This has plenty of Christmas spirit and plenty of pure fantasies.
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is the best Christmas movie I’ve seen in a long while-one that possesses the true spirit and elaborate colors of the holidays. It’s on Netflix, and I’ve mentioned in last week’s “Operation Christmas Drop” that it has more sense to know when a holiday movie is supposed to stick out. Not in January, not in February, and not in March, but during November and December. In fact, this should be another holiday tradition of a film, on par with “It’s Wonderful Life” and “Elf.”
It was directed by David E. Talbert, whose last holiday-themed movie “Almost Christmas” was #3 on my list of the worst films of 2016 for its mean, sappy, and noisy comical attitude. “Jingle Jangle” is a major improvement over that.
We meet a whimsical grandmother (Phylicia Rashad), who tells her two grandchildren the story of Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell and later Forrest Whitaker), the eccentric inventor and toymaker, who has the magic touch and invention book to make life wonderful for his family and everyone around him. The movie was filmed in the historic Elm Hill area of Norwich, UK, and it looks like a Christmas town, full of happy people and bold wizardry. Reminds you of “Elf,” “The Santa Clause,” and “Hugo” doesn’t it?
All is well, just fine and dandy, until Jeronicus invents a mechanical matador toy (voiced by Ricky Martin), who is so selfish and self-centered that he’d do anything to make sure he would be the only one of his kind, and not Ken & Barbie copies. Even if it means convincing Jeronicus’ apprentice and would-be inventor Gustafson (Miles Barrow and later Keegan-Michael Key) to steal his invention book and begin his own factory, only bigger and more elaborate than his. Nowadays, he dresses up like he’s from the Land of Oz with his green coat and yellow vest, and he immediately runs out of invention ideas.
Now, as the years pass, Jeronicus transcends into a cynical and grumpy pawn shop owner, who is in major debt to the bank. He’ll be off Scott free if he comes up with the money or comes up with a new invention by Christmas. His estranged daughter Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) sends her daughter Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills) to visit him for a few days, and both she and his clumsy young assistant Edison (Kieron L. Dyer) stumble upon an unfinished invention of his: the Buddy 3000. It talks, repeats like a tape recorder, flies, and even can make people levitate as well. But only if you truly believe in it.
Edison’s worrywart attitude can be too silly, at times, for me to fully enjoy, but forget the baggage, and just see “Jingle Jangle” as a family film with pure invention, fantasy, and music. It’s also a musical, produced by John Legend, and it possesses a similar spirit that “The Greatest Showman” had with how the lyrics and dance numbers are choreographed and written.
Whitaker has the kind of delightful and disgruntled attitude we love to see in these kinds of family movies, and I really love how he makes his granddaughter sign a contract with invisible ink about never touching or taking his things in his shop. Key has the energetic and goofy charms of his apprentice-turned-enemy, and he makes a fun villain. And Mills makes an impressive acting debut with a certain spirit Asa Butterfield had in “Hugo.”
Visual effects have to be used to help present the fantasies in this dream world. It’s fun to see Journey and Edison riding down a fan tunnel, while escaping from a fire explosion, and it feels like the perfect splice between the Cave of Wonder escape scene in “Aladdin,” and the tunnel chase in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” And the Buddy 3000 looks and feels great with how it merges cartoon behaviors with the real world, and how his eyes look like Wall-E’s.
This has the kind of Christmas spirit I’ve been waiting for.
Available on Netflix