Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: 'Jingle Jangle:' A story of Black joy

Diaana Babnicova and Justin Cornwell star in "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey."
Diaana Babnicova and Justin Cornwell star in "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey."

I wasn’t aware "Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey" existed until I saw first look images for the film via a Netflix-adjacent Instagram account, @strongblacklead, a few months ago. The movie, written and directed by director and playwright David Talbert, began the early stages of pre-production in 2017, though he started the script – initially conceived as a stage play – in 1998.

Most of my family, including my 11-year-old brother, watched the movie before I did, and the consensus was that none of them liked it all that much. I was surprised, seeing as "Jingle Jangle" is the only family Christmas movie I know of that specifically follows Black kids.

The general critic consensus is that the movie was fairly good to great. It earned a 69% on Metacritic, an aggregate of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.5 out of 10 on IMDb. The audience score on Rotten Tomatoes more closely reflects the IMDb and Metacritic scores, currently standing at 77%.

Not knowing the critic and audience scores going into the movie, but having heard my family weren’t huge fans, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t quite sure what exactly to be nervous about, as my family couldn’t quite tell me what exactly they didn’t like at the time. I later learned it was because my mom and youngest brother don’t like musicals. But I knew I didn’t want a movie with a Black main cast and offscreen Black creatives to fail.

I don’t want "Jingle Jangle" to be used as the example of why Black movies shouldn’t be made for the next decade.

Despite my misgivings, I genuinely enjoyed the movie. Maybe it was the multiracial cast, the bright colors or maybe it was the music — it was absolutely the music. The songs “Miles and Miles,” “Square Root of Possible” and “This Day” were probably my favorite for their energy and emotional weight to the story. I found myself smiling throughout the majority of the film.

It’s by no means a perfect film, but it is good enough that I would genuinely add this movie to my movie recommendations list. Everyone should see it at least once.

The film follows a prolific inventor named Jeronicus Jangle, who – after having a book filled with his life’s work stolen by a misguided apprentice, loses his magic and becomes a recluse. Until he meets his granddaughter Journey for the first time. She shows him that the impossible is in fact, possible. Together they go on a magic-filled journey that opens him up to all the possibilities that can be.

I have and have always had a deep connection to music, and thus musicals. In a year where "Hamilton" and other Broadway musicals came to Disney+, this musical ranks in my top three of the year.

I didn’t know "Jingle Jangle" was a musical, so I was pleasantly surprised when the young Jeronicus, played by Justin Cornwell, began singing in the second scene of the movie. The song was upbeat, fun and dance-inducing.

And the hits kept coming.

From emotional ballads to peppy inspirational songs to Scar-esque villain songs with an amazing beat, each song not only had lyrics that were fun and important to the story, but they also had that catchy quality that all musical songs should have.

Visually, the film gave me strong Willy Wonka vibes, in the best way possible. The film cross-pollinated plaids, stripes, corduroy textures, all the colors of the rainbow and all the different shades and ethnicities of people. All those elements made "Jingle Jangle" a bright Christmas candy guaranteed to give the viewer visions of sugar plums dancing in their head.

The story was not brand new: an older, gruff man stuck in his ways and devoid of faith in himself and others being encouraged to see the bright side of life by a young, bright, perhaps naïve child. However, it was still touching to see Forest Whitaker’s “Grandpa J” and Madalen Mills’ Journey interact and grow from a one-sided adoration to a true familial bond. The relationship reconciliation between Jeronicus and his daughter, his relationship with Journey and even his response to his former apprentice all felt genuine.

I will admit, other than the snow and various mentions of the time of year, I wouldn’t say this movie is very Christmasey. I don’t mind though, it works well enough without the Christmas element. But it has been marketed as a Christmas movie and is a little short on delivering.

Though I can see myself watching this movie again around Christmastime in the future, it would have been nice to make Christmas a more important part of the story. I almost forgot it was supposed to be the week or weekend before Christmas until Jeronicus’ daughter asks if she and Journey could have Christmas with him the following day.

Perhaps the biggest reason I enjoyed the film so much was the amount of much needed Black joy in and throughout it. The Black people in this story were genuinely joyous. When they did face obstacles, the challenges weren’t due to the characters being Black. They got a chance to be full-storied characters without falling into the trap of only showing the Black struggle.

Though the main cast is Black, this movie goes beyond color barriers to speak to anyone. The crux of the story is universal, losing and finding your purpose, and breaking and rebuilding relationships. "Jingle Jangle" was truly a heartwarming holiday film.

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