'Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey' Writer-Director David E. Talbert Weaves Loss, Hope, and Heart
November 13, 2020
In Netflix’s Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, the streaming service’s first-ever live-action musical, writer-director David E. Talbert weaves together a high-octane musical with a story filled with loss, hope and a lot of heart.
Set in the gloriously vibrant town of Cobbleton, Talbert’s script tells the tale of legendary toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) and his whimsical inventions. But when his trusted apprentice (Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it's up to his equally bright and inventive granddaughter Journey (Madalen Mills) — and a long-forgotten invention — to heal old wounds and reawaken the magic within.
“I grew up watching Willy Wonka, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and the original Doctor Doolittle,” Talbert says. “Those movies shaped what fantasy was for me. It wasn’t until I was a father that I wanted to go deeper and wanted my son to experience what I felt when I watched those movies. But I also wanted him to be represented in the movies that I didn’t have when I was growing up.”
Talbert said the idea for the film came to him by asking, “How would someone react with having everything good they could ever imagine happening in their life, and then in one night, everything turning around? How do you get back to that joy? [The story is] that path of going back to that joy. That was the premise for me.”
The story really took shape through Talbert’s creation of Jeronicus Jangles, who Talbert likens to the relatability of Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.
“When you look at the classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, it’s not a jolly tale, but it speaks to every man who watches it. So I wanted to find that every man quality in Jeronicus Jangles, so we understand him. We understand that loss. We understand the regrets you have as a parent. We understand that magic when you thought you were the most magical person on the planet and then you question it. I think every human has experienced that.”
Humanity is a common thread of the film and the world of Cobbleton, which is unlike any town ever featured in a holiday movie. According to Talbert, Netflix and the production companies gave him free rein when it came to creating it, which inspired him to come up with an “Afro-Victorian” setting.
“We took the Victoria style and added African color and elements to it, and made it Afro-Victoria. That’s why the film is as vibrant as it is,” he says. “And so we did that across the board where we have every culture represented in this town. It’s an international town where race and color isn’t at the forefront of everyone’s minds — just humanity. So that was the purpose of this; to connect through humanity in a color blind town and world.”
Talbert says he’s “always scared out of my mind” every time he sits down to write a script. “I question whether I still have it. I prolong it as long as I possibly can. I will do whatever I can do to not start writing.”
Part of Talbert's process is to begin thinking about the project until he “can’t stand thinking about it anymore” that he has to begin writing. “My one goal is to get to the end. I want to put ‘The End’ at the end of the script,” he says. “I want it to be a certain amount of pages and I want to get to the end. I want to power through, write 'The End,' and then go back and make it good. For me, perfection is completion.”
Talbert calls his writing process for the first draft a “download.” “Whatever I thought about the script, whatever conversations I have had with my wife and friends about it, I sit down there and download that and that becomes the first draft. That’s the magic. That to me is the spiritual path of writing. It’s not just sitting at a computer and trying to figure out how right, how smart, how clever you are. It’s sitting down at the computer and downloading how you’ve been inspired. How you’ve been moved. It’s a spiritual thing you do with transparency and ability, and you put it all on the page until you type out 'The End.'”
Talbert says he hopes Jingle Jangle hits the reset button on the holiday genre and does for it what Get Out did for horror and what Black Panther did for action films. He also acknowledges that the movie's release couldn't be timed more perfectly.
“The world is going through a lot right now — from the pandemic to politics to racial unrest — it’s going through a lot. It’s so disjointed right now and people are angry and frustrated and for good reason. So I think it’s important to have a reminder that we are all connected and we are all a world community. It gives us permission to have joy and to laugh and to sing.”
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan