Sometimes I wonder if I just have bad taste, or if everyone else in the world does. My wife and I were beguiled by the advertising and reviews for this new movie on Netflix, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, “An instant classic!”, one review crowed, so we watched it the other day.
It jingle-jangled my brain.
OH MY GOD IT WAS SO BAD. This is a movie that tries desperately hard to be cheerful holiday fare that it crosses right over the line into creepy, and I was appalled in the first five minutes. All the characters have these intense nonstop grins splitting their faces and are so enthusiastic about everything that I was confident that the entire stage had been doses with smilex gas, and the show was a race to reach a conclusion before everyone collapsed in cackling death. There was no acting. There was only grimacing.
The plot: it’s about a toymaker who is famous for his inventions, although we’re not really shown any talent, or even any comprehension of what a child would want. In the opening, he builds a tiny and hyperkinetic matador doll that talks…and proves to be so egotistical that he ought to run for president, but has no personality other than an overwhelming narcissism. This creation is supposed to be the great new toy that will make him even more famous, but really, it’s a toy so lacking in charm that you just want to smash it. It might be a fine example of the worst evils of AI you can imagine, but nothing more.
The toymaker’s apprentice steals the matador and the notebooks with all his designs. Then we skip forward in time to learn that the toymaker became a babbling failure, is estranged from his own daughter, and the apprentice has become a success with an empire of toys. Enter the toymaker’s granddaughter, Journey, with a manic smile pasted on and a disturbingly optimistic can-do attitude. The rest of the movie consists of Journey using her ability to visualize mathematics as a kind of magic spell to animate stuff, including an ugly and pointless robot called Buddy 3000 that can fly and somehow enable people around him to fly. He’s activated by — I knew this was coming — belief. You just have to believe, and you can do anything.
Then there are sewer tunnels and explosions. Eventually the apprentice is defeated, and the toymaker vindicated, and he can return to making bad toys like the stupid matador and the big-headed Buddy 3000, all of which will go flying off the shelves, I guess. The only good moment is when the annoying matador is caught, and the toymaker flips off his power switch and announces that he will be reprogramming it, which is also rather disquieting. The matador was stupidly obnoxious and irrelevant to the story, but he did have a personality, icky as it was, and desires and feelings, and the master could just erase and reprogram it all. I guess that’s our Christmas message: if you’re loud and annoying and overly-excited about Christmas, we can shut you down and silence you.
It was apparently intended to be a stage production translated to Netflix, and it shows. Those smiles are designed so that even the kids in the nosebleed seats at Jingle Jangle on Ice would be able to seem them, and everything was so broadly done that there was no need for nuance or subtlety in plot or character or atmosphere. It was just LOUD and JANGLY and RELENTLESS. It also looked EXPENSIVE, with lots of elaborate sets and intense CGI animation. I’m wondering how much money they had to spend to get all those good reviews, too.
Oh, I almost forgot. It’s also a musical. I guess it was understandable that I forgot, because I can’t remember a single tune from the thing.