While it may be hard to disassociate the words 'jingle jangle' from the poorly-named drug of choice on Riverdale, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, Netflix's latest in Christmas fare, does a spectacular job at reclaiming the festive phrase. From the get-go, we're promised a diverse, lively, and fast-paced Christmas musical, and what Netflix promises, it delivers.
The movie stars Forrest Whitaker as a down-on-his-luck former inventor named Jeronicus Jangle, who is visited by his spirited and inventive granddaughter Journey (Madalen Mills). Meanwhile, his former apprentice (Keegan-Michael Key) is desperate to cling on to his fame — whatever the cost.
We aren't dropped straight into Jeronicus' world. Instead, we're gently led in by narrator Phylicia Rashad, who is telling Jeronicus' story to her grandkids (why she's doing so is pretty easy to guess early on, but the movie still retains its wonder) complete with magical stop-motion interludes.
In traditional musical style, the opening number is, simply put, huge. We are enveloped in a technicolour steampunk world that is a visual feast.
While the singing is spectacular, this first tune is the biggest stumbling block the movie faces. It's hard to grasp exactly what they're singing about, or why it matters practically beyond the choral chanting that it will change the young Jeronicus' life.
In this opening prelude, he is excited about the delivery of "a secret thing" which has the unintentional side effect of confusing the audience, as if somewhere in the first 15 minutes we missed something. But set this aside (rather, let it wash over you) and the rest of the film is a buoyant, stuffed-to-the-brim story of wonder, forgiveness, and love.
We don't spend too much time in the before, which is good, because Forrest Whitaker as the older Jeronicus is delightful. He is cranky but not cantankerous; the softness of his sadness underpins his gruffly self-imposed isolation.
Which is what makes the arrival of his granddaughter so uplifting. He only half-heartedly rejects her, so when he comes to love her – as we all know he will – it doesn't feel like a full 180 but rather an evolution of what was always meant to be.
What makes Jingle Jangle magical is that it doesn't try to explain itself: you simply have to accept that magic, imagination and maths are intertwined (which of course they are) and to be a vehicle of such creative excellence can be alienating.
But as Jeronicus and Journey find their footing once again – through each other, and accepting themselves – you can't help but be moved. And what could be melodrama is underpinned by a vein of humour, supplied chiefly by a sharply funny Lisa Davina Phillip as the postwoman Ms Johnston. And then there's the music.
While most modern kids' musicals turn towards electronic-heavy pop to lure their audiences in, Jingle Jangle hinges on bluesy rock, classic ballads and Motown sounds, which makes it both refreshing and familiar, and far more moving.
Anika Noni Rose (the voice of Tiana in The Princess and the Frog) makes only brief appearances, but her inimitable voice and emphatic performance are another perfect addition. Jingle Jangle is a Christmas feast, and the kind of film you can return to year after year.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is available to watch now on Netflix.
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