Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020) ☆☆☆(3/4): As festive as expected

Netflix film “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is a sweet and cheerful fantasy musical film which is surely ideal for the upcoming holiday season. To be frank with you, I am a dude a little too cranky and melancholic to enjoy its story and characters wholeheartedly, but I must admit that I could not help but amused and delighted at times by the game efforts from its cast and crew members, and I bet that you will probably have the same reaction while watching this pleasantly wholesome product.

After the opening scene where the character played by Phylicia Rashad comes to read a certain book to her two grandchildren during one winter night, the early part of the movie focuses on the unfortunate downfall of Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell), an ingenious inventor who has run a popular toy shop called Jangles and Things with lots of support from his wife and young daughter. As another Christmas season is coming, he is about to add the final touch to his latest invention, and, not so surprisingly, he succeeds as usual to his and his family’s delight.

Alas, this latest invention of his, which is a sort of clockwork version of artificial intelligence doll, turns out to be too successful. As soon as discerning its singularity being threatened by the next step of Jeronicus’ plan, it persuades Jeronicus’ dissatisfied apprentice Gustafson (Miles Barrow) to steal not only itself but also a book packed with Jeronicus’ many inventions ready to be introduced sooner or later, and Jeronicus is certainly devastated when his apprentice is gone along with that book and his latest invention.

After that incident, Jeronicus and his business have gone down during next several years. Deprived of his usual spirit and confidence, Jeronicus becomes less interested in invention, and he is further devastated when his wife dies not long after that. Although his young daughter still tries to support and motivate him, he only becomes quite more distant to his daughter, who is eventually sent away to somewhere and has been disconnected from him since that.

In the end, his glorious toy shop is turned into a shabby pawn shop, and Jeronicus, who is now played by Forest Whitaker, is a bitter gruff man who is mostly occupied with how to maintain the status quo of his pawn shop. Although he has recently tried to invent something again, there has not been much progress yet, and he is also notified that his pawn shop will be soon foreclosed by a local bank due to its dwindling business at present.

As Jeronicus is mired in despair and frustration, there comes an unexpected change via Journey (Madalen Mills), a plucky little girl who is the daughter of Jeronicus’ estranged daughter. As clearly reflected by her hair accessories, she is eager to be an inventor someday just like her grandfather, and she is ready to receive any lesson or wisdom from him right from when she arrives at his pawn shop, but Jeronicus is not particularly excited or delighted by her arrival while not showing anything in his attic laboratory.

Of course, Journey soon comes to discover what has been hidden in her grandfather’s attic laboratory, and, what do you know, she and Jeronicus’ clumsy apprentice Edison (Kieron L. Dyer) luckily find a certain crucial element to make her grandfather’s latest invention work, but then there are a couple of problems. While her grandfather remains so skeptical, Gustafson, who has built his own toy business empire via what he stole from Jeronicus, has been looking for any other thing to steal from Jeronicus, and this nefarious dude, who is now played by Keegan-Michael Key, instantly goes for that latest invention of Jeronicus once he happens to spot it.

The mood subsequently becomes a little more serious as expected, but the movie keeps sticking to its festive tone as before, and director/writer David E. Talbert did a competent job of mixing many different elements into his film. While we get several broad comic scenes including the one featuring an impromptu snowball fight, there is a fun action sequence unfolded at Gustafson’s big factory, and the movie also gives us a number of exuberant musical scenes driven by the songs written by Philip Lawrence, Davy Nathan, Michael Diskint and John Legend, who also serves as one of the producers of the film.

Talbert also draws a bunch of engaging performances from his main cast members. Justin Cornwell’s confident handling of a key musical scene early in the film makes an effective contrast with Forest Whitaker’s relatively low-key acting, and Whittaker, who once studied opera as a tenor before studying acting, has a little nice musical moment to reveal his jaded character’s longtime pathos. While young performer Madalen Mills naturally shines with irrepressible charm and spirit, Keegan-Michael Key, Anika Noni Rose, Miles Barrow, Kieron L. Dyer, Lisa Davina Phillip, and Hugh Bonneville are also solid in their respective supporting roles, and Ricky Martin gives a juicy voice performance for his little villainous CGI character.

Overall, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” is not exactly fresh in terms of story and characters as your average Christmas season tale, but it is still an entertaining one balanced well between sweetness and darkness. I still prefer something naughtier like, say, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) or “Bad Santa” (2003), but I enjoyed this movie enough anyway, so I will not be grouchy about it for now.

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