Christmas comes earlier every year. The day after Halloween, nowadays, plastic trees and twinkle lights fill store shelves, DJs across the world queue up Mariah Carey’s classic Yuletide anthem and Starbucks puts gingerbread in their coffee. In 2020, this seemed like a welcome distraction. The Holiday Season began as a warm, colorful respite from the pandemic and election uncertainty.
Then came the Netflix film “Jingle Jangle.”
Watching “Jingle Jangle” is like being dragged behind the Polar Express, curb-stomped by Ebenezer Scrooge and, finally, run down by Santa’s sleigh, all while the shrill laughter of elves fills your ears.
Forest Whitaker (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) plays an inventor named Jeronicus Jangle, who has lost the Christmas spirit and turned his once wonderful toyshop into a dilapidated pawn shop. It is up to his granddaughter, Journey, played by Madalen Mills (“Reality Cupcakes”), to breathe festive life into his dusty heart and even dustier store.
They live in a place called “Cobbleton,” which is appropriate, as the story is completely cobbled together from other Christmas films. The power of belief from “The Polar Express,” Santa’s toyshop and a barely remixed version of “A Christmas Carol” are thrown into a faux-iron pot with a large helping of steampunk flavor and musical numbers a step below even the worst made-for-TV movies.
Whenever the music swells, one braces for it. Every song goes on at least a minute too long, and the lyrics and instrumentation are the kind one hears waiting in line at a crowded, sweaty department store, last-minute gifts in hand, wondering if this whole Christmas thing is really just an expensive waste of time.
It could’ve worked. Whitakter is great in the film, as are Madalen, Keegan Michael Key (“Key and Peele”) and the rest of the cast. The set design, costumes and visual effects are immaculate. The movie’s snowy, clockwork Victorian aesthetic is unique, and quite beautiful. There’s a robot named Buddy 3000 who, even if he skews a little too close to WALL-E, is absolutely adorable.
Still, “Jingle Jangle” is almost sickening, like a pile of over-iced Christmas cookies shoved right in your face.
The film is devoid of any sort of bite. There is not one scene in “Jingle Jangle” where one wonders, even just for a moment, if things will turn out alright. There’s just smiling, and singing, and smiling and singing, and more smiling and more singing. It’s exhausting.
“Jingle Jangle” may be marketed for a younger audience, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be conflict. Christmas classics like “Frosty The Snowman” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” still have active antagonists, and moments of threat or peril, to give a hint of winter chill that makes the Yuletide warmth of Christmas so comforting. In November 2020, sugary sweet won’t cut it.
Additionally, the sci-fi element of the movie ranges from silly to disturbing. The magic system of Jangle’s word is a mixture of math and mysticism: Characters draw glowing equations in the air (a la “Doctor Strange”) and perform equations like the “Square root of possible.” That’s the silly bit.
More upsetting is a sentient toy named Don Juan, bizarrely played by Ricky Martin (“American Crime Story”), who is created, and (spoiler alert) shut off, essentially “killed,” by Jangle at the end of the film. Jangle says Don Juan will be reprogrammed to be more obedient. A life with agency, emotion and sentience is extinguished, and everyone smiles away. Whenever I watch “A Christmas Story,” the last thing I say is “This needs just a bit more existentialist horror.”
If one is looking for a Holiday escape, stay far, far away from Cobbleton.
Daily Arts Writer Andrew Warrick can be reached at email@example.com.