There always seem to be two types of holiday-themed media during the season: truly terrible (darn near unwatchable) and the truly uplifting. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey falls firmly into the latter. A sweeping, enthusiastic musical with a talented cast makes this a Black-led cast gift that keeps on giving.
Following the story of toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (the younger played by Justin Michael Cornwell, the elder by Forrest Whitaker), we’re led on a magical vision of Jingle Jangle’s toy emporium. Filled with whimsy, tricks, riddles, and doodads, Jeronicus’s toy shop is a place for the whole town to gather, indulge the child within, and celebrate the magic of the season.
Along with his wife Joanne and daughter Jessica, Jeronicus is on the verge of a toy so revolutionary, that he keeps it under wraps (even from his trusted apprentice, Gustafson). Upon delivery of the final piece he needs to make his masterpiece a reality, Jeronicus shares the incredible toy with Jessica. The walking, talking matador Don Juan Diego is a marvel: an AI with a snappy and witty comeback for everything. He celebrates with his family and town with a sweeping song and dance number, a standard in director David E. Talbert’s repertoire.
While Jeronicus is toasting to his good fortune and ingenuity, Gustafson is swallowing bitterness and envy. Unable to make his own gadget (a mechanized whirling dervish type of thing) a success, the green eye of jealousy rears its ugly head. Egged on by the matador, Gustafson steals Jeronicus’s book of inventions and leaves like a thief in the night.
Without his book, Jeronicus’s fortunes soon disappear. The townspeople stop flocking to his emporium and his dear wife Joanne falls ill and dies. Without Joanne, Jeronicus loses hope and despairs. He sends his young daughter Jessica away and stews in his now-defunct emporium-turned-pawnshop. Without a steady stream of income, the bank threatens Jangle with foreclosure seemingly every day. The former toymaker believes his best days are behind him and shoves the endless past due notices into a drawer to be ignored.
Meanwhile in the country, a grown-up Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) has her own daughter: a precocious youngster named Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills). Although Jessica hasn’t seen nor heard from her father in years, she inexplicably sends Journey for a visit to a grandfather she’s never met. Gentle reader, I admit this perplexed me. A daughter who has no relationship with the father whom abandoned her sends her daughter to that very man? It defies reality.
But I digress.
On her arrival into town, young Journey finds a downtrodden Jeronicus and introduces herself. The grumpy grandpa decides “It’s not a good time” and tells Journey to go away essentially! This child has no money, no connections, and is only about 11 years old. It’s the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard of for a grandparent to do.
Journey is industrious and persistent though. She manages to get Jeronicus to allow her to stay and sets about turning him back into the inventor he once was. With the help of his pawnshop assistant Edison, they locate some of Jeronicus’s forgotten inventions in the attic. A small robot named Buddy is the most intriguing and delights the children when it comes to life and zips them around the room. Knowing this could be the very thing that gets her grandfather back in the toymaking game, Journey and Edison insist to Jeronicus that Buddy is magic. Unfortunately, Buddy doesn’t even turn on when Jangle is in the room. For him, it’s another heaped disappointment and he snaps at Journey for it.
On the other end of the spectrum, the devious Gustafson is on the top of the toy world. He’s churned out multiples of stolen ideas out of Jeronicus’s book of inventions but the well is running dry. The equally duplicitous Don Juan Diego encourages Gustafson to steal more of Jangle’s inventions…and use Journey to do so.
Journey is one smart cookie though. She immediately sniffs out that Gustafson is up to no good. In the final climactic scenes, Gustafson arranges for the magistrates to arrest Jangle for stealing his own designs! With Journey, Edison, and Buddy, Jeronicus learns the magic of the season and believes. With that, they begin to fly around the room, delighting the magistrates and making Gustafson look foolish (and the liar that he is).
The family is brought back together by a child with an indomitable spirit is a trope well used in holiday classics but Madalen Mills’s performance is so delightful as Journey, it feels fresh.
With the story at an end, the wise and regal grandmother (the ever fantastic Phylicia Rashad) closes the book of Jeronicus’s tale. Her grandkids question how she knows how all of this happened. With a flick and a flourish, grandma shows the kids her sparkling hair jewelry and they know: she is Journey, all grown up and their matriarch. She has told them the story of their great-great-grandfather Jeronicus Jangle, and his rise and fall and rise again.
As they fly to the Jangle factory, the spirit of Christmas lives within Grandmother Journey and continues with her grandchildren.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a whimsical, magical musical that hits all of the right notes for the holiday season. And if you were wondering if Oscar-winning dramatic actor Forrest Whitaker can sing…he really, really can.
Watch Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey on Netflix