Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (4 stars)

Jingle Jangle

This fun festive musical starring Forest Whitaker does enough to delight the whole family

The Christmas film gets an enchanting, extravagant overhaul in this fun musical fantasy, written and directed by David E Talbert (Almost Christmas, Baggage Claim), which puts Black innovation and female smarts at the forefront of its story and delivers heavily on the festive feels. It features a varied collection of songs from the multi Grammy-winning Philip Lawrence (Bruno Mars's songwriting and production partner) and others, including producer John Legend.

It opens with Phylicia Rashad's grandmother telling her grandkids the story of Jeronicus Jangle (played first by Justin Cornwell, later Forest Whitaker), relayed in imaginatively animated inserts and equivalently splendid live action; its deliberately heightened, stagey Victorian setting reminiscent of The Muppet Christmas Carol's approach. Jangle is a toymaker of no compare, whose book of inventions and magical creation Don Juan (voiced by Ricky Martin) are stolen by his student Gustafson (Miles Barrow, then Keegan-Michael Key) setting into motion a chain of events, which sees the apprentice rise to fame and the teacher sink into lonely obscurity.

Although Whitaker manages to bring subtlety and sadness to his turn in the midst of all the festive madness, for the most part, the cast seem to be having a blast: from Martin as the dastardly 'devil-on-the-shoulder' Don Juan, who eggs on the hapless apprentice, to the stooge himself, played amusingly by Key.

As Journey, Jeronicus's gifted 10-year-old granddaughter, from whom he is estranged, Madalen Mills is a screen natural, delivering a joyful and lively performance which communicates all the cleverness and optimism of her character. There's an appealing British contingent too: Hugh Bonneville pops up as a sympathetic bank employee, who has to deliver bad news before Christmas, while Kieron L Dyer as Jeronicus's devoted young assistant Edison and Lisa Davina Phillip as a randy widow with her eye on the inventor give it some gusto.

In a film buoyed by its sense of seasonal wonder, Framestore do a lovely job with the visual effects and storybook animation. A range of cultural infusions and an air of mischief enliven the familiar period stylings, and there are nice touches like the science of snowballs. Yet the quality of the songs is probably the film's major selling point. The thumping John Legend-penned 'Make It Work' is a highlight, as is the cheeky 'Miles and Miles', exuberantly performed by Phillip, with vocal assistance from Marisha Wallace. With its robots, magical toys, slick song and dance routines and fiery action, the film is borderline overstuffed but, as with other festive indulgences, it's irresistible enough to make an exception.

Available to watch on Netflix from Fri 13 Nov.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

  • 4 stars
  • 2020
  • US
  • 2h 2min
  • PG
  • Directed by: David E. Talbert
  • Cast: Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Madalen Mills, Phylicia Rashad, Ricky Martin
  • UK release: 13 November 2020

Christmas musical about a toymaker, his granddaughter and a magical invention.