Forest Whitaker, as the older and despondent inventor Jeronicus Jangle, once again reminds viewers of his awesome versatility as an actor. While his career spans four decades and includes everything from Oscar wins to Star Wars roles, it feels like it’s been a minute since Whitaker’s been able to play small and vulnerable.
Here, as a man who lost everything, from his family to the inner spark he used to power his gizmos, Whitaker excels at shrinking himself into a shell, too shattered to reach out to those he pushed away.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey Photo Gallery
Young Madalen Mills plays Journey, Jeronicus’ granddaughter from his estranged daughter Jessica (The Princess and the Frog’s Anika Noni Rose). During a holiday visit, a reluctant Jeronicus is forced to confront the light that left him in the form of the perpetually-inspired Journey, making this story sort of part-Grinch/part-Mr. Magorium.
Director/writer David E. Talbert (Almost Christmas, El Camino Christmas) successfully shapes a unique, whizzing world that, shockingly, doesn’t come from a pre-existing book or fairy tale. It’s an endearing original.
Jeronicus’ adversary, sneaky toy stealer Gustafson, is gleefully played by comedian Keegan-Michael Key (who gets a fun musical number of his own) but the actual dangers in Jingle Jangle are kind of hollow. The important themes are regret, reconciliation, and learning to turn your life around and Gustafson is just the catalyst for all that. So much so that it barely matters that Gustafson is controlled/manipulated by a sentient bullfighter toy (created by Jeronicus 30 years earlier) voiced by Ricky Martin. If you focus too much on that, it’s sort of insane and it blurs the entire story.Jingle Jangle feels bigger than it is because of the music and set design. Aside from occasional CGI shots that show us a broader view of the town, and some animated interludes, it’s actually a somewhat small production that uses its space wisely and whimsically. Many song-and-dance scenes take place in one room, as do a few action sequences, but because Talbert’s direction never lets the energy die down completely all the underlying themes, both sad and joyful, resonate better.
The gorgeous voices of Anika Noni Rose and Lisa Davina Phillip (who plays mail-carrier Ms. Johnston) provide necessary pops while Whitaker and Key surprise with their lovely crooning abilities. And it’s all bookended by the pivotal warmth of Phylicia Rashad, who plays a woman reading the tale to her own grandchildren.
Netflix Spotlight: November 2020