Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 11/13/20

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, starring Forest Whitaker, Keegan-Michael Key, Madalen Mills, Hugh Bonneville, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Justin Cornwell, Lisa Davina Phillip, Kieron L. Dyer and (the voice of) Ricky Martin drops today on Netflix on November 5.  The film is written and directed by David E. Talbert and counts singer/songwriter John Legend among its producers. The musical score is provided by Legend and Philip Lawrence. Rated PG. Running Time: 2hr. 2min.

Synopsis: Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, the film follows the story of legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Whitaker) whose fanciful inventions burst with whimsy and wonder. When his trusted apprentice (Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.

IMHO: Jingle Jangle takes me back to my childhood in New York City – when the live Radio City Music Hall stage shows would be accompanied by big, colorful, family-oriented films like Mary Poppins (1964). It seems probable that were it not for COVID, this lush and spectacular movie musical – filled with awesome special effects (including stop-motion and CGI animation) would have debuted in theaters. And, while that would have been great, it works well on TV screens as well – where it seems destined to join the ranks of such annual yuletide treats as It’s a Wonderful Life, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol. The musical numbers are so well done that beyond the soundtrack album, it’s not hard to imagine a live Broadway stage version some time in the future. A lyric from one of those songs goes “Just because you fell down, don’t believe you can’t pick yourself up again.” That’s a sentiment most of us could stand to hear more than once in our lives – and one which our culture could well absorb today.

Of course, one thing that makes Jingle Jangle stand out from the classics of yore is its diverse, largely African-American cast -that includes terrific performances by Forest Whitaker and Keegan-Michael Key as, the respectively, the film’s primary hero and villain. It’s also refreshing that it’s not just another reboot of a mostly white movie with a mostly black cast. Reboots of classic films, whether with white actors or black actors, rarely compare favorably with the originals. Writer-director David E. Talbert has pulled off something gloriously old-fashioned yet completely new. Jingle Jangle is reminiscent (in a good way) of vintage Disney or E.T. era Spielberg with Talbert bringing his own deft and original touch to the proceedings.

If I were to quibble a bit with the plotting, I’d say the robot character of Buddy (a sort of E.T. for a new generation) could have been fleshed-out (so to speak) a bit more. But that, as I noted, is quibbling. Perhaps that will happen in a sequel. In any event, at any moment now I expect to see some Buddy toys being sold online.

BTW, the movie ends with a plot twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming (and that’s saying something). I, of course, won’t reveal what it is – but it is clever.

All in all, I believe Netflix has a holiday winner on its hands with a fantastic story that unabashedly proclaims the values of faith, hard work and perseverance.

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is Highly Recommended.

The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland starring Jenn Gotzon (My Daddy is in Heaven), Jim E. Chandler (Stranger Things), Corbin Bernsen (Psych), John Schneider (Smallville), Natasha Bure (Fuller House), Robert Amaya (October Baby) and nationally-syndicated radio host Delilah debuts on all major VOD and DVD platforms on Tuesday (11/17).  The film is distributed by Vision Films and Mill Creek Entertainment and produced by Idealist-Gotzon Films in association with 2 Actors Productions. Directed by Les Llewelyn. No Rating (but feel safe watching it with your family). Running Time: 1hr 31min

Synopsis: Sparks fly between a famous model and a farmer with a young daughter when she visits her childhood home. The town is in danger of losing their beloved Santaland festival, but miracles can happen with a little love, family and faith.
IMHO: The Farmer and the Belle tells a humorous, kindhearted, faith and family-friendly story that hits the sweet spot of light entertainment comfort food many of us are in the mood for as we enter the holiday season of what has been a challenging year for just about everyone. Produced by and starring Jenn Gotzon and Jim E. Chandler, the real-life married couple have a chemistry that carries onto the screen.
The overall plot is a sort of American twist on the classic Julia Robert-Hugh Grant romcom Notting Hill but instead of a Hollywood movie star meeting and falling in love with London bookseller we are presented with a famous model reunited with a childhood sweetheart who is now farmer, reverend and widowed father. And it works.
Wrapped within the satisfying romance is the age-old truth that true beauty is within everyone and it doesn’t fade with age.
The Farmer and Belle: Saving Santaland is Recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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