One of my family’s Christmas traditions each year is to put up our Dickens Village. The display is made up of little ceramic figurines depicting Victorian life with a literary, Charles Dicken-esque twist. Growing up (and still to this day) I enjoyed rearranging the pieces and the characters to tell stories. From the snow-covered trees to bakery windows with desserts on display to the ice-skating rink with Christmas carolers and the newspaper boy riding on a horse-drawn carriage, the Dickens Village evokes a quaint, fairytale Christmas feel.
Netflix’s Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is like if my Dickens Village came to life, except instead of sickly malnourished pasty-white English schoolchildren singing off-key carols, there was a diverse but mostly-Black cast singing catchy broadway-style tunes, with just as much Christmas cheer.
Jingle Jangle is an original musical written and directed by David E. Talbert about Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker), a genius toymaker who is swindled by his apprentice (Keegan Michael-Key) and ages into a real scrooge. With the help of his granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills), he learns to love again and share his toymaking talent once more. The family film has been compared to 2017’s The Greatest Showman by many critics, and it’s an apt comparison. While The Greatest Showman had its charms and will probably be remembered longer than Jingle Jangle for its more recognizable cast and that it’s not a seasonal movie, Jingle Jangle has the benefit of being an original story that doesn’t have to grapple with the messy history of its lead. Despite both being period pieces (Victorian-era adjacent) both films have unmistakably modern sensibilities, in their music, storytelling, and diverse casting.
Jingle Jangle runs about thirty minutes too long, and its promising story about forgiveness is wrapped up too quickly in favor of another musical number about believing in yourself or something like that. But Jingle Jangle makes up for these weaknesses in overabundant energy and spirit. The cast is a delight, with Keegan Michael-Key making an especially strong case for why he should be the only actor considered for all fun villain roles. Forest Whittaker and Anika Noni Rose bring star power and help move the story forward when things drag. The production design, costume and hairstyling, choreography, and background dancers are all scene-stealers and absolutely stellar.
Jingle Jangle may not reach the mainstream holiday classic status of a film like Elf, but it goes above and beyond just “doing the trick” and scratching your yearly holiday movie itch. It’s a sweet, lovingly-made film that anyone can enjoy.