It’s December with less than 3 weeks until Christmas, and you can bet we’re keeping things festive on the Blog Collab. Don’t worry–this week’s pick features no fetus angels, alternate timelines, or public outings of multiple LGBTQ folks. However, you’d better be prepared for plenty of song and dance, flying robots, and a colorful steampunk aesthetic this time around.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Years after betrayal from his apprentice and the tragic death of his wife, a curmudgeonly inventor struggles to connect with his granddaughter as he works on creating a toy that could save his career and family.
In the present day (which feels close to the early 20th century except steampunk), young siblings have a disagreement about whether the dancing figures that seem to appear in the fireplace are real…or if Christmas magic is well and truly dead. Their knowing grandmother is fully prepared to entertain the children with a special story, The Invention of Jeronicus Jangle. And perhaps the story will contain its own lessons about Christmas magic along the way.
As the story goes, Jeronicus Jangle (disappointingly, no one in this film was actually christened with the name Jingle Jangle) was a genius inventor who oversaw the most wonderful toy shop around. Along with his wife Joanne and daughter Jessica, Jeronicus created rather steampunk inventions. His latest is a matador-inspired doll that comes to life and happens to be the most stereotypical caricature of a Spaniard…so it’s no surprise that its name is Don Juan Diego. Now a sentient being, Don Juan has an extremely existential crisis when he discovers the toymaker’s plan is to mass-produce millions of his clones. I also have a lot of questions about this, honestly.
Quite cunningly, Don Juan catches onto the resentment of apprentice Gustafson and uses the situation to his advantage, manipulating the young man to take off with all of Jangle’s plans that really should have been copyrighted by now. Shortly after the betrayal, Jangle falls into despair when his wife dies. Stalled as an inventor and neglectful as a father, Jangle ends up all alone and with no inspiration for new ideas. He vows to never create another invention again.
Decades later, Gustafson has set up an even more successful shop, getting away with his theft for…reasons. Though Don Juan is the toy, it becomes pretty obvious he’s the one pulling the strings in this operation. However, the team has now gone through every blueprint in Jangle’s massive book of plans, and they struggle to come up with original ideas that will work.
Meanwhile, Jangle operates a pawnbroker’s shop with the help of his chipper young assistant Edison. Postal worker Ms. Johnston seems to be one of the few folks around who actually likes Jangle, encouraging him to smile (and pay her some attention). But Jangle is focused completely on inventing, as he’s been given a deadline by the bank to come up with a product or face massive debt. Why is money suddenly a sufficient incentive for Jangle to dig out the inventor’s toolkit? Again…reasons.
Around this time, Jangle’s granddaughter Journey decides it’s past time that she met her legendary grandfather. Still embittered after his experience with Gustafson, Jangle requires Journey to sign a legally binding agreement before she can even stay with him.
It’s not long before Journey meets Edison, and the two uncover a long-forgotten invention of Jangle’s, an ominous-sounding robot named the Buddy 3000. The two children managed to bring the robot (which can fly!) to life because they believe in it enough. A cynic might roll their eyes just a little bit here.
Unsurprisingly, Jangle is a bit more reluctant to believe in Christmas magic. He’s rather more annoyed that Journey and Edison have disrupted his workspace, and he doesn’t believe for a second that the robot is actually working as intended.
It’s not long before Gustafson discovers the nature of Jangle’s latest creation and steals it for himself. After Journey and Edison learn of the theft, they are determined to reclaim Buddy and save the future of Jangle’s shop. But can they succeed in their quest without shenanigans? Probably not.
3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads
Look, I enjoyed this for around 90 minutes, but our film clocks in at nearly 2 hours (excluding the delightfully animated end credits, which add at least 10 minutes to the film’s runtime). There are repeated moments towards the film’s conclusion when I expected the credits to roll…only to realize we STILL had anywhere from 30 to 15 minutes remaining. I question how readily a young child would sit down for 2 HOURS and follow the somewhat convoluted plot.
I will grant that the film has a lot going for it, and is the most enjoyable recent Christmas film I can think of (I also liked last year’s animated film Klaus a lot). The cast is incredible, from Forest Whitaker to Anika Noni Rose, Keegan-Michael Key, Ricky Martin, Phylicia Rashad, and newcomer Madalen Mills.
The film also looks great–the costumes are wonderfully colorful, and the sets and elaborate choreography reflect the sort of Dickens steampunk on Broadway aesthetic you start to expect after only a few minutes of viewing. Forest Whitaker as Jangle in particular has the coziest looking coat/robe that I would buy immediately should the Jingle Jangle fashion line take off. The songs aren’t super memorable, but the scenes make them come alive in a way that’s absorbing enough so that you may only occasionally think about the number of feats that would be next to impossible in the world of mid-pandemic film production.
I will say that there’s too much going on for the story to really feel like a progression, which disappoints me a bit. There’s not necessarily a feeling that Jangle grows as a person; he’s just suddenly no longer a jerk.
And I got needlessly distracted (as I do) by (1) Don Juan Diego’s portrayal as a complete stereotype and (2) the ethical implications of not only cloning a sentient being, but more or less murdering it. Overthinking this? Most likely. However, I think the arc of Don Juan Diego is increasingly dark and Frankenstein-ian the more you think about it. You’re heading into thoroughly gray area when creating lifeforms and then expecting them to do your bidding.
That being said, I did overall find this film sweet, charming, and full of Christmas cheer.