Brief synopsis: a successful magical toy inventor, loses his belief in magic when his apprentice steals his toy inventions book. The apprentice goes on to become the most successful toy inventor in the world, whilst his former boss spirals into depression and debt after his wife dies and his daughter grows up and leaves.
Thirty years later, the toymaker must come up with an invention to save his business, otherwise, the bank will foreclose on his debts. His granddaughter visits him to try and help him rediscovers his belief and the magic.
Is it any good?: Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey is an okay Christmas film that borrows elements from a whole slew of other classic films and even television shows. Unfortunately, the film does not quite sparkle as much as it should or could have.
The film is long at two hours and is a musical, though the musical numbers are not spaced out well enough to help with one of the other issues in the film; the pacing.
The other issue is the weak execution on the central premises of belief and magic, both of which are only briefly alluded to. The chance to have a really good villain is also wasted. Jingle Jangle is mostly a visual treat and the songs are good but it fails on the magic and wonder front.
Spoiler territory: a brother and sister are looking into the fireplace on Christmas Eve. The girl sees magic dancing in the flames. Her brother ribs her about it, he cannot see anything. Their grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) comes into the room and tells them that she will read them a bedtime story.
The grandson wants to hear The Night Before Christmas but noticing how disappointed her granddaughter seems by her brother’s lack of belief in magic, she decides to tell them a different story.
She pulls out a book that has an elaborate mechanism on the front and opens it. She tells the story of a man, Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell) a renowned toy inventor whose store, people came to from miles around to see and revel at his magical inventions.
Jeronicus had an apprentice, Gustafson (Miles Barrow) who had talent but lacked patience. Gustafson builds a toy that flies and shows it to the wonderment of a few patrons in the store. The toy hovers momentarily but then splutters and falls apart. The gathered crowd quickly disperse.
The postman brings a package for Jeronicus. Jeronicus is extremely excited, sharing his joy with his wife, Joanne (Sharon Rose) and daughter, Jessica (Diaana Babnicova) and giving out toys to all of the patrons in the store.
He takes the package to his workshop, even as his apprentice, a frantic Gustafson tries to get him to look at his broken toy. Jeronicus tells him he will look at the toy tomorrow.
In his workshop, Jeronicus opens the package. It contains a small dropper. He squeezes a drop of green/gold liquid into an elaborate contraption. It whirrs and splutters, creating a pure golden liquid. He puts a drop of the liquid into a small, matador toy. The toy comes to life and introduces itself as Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin).
The sentient toy thinks of itself as one of a kind but sees that Jeronicus plans to create multiple iterations of him. The family are celebrating Jeronicus’ triumphant. He gives his daughter a pair of inventor goggles, telling her she is now an inventor. Gustafson overhears the conversation. The family leave the workshop, going to have dinner.
Before they leave the workshop, Jeronicus tells Gustafson to clean up and look after Don Juan Diego as he plans to create one for every child in the world. One million of them. Juan Diego is mortified at the thought. Jeronicus leaves the workshop.
Don Juan Diego persuades him to borrow Jeronicus’ book of inventions indefinitely. Gustafson is initially reluctant but Juan Diego keeps talking. Jeronicus comes back to the workshop, having brought his apprentice a tray of dinner but Gustafson is gone. So is the book. Jeronicus tries to find him but cannot.
Over the next few years, Jeronicus continued to try and invent toys but his faith was gone along with the magic. His former apprentice becoming the foremost toymaker in the world. Then his wife died. Eventually, Jessica could no longer console or help her father and left the home.
Thirty years later, Jeronicus (Forest Whitaker) has turned the once-thriving toy store into a pawn shop. It is rundown and only Edison (Kieron L. Dyer), a young local lad, works around the sullen Jeronicus.
Ms Johnston (Lisa Davina Phillip), the postwoman, comes to visit him. She is attracted to Jeronicus, insisting on calling him Jerry, much to his annoyance.
The widowed Ms Johnston brings him his post. She tries to tell him to cheer up, even as he tries to get her out of the store. The bank manager, Mr Delacroix (Hugh Bonneville) comes to see Jeronicus. He tells Jeronicus that he must come up with an extraordinary invention by Christmas or lose everything. Delacroix leaves.
Jeronicus looks into an old trunk and finds a piece of kit that he feels could change his fortune. The only problem was he needed to contact his estranged daughter, Jessica (Anika Noni Rose). Jessica, at the behest of her daughter, Journey (Madalen Mills), lets her go and meet her grandfather for the first time.
Journey goes and meets Jeronicus. He does not want her to stay with him, shutting the door in her face as he goes back into his store. She barges into the store and shows him a picture of a young Jessica with the google he gave to her on. Jeronicus allows her to stay but not before she signs a contract saying she will not touch anything.
After thirty years, Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) finds that he is running out of inventions, having exhausted every invention in the book. He is forced to return to his failed flying toy from three decades before.
Unfortunately, it works no better than it did before and Gustafson’s reputation is on the line. Don Juan Diego continues to be the power behind the throne, his ego still raging, he tells Gustafson to borrow another idea from Jeronicus.
Journey comes and interrupts Jeronicus while he is working and he realises that she has his lost gift for seeing magic. He retires to bed, despondent at what he has lost. Journey sees a book with a diagram of a robot and technical specifications. The book is her mother’s old workbook.
Journey goes into her grandfather’s disused workshop. Edison had also snuck in there. He sees Journey and asks her if she wants to be his apprentice. She asks him the same question.
A noise makes the two kids jump. they go and check out the source of the sound. They find the robot that Jessica designed but Jeronicus was unable to make work.
Journey takes the component, that Jeronicus had found in his trunk, and puts it in the robot. As Journey and Edison look at the plans her mother wrote, the robot springs to life.
The children are startled as the little robot mimics their speech. At first, they are scared but Journey approaches the little robot. It tells his name is Buddy. Buddy starts to fly and causes the two children to fly as well.
Across town, Gustafson, spying on the workshop through a telescope, sees the robot and the children flying. Jeronicus comes into the workshop and Buddy stops working. He is angry that they are playing in the workshop. He does not believe them when they tell him the robot worked.
Journey meets Gustafson. He tries to get her to tell him what Jeronicus is working on. She tells him it is just a pawn shop. She leaves him. The next day, Jeronicus goes looking for Ms Johnston. As he had been expecting a package. Journey is with him. Jeronicus talks with Ms Johnston who is a little miffed that he is oblivious to her less than subtle advances. She leaves him without giving him his post.
Jeronicus turns around and is hit by a snowball. It was thrown by Journey. They end up in a snowball fight with other children joining in on both sides. The fight ends when Jeronicus inadvertently hits a policeman. Back at the workshop, Edison is visited by Gustafson. Jeronicus and Journey return to the store. Journey finds Edison tied up and he tells her that Gustafson was in the workshop. Buddy is gone.
Journey tells him that they have to get Buddy back. The two children sneak into the back of Ms Johnston’s post van and go to Gustafson’s factory. They sneak into his factory. Jeronicus comes into the workshop looking for them. Seeing they are not there he goes looking for them. At the factory, Gustafson is getting ready to unveil Buddy. Jeronicus gets Ms Johnston to take him to Gustafson’s factory.
The unveiling goes badly for Gustafson and he tells one of his underlings to put the toy in the crusher. Journey and Edison overhear him and go to the crusher room to intercept the toy. Jeronicus arrives at the factory.
They get the box with Buddy in it. They go into a sewage tunnel and Jeronicus hears them. He tells them he will meet them at the gate.
The children are unable to get to the gate because there is a fire in the room they came from. They will have to get through the huge fan that blocks the inlet.
Jeronicus says it is impossible. Journey tells him that he can make the impossible possible if he believes. They head towards the fan. Fire rages behind them. Jeronicus calculates the formula for them to get out of the tunnel.
They escape the tunnel with Buddy. Ms Johnston drives them all back to the Jangle shop. Buddy got wrecked in the escape. Jeronicus thanks Ms Johnston for her help and kisses her. She is very happy to receive his kiss. Back in the workshop, Journey looks to put Buddy back together.
She persuades Jeronicus that he can repair Buddy because he is the greatest toy inventor in the world. Jessica leaves home to come and collect her daughter from her estranged father.
Jeronicus fixes Buddy. Jessica arrives at her old home. Jeronicus apologises to his daughter and shows her all of the letters he was too afraid to send her over the years.
Jessica helps her father to repair Buddy and agrees to stay for Christmas. The next morning, Journey comes into the workshop to see her mother, Jeronicus and a repaired Buddy. With Jeronicus a believer again, Buddy easily springs to life.
Gustafson turns up at the workshop with the police. He accuses Jeronicus of stealing Buddy, producing the design document as proof of ownership. Journey puts the document under ultraviolet light and it shows up as being the property of Jangle. Gustafson gets arrested.
Mr Delacroix turns up, apologising for having to foreclose on the store but then he sees Buddy. He is amazed. He tells Jeronicus that the bank will back him to the hilt. Jeronicus turns the pawnshop back into a toy store, the whole town coming, once again, to see it.
The children who had been listening to the story, realise that their grandmother is Journey. Buddy comes out from behind a Christmas tree as the children look out across the town and see the Jeronicus factory lit up. They all float out of the window towards the factory. The end.
Final thoughts: Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey is an underwhelming effort that tries to please everybody with music and love and comedy but fails on all fronts. It is not that any of the elements are done particularly badly, it is just that the story is so weak nothing else works. Keegan-Michael’s Gustafson is a good villain but he is barely used, overshadowed by Ricky Martin’s Matador and neither allowed to be a proper antagonist. Phillip’s Ms Johnston has the best song but not much else.
The real issue in the film is one just does not care. Though the film begins strongly – even if the opening storytelling scene is cringy – the theft of the book and Whitaker’s Jeronicus descent into depression, along with Gustafson’s rise to greatness is handled quite briskly. Unfortunately, the film begins to flag horribly after that. There is never any real sense of impending loss or danger.
The two kids going to retrieve the robot is done without much of a hitch. Gustafson poses a credible threat in only one scene. One. Dyer’s Edison is a loose Urkel clone and the Buddy robot blends Wall-E and E.T.
Written and directed by David E. Talbert, the film is certainly an ambitious effort. It is colourful and mixes live-action and stop animation, as well as shoehorning in multiple musical numbers, that are mostly good or at least, not bad.
The issue is the film is overlong and not very engaging. All the sadness that befalls Jeronicus happens in the first twenty minutes and the resolution of the film only takes around ten minutes. The film is over two hours long. It is a Christmas film that barely mentions Christmas and aside from the obligatory snow, there is not much to denote Christmas about the film.
Jingle Jangle – A Christmas Journey is too long and too ponderous for me to recommend as a holiday watch. A chance missed.