty years later with a large Netflix budget behind him, this movie comes to life.
Talbert, with his unlimited budget, cast his friend Forest Whitaker as the key character. The veteran actor Whitaker, a friend, and mentor to Talbert is beyond excellent in the role. He communicates his loss and disillusionment well. He even busts out his chops singing the emotional lament “Over and Over.” Whitaker is not the only veteran on the cast either. Phylicia Rashad is the grandmother/storyteller who leads the tale with the loving skill of every parent who values the time of reading stories to the children. But Madalen Mills. The total opposite of a veteran actress, Mills is intoxicatingly delightful as the inquisitive, intelligent inventor granddaughter of Jeronicus. She holds her own as she confronts Jeronicus and tries to help him discover the magic again.
But the magic of the movie lies not only in the story and the exquisite animation of the movie but in the music. Artists Usher, John Legend, and more contribute to the soundtrack that is performed by each member of the cast. The diversity of the soundtrack encapsulates the entire African-American diaspora of music from soul to R&B to reggae. Every song is smart and different and magical. In true tradition, the best song of the movie is arguably performed by the villain, Gustafson as Keegan-Michael Key sings “Magic Man G.” Or is it Lisa Davinia Phillip as Ms. Johnston singing the R&B soul production “Miles and Miles?” Then again it could be the special reunion song “Make It Work” performed by Anika Noni Rose and Whitaker and written by John Legend. They are all so great it is hard to decide.
David E. Talbert, who has been known for creating some entertaining stage plays for African-American audiences and movies that have been at best passable, has created in this movie, a work that will become an instant classic for lasting generations. Jingle Jangle is musical and magical. It is colorful and delightful, inspirational, and outstanding. It will be the go-to Christmas movie for African Americans forever.
Rated PG for some thematic elements and peril, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a perfect inspirational family Christmas classic that overperforms all expectations and demands to be enjoyed.
Check out Tim Gordon’s Reel Review, below: