Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)

We wanted this to be good. I mean, obviously we want everything we watch to be good because it makes for a more enjoyable couple of hours, but Jingle Jangle is a fantasy musical Christmas adventure where most of the cast is black. I'm assuming part of the reason this was made was so kids could have a big Christmas movie with characters who look like them. We really wanted to be able to hold it up, sing its praises, and feel good about ourselves.

But dear God is this movie a mess.

The movie this most reminds me of, sadly, is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Both movies were visually interesting but narratively lacking. For what it's worth, the designs in Jingle Jangle are much more inspired. The sets and costumes are gorgeous, and the visual effects are significantly better than I'd expect from a Netflix production. Aside from a couple sequences where CG body doubles are a bit obvious, this movie looks topnotch.

Same goes for the music. Taken out of context, the songs are really good, as is the choreography. A lot of effort went into this, and it shows.

A lot of talent, too. Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad, and Keegan-Michael Key appear in this. It's an impressive cast.

But as I'm sure is already obvious, this sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Far greater. Infinitely greater. And that brings us to the plot...

The movie opens with a pair of kids looking at a fire on Christmas Eve. Their grandmother interrupts them arguing about the flames possibly being magical, and she offers to read them a book she's never shown them before. This transitions into a frame story about...

Jeronicus Jangle, an inventor who lives in a magic toy shop with his wife and daughter. Also present is Gustafson, Jeronicus's apprentice. It's Christmas, and Jeronicus is almost finished with his new invention, which turns out to be a miniature animatronic matador who is fully sentient. When the matador realizes Jeronicus intends to mass-produce him, he grows angry, because he wants to be unique. So he convinces Gustafson to steal Jeronicus's book of inventions and use them to start his own company. Gustafson does so and quickly becomes famous. Jeronicus's wife dies, and he grows distant from his young daughter.

Then we jump ahead a few decades. In case anyone's curious, we're twenty minutes into the movie. It'll be another ten before we're introduced to the main character, Journey.

Just to recap, this is a kid's movie.

Journey is Jeronicus's granddaughter, though they haven't met. Jeronicus has been estranged from his daughter for years. He never got over what had happened to him, and he gave up inventing. Now he works as a pawnbroker, and the bank is about to foreclose on his shop.

Also, it's Christmas again. It's always Christmas.

Journey convinces her mother to let her go on a trip to meet her grandfather. At first, he's cold towards her, but he warms up over a couple musical numbers. Journey also meets his new assistant, Edison, who honestly could have been cut without impacting the movie in any significant way.

Journey and Edison also meet Buddy-3000, a magical robot Jeronicus invented (based on some of his daughter's ideas), which is capable of levitating itself and others. Only the robot is powered by belief, so Jeronicus, having lost all faith in himself, doesn't even realize it works. Journey and Edison try to tell him, but he ignores them.

Meanwhile, Gustafson has run out of inventions to steal. He spies on Jeronicus's shop while the kids are flying around and decides to steal the robot and pass it off as one of his inventions, just as he'd been doing for years. He gets the robot and tries to demonstrate it for investors, but no one believes, so it won't turn on.

Journey and Edison infiltrate his factory to steal it back and grab it before Gustafson can have it destroyed. They escape with some help from Jeronicus, but the robot is damaged in the process. There's a giant fan, a massive explosion, more magical robot nonsense, and a bunch of other crap I'm skipping over - a lot of spectacle with little to no substance. Characters say "believe" a lot: that's most of what passes for a theme.

Jeronicus brings Journey back to his shop, and she goes to bed. It's Christmas Eve, incidentally, and if he doesn't have something amazing to show the bank, they'll take possession of his shop and home the next day. Journey's mom shows up and reconciles with her father after a dance number and a bunch of letters that contradict something earlier in the movie. Together, they manage to rebuild the robot, which impresses the bank. Also, Gustafson shows up with the police, but Journey proves he's a fraud and gets him arrested.

Jump back to the present, when we learn the grandmother reading the story was Journey all along (you're shocked, I can tell). Somehow the kids didn't know their grandmother's name, nor did they know they were heirs to the massive factory (now belonging to their family) in town. Buddy-3000 shows up and there's more levitating. The end.

Again, the component pieces to this are impressive, but the story just doesn't hold together. And when I say that, it's not just in the way musicals will sometimes permit plot holes to streamline the pace. The story beats actively interfere with the experience of watching this. Nothing makes sense, motivations aren't compelling, and the continuity doesn't work. You'd literally be better off seeing isolated segments than watching this in its entirety.

On an unrelated note, while this is aggressively set at Christmas (even while jumping through time), there's not really any reason for that choice. The story has nothing to do with the holidays - it feels like it's just an excuse to make a Christmas movie. Also, there's no real journey (aside from the fact the main character's name is Journey), so that feels like false advertising.

I really hoped this would be something special, and judging by the production values, I'm guessing most of the people working on it hoped that, too. Ignoring the script, this was absolutely impressive in terms of scope and technical quality. But the writing just wasn't in the same league as the rest of the movie.

Like Nutcracker and the Four Realms, whether you should see this or not comes down to your feelings about the aesthetic. If you're interested, check out the trailer and see if the candy-coated clockwork setting appeals to you. Just be warned you're not getting much more than that. Also, be warned this runs over two hours, and I wasn't exaggerating when I said the main character doesn't show up until the 30-minute mark. If you're watching this with young kids, I hope they're unusually patient.