Netflix UK film review: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey
Steampunk Dickens. Magical Victorian musical. Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium but good. However you describe Jingle Jangle, Netflix’s Christmas movie is an idea that’s bursting with winning imagination. That it’s also a Black-led movie in a genre that’s historically been so white is at once a heartwarming bonus and entirely brushed aside by a project that’s so busy being dazzlingly creative it lets that added significance speak for itself.
The musical is at once old-fashioned and modern, a love letter to Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that has its own mythology – specifically, the toy-making legend Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), who has been crafting kids gizmos ever since he was young. But his genius came undone when his ideas were stolen years ago by his apprentice, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key). Now in ruins, his reclusive existence is upended by the arrival of Journey (Madalen Mills), his 10-year-old granddaughter.
Can she help him rediscover his toymaking mojo? What’s lovely about Jingle Jangle is that it’s not just about sentimental rewriting – it’s about the science and engineering of design, a STEM-friendly curriculum that’s driven by character and creativity. And so Journey helps to combat equations as well as emotional conundrums, and her chemistry with Whitaker is instantly winning.
If Whitaker is perfectly cast as the poignant ball of regret, he’s matched by a flawless Keegan-Michael Key, who plays Gustafson with enough arrogance to be horrible but enough charisma to be entertaining. He can certainly sing too – between this and Apple TV+ series Schmigadoon! he deserves a leading Broadway role – and he leads a cast of talented vocalists belting their way through an impressive number of bangers, from This Day and The Square Root of Possible to Make It Work, penned by John Legend. All this is woven together by writer-director David E Talbert with no end of enthusiasm, whether it’s the inventive stop-motion sequences, the exuberant choreography or unabashedly earnest tone. All this and a sentient robot voiced by Ricky Martin? Jingle Jangle is almost too stuffed with ideas to work, and yet it does – this is a toe-tapping fairytale with no designs on its audience other than to delight.