Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey review – a sugar rush of steampunk joy

Netflix’s festive fantasy about a kid and her inventor granddad is pure infectious energy – and with exquisite detail

Madalen Mills as Journey Jangle in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.
Yule love it ... Madalen Mills as Journey Jangle in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. Photograph: Netflix
Yule love it ... Madalen Mills as Journey Jangle in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey. Photograph: Netflix

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 08.02 EST

Christmas is coming. And if anyone is not convinced it’s the most wonderful time of the year, here’s an excessively Christmassy Victorian-set musical on Netflix to batter you into good cheer. In many ways, Jingle Jangle feels like a fairly boilerplate family movie (think Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or Willy Wonka) but with one big difference: the characters are mostly black. There’s a brilliant scene where a group of children have a snowball fight on a Dickensian cobbled street. Their ringleader is brainiac child genius Journey (Madalen Mills), a 10-year-old girl. As the kids pelt each other with snowballs, a song by Ghanaian singer Bisa Kdei plays, and Journey and her friends break into African dance moves. Their ethnicity is not the point of their characters or of the scene, but their culture and heritage are seen and celebrated.

Forest Whitaker plays Journey’s inventor grandfather Jeronicus Jangle. As a young man, he owned world-famous toyshop Jangles and Things, maker of steampunk-inspired gadgets. But Jeronicus lost everything when dastardly apprentice Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) stole his book of toy blueprints. Thirty years later, he is a broken man, played with gentle mournfulness by Whitaker, an actor perpetually enveloped by a grey cloud of disappointment. The big surprise is that he can sing too, belting out the movie’s big R&B-ish duet Make It Work (written by John Legend) with Anika Noni Rose.

Playwright and film-maker David E Talbert serves up a cinematic buffet that’s heavy on the sweet stuff, as Journey attempts to salvage her grandad’s reputation. It’s a film that may be a bit sugary for some tastes, but it’s made with real care and craft: from exquisite stop-motion inserts to the blast of energy dance routines by Kylie choreographer Ashley Wallen and stunning hair design from Sharon Martin – creating Victoriana styles inspired by natural afro hair.

I did wonder, though, if it was necessary to make Journey quite such a paragon of kindness. She reminded me of those books about great women written to inspire little girls – Marie Stopes or Coco Chanel smiling pleasantly on every page. Nice-girl Journey could perhaps have done with a few more character traits. But that’s a small beef with a film beaming with positivity – and yuletide good cheer.

• Available on Netflix from 13 November.

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