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Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey adds a delightful voice to the Christmas movie lineup. With the energy of a Broadway musical and a spare-no-expense Hollywood production, the David E. Talbert film, streaming on Netflix, stands to become an annual holiday classic.
Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) is the world’s greatest inventor. When his wife dies and his apprentice, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key), steals his book of invention blueprints, the dejected Jeronicus abandons his toy factory and his daughter. Don Juan Diego (voiced by Ricky Martin), a small toy matador that has come to life, eggs Gustafson on.
Fast-forward three decades: Jeronicus owns a pawnshop and is piling up debts. A local banker (Hugh Bonneville) warns of foreclosure unless Jeronicus can deliver a “revolutionary invention” by Christmas, a few days away. Jeronicus is working on an interactive robot, the Buddy 3000 (picture WALL-E with an android body) but lacks the belief to make it come alive. Then his granddaughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), shows up unwelcomed at his door. She has an inventor’s mind, too. Can she breathe life into her grandfather’s creations and their relationship? Meanwhile, Gustafson, the now-wealthy “28-time Toymaker of the Year” has exhausted all the stolen book’s ideas. He sets out to steal the Buddy 3000.
Jingle Jangle delivers more than a cinematic stocking stuffer. The Victorian-period costumes, elaborate sets and gadgetry, and infused computer animation dazzle. The song-and-dance numbers are lively too. The fantastic Whitaker heads a solid, predominantly African American cast that enriches the seasonal Christmas film landscape.
There’s humor, too. Jeronicus is constantly dodging the mistletoe-waving flirtations of the widowed Ms. Johnston (Lisa Davina Phillip). When she reminds him that she’s available for marriage, Jeronicus says of her late husband: “I’m sure he’s in a better place.” Nice wedding zinger! The film may have flashed a political statement, too: The license plate of Ms. Johnston’s delivery truck reads BL8041. The digits add up to 13, and what’s the 13th letter of the alphabet?
Three minor criticisms: singing that is sometimes noticeably dubbed, Don Juan Diego’s two Spanish profanities, and no more regard for the Biblical Christmas message than Frosty or Rudolph expressed.
Jingle Jangle (rated PG) does extol the importance of family but also—big surprise—of self-esteem. Journey sings, “I’m unstoppable because the square root of impossible is possible with me.” Still, I found this, and Jeronicus and Journey’s other quasi-mathematical formulations, charming: “the circumference of spectacular” and “the second derivative of sensational,” to name two. Families will find the film charming for years to come.