Writer, Director: David E. Talbert
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Madalen Mills, Phylicia Rashad, Ricky Martin
Music: John Debney
Streaming Platform: Netflix
In Netflix’s dated-date-flick Holidate, Christmas spirit was the kind you gulped down to get a little loose and tipsy. In Jingle Jangle Christmas spirit is about the power of belief. Your answer to the question, “Which spirit do you need more of?” will determine whether you’ll aww or uggh your way through Jingle Jangle.
I think we often mistake datedness for innocence, and dated films for innocent ones. Jingle Jangle on Netflix is a dated film. It’s a Christmas movie made for children and thus its datedness is easier to pass off as innocence. I say it is made for children because adult complexities can be captured in single sentences here, and so your reaction to them will only be singular- sympathy or anger or hatred.
Take Jeronicus, once a star-inventor, who is now in the doldrums because his notebook, that contains notes on all his innovations, has been stolen by his greedy apprentice, Gustafson, and his mexican doll-invention, Don Juan. This makes him capital-s-sad and he tells his wife and children to leave him. They leave him. That’s all his sadness is about. He is grumpy because he is alone. He is alone because he feels like a loser.
His grand-daughter Journey and his young child apprentice Edison decide to bring him back to his glory days, and restore the Christmas equilibrium of joy. The town the story is set in is a khwabon ka shehar designed to transport you to the other-worldly realm of this story. For me, that journey didn’t entirely take off, and I was still rooted in 2020, surrounded by the muffled cheer of Diwali this year.
Of course there are some nice moments of charm that buoy the movie, like when the kids decide to rummage through a fast rotating blade with a blazing fire at their back, or even the character of the persistent widow Mrs.Johnston who, as the as-the-kids-call-it-these-days, has the kissy-kissies for old bearded Jeronicus. There is a moment of mistletoe, but the lips land on the cheeks. The musical format is nice, the rousing crescendo and flowing fabrics make up for the missing crescendos in the story.
This whole tale of Jeronicus is narrated as an anchor story by a grandma in a three-tiered pearl necklace reading to her grandchildren on the eve of Christmas by the fireside. It’s all red love, and black skin, the latter of which usually see less off in the Christmas genre. But surely, that isn’t the only reason this film was made… or was it? As a corrective to the white hegemony of Christmas?
Fairy tales are tricky. As children they feel like vessels to hold the possibilities you dream of, but as adults they are only reminders of what this world can never be. Writing about fairy tales, then becomes trickier because it has embedded within it the potential for both escapism and agony. In Jingle Jangle when a black man calls a constable to report a theft, what I was seeing was a world untouched by police brutality against black people. When I saw women dressed in Victorian corsets I was thinking colonialism and class struggle. And this is bad, because that’s not at all what the film is about or even what it alludes to. It is escapist. So we should let it be. But what if we can’t? Maybe the kind of Christmas spirit we need is the one that will make us a little footloose.