JINGLE JANGLE: A CHRISTMAS JOURNEY Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Alexander Wallace discovers that sometimes judging a book by its cover can unearth a genuine delight...

I ultimately opted to watch Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey via the equivalent of picking a book due to its cover art. What I saw in the little trailer that the Netflix app played looked like a steampunk heaven, filled with gears and pistons and other such things that make the alternate historian in me swoon. But, having chosen the movie off of what may seem a flimsy basis, how does it fare?

It is my great pleasure to inform you that Jingle Jangle succeeds in just about every way. The plot is a tad predictable, sure, but you don’t watch this sort of Christmas movie for real plot-based tension. Rather, it’s a film that succeeds first and foremost in its characters, ones that feel so wonderfully real even as they inhabit a fantasy world.

Leading the cast is Forest Whittaker as Jeronicus Jangle, the disaffected toymaker who is swindled out of his creations by a renegade apprentice Gustafson, played by Keegan-Michael Key. Whittaker brings a real pathos to Jangle, who loses everything early on in the film and finds new reason to live. Opposing him, Key makes Gustafson, the primary antagonist, both loathsome and vulnerable, having to deal with his own insecurities and the fatal flaw in his business empire. Madalen Mills provides a wonderful performance to Journey, Jangle’s granddaughter who enters the midst of the quarrel between Jangle and Gustafson and kicks off the events of the main plot (and who, upon finishing the film, made me realize that the title is a pun). Other worthy performances are given by Ricky Martin, who portrays a clockwork matador doll, Kieron L. Dyer, and Lisa Davina Phillip.

Set in a Dickensian Christmas wonderland melded with a steampunk visual aesthetic that seems to straddle the Victoran and Edwardian ages, Jingle Jangle is a delight for the eyes. Gears abound in all the wondrous toys that Jangle and Gustafson have created, and the effect is spellbinding. The costumes, too, are of that elegant early twentieth-century style, filled with a wide range of colors. The town looks very English, fittingly so as it was filmed in Norwich (the implication is that the film is set in a version of our Britain rather than a fantasy world; the mail truck that appears occasionally in the plot is a Royal Mail one with the British coat of arms and the initials ‘V. R.,’ meaning ‘Victoria Regina’). Overall, visually Jingle Jangle is absolutely gorgeous, a lush yuletide world that you want to step right into and feel the magic surround you.

I won’t reveal too much plot detail as to avoid spoilers, but one of the central fantastic ideas of the movie is interesting on a conceptual level. It takes a certain concept from quantum mechanics and juxtaposes it with emotion, creating something that reminded me of Timothy Zahn’s Angelmass and to a lesser extent Cixin Liu’s Ball Lightning, albeit more wholesome than either.

Jingle Jangle is a musical, and in that regard it succeeds masterfully. The songs are vibrant and make your toes tap, and the dance numbers that accompany them are exquisitely choreographed, the combination forming an enrapturing energy. The music itself is from various genres, influenced by soul and pop and R&B among others, as opposed to the more ‘traditional’ Christmas sound. The presence of music that feels so ‘modern’ juxtaposed with a century-old aesthetic may strike some as jarring, but I thought they went together without much issue (and we should remember that the blues, the music that gave rise to the rest of the world’s pop music in the ensuing century, was very much around in that time).

A word on the casting: most of the characters are Black, remedying the generally lily-white casts of previous Christmas movies. It reminded me strongly of Hamilton, in that it’s a musical using modern music in a historical setting, reclaiming a very white conception of a certain period of history for all. As Hamilton made diverse America’s founding struggle in the late 18th century, so Jingle Jangle makes diverse the idealized Victorian Christmas tale. If you look in the backgrounds, you’ll see various ethnicities in the crowds all dressed in the elegant wardrobe of the era.

Overall, Jingle Jangle was a spellbinding spectacle, and one that ended up being something clearly made from the heart from all involved. It’s the sort of movie that will become a Christmas classic in coming decades, and justly so. I can already see now the generations of children that will watch this film every December and feel that holiday magic. It’s that sort of movie.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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