The choreography by Ashley Wallen sparkles and dazzles.
Madelen Mills, Anika Noni Rose, Ricky Martin and Lisa Davina Phillip sing, but so do Forest Whitaker and Keegan-Michael Key — who sings the villain’s show-stopper, “Magic Man G.”
The settings are baroque, brass-burnished and gorgeously detailed, creating a Dickensian city (Cobbletown) with a far more diverse populace.
“Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey” has the makings of a film kids get into, colorful and cute (ish) and tuneful — “Hugo” and “Short Circuit” mashed up with “The Greatest Showman.” If only it wasn’t so…long.
And the message of this “Christmas Journey?” Um, protect your copyrights, lest your assistant cash in on them? Toys will only work if kids truly “believe?” Because the holiday is all about the toys?
“Jingle Jangle” may be a giant step up in ambition for writer-director David E. Talbert (“Almost Christmas”). And while it never offends, this shiny, empty-headed musical bauble doesn’t cut the mustard, pleasantly-forgettable songs notwithstanding. The arrival of its show-stopper is jarring, because of how boring the first half hour has been. The fact that little that follows comes close to that highlight further dulls the senses.
A not-quite-pointless framing device has a grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) reading the kids a whole new story, something a little more up to date than Clement C. Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” she promises.
She tells of a great toy inventor, Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell) whose Jingle Jangle toyworks/shop is where the magic happens.
His greatest gadget of all is his new automata, a tiny metallic matador (voiced and sung by Ricky Martin) who develops a mind of his own with a dollop of magical elixir. “Every child in the world” will get one,” Jeronicus declares.
But the toy and the shop assistant, aspiring inventor Gustafson (Justin Cornwell) conspire to steal away with the master’s master blueprints, and Jeronicus is lost.
Years later, he’s just a widowed old man (Oscar winner Whitaker) keeping his banker (Hugh Bonneville) at bay, fending off the advances of delivery-lady Johnston (British actress Lisa Davina Phillip), dismissing his visiting granddaughter (Madalen Mills), desperate to come up with something unique and spectacular.
Once the granddaughter and nerdy new shop assistant Edison (Kieron L. Dyer) set their minds to helping, you know that’ll come, and that the older Gustafson (Keegan-Michael Key) will want to get his hands on it.
I’m not the age-range Talbert is shooting for here, but I laughed maybe once. The only songs that tickle are Martin’s matador number (a grin) and Key’s big mustache-twirling ego trip “Magic Man G.”
I liked the granddaughter Journey’s aspirational (“longing”) song, the “Square Root of Possible (is me).” The rest? Meh.
The dancing crackles, and even Whitaker gets into it (to a reggae-ish tune). There’s no slapstick to speak of, the new automata is a little “Short Circuit” and a lot of “Wall-E.” Aborbs, but come on.
The whole affair has a touch of “Polar Express” about it, kind of holiday heartless. Even “Toy Story” isn’t just about the toys.
Maybe the gadgets, the cute kids and the dancing will hold younger kids’ attention. But if they wander out of the room at the 75 minute mark, at least you’ll know why.
MPA Rating: PG for some thematic elements and peril
Cast: Forest Whitaker, Madalen Mills, Anika Noni Rose, Keegan-Michael Key, Ricky Martin, Lisa Davina Phillip, Phylicia Rashad and Hugh Bonneville
Credits: Scripted and directed by David E. Talbert. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:58