Not all of us celebrate the same holiday, but it is the magic of that time that brings families that says a lot about its spirit. That comes alive in Netflix’s newest live-action Christmas musical, “Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.” Directed by David E. Talbert, the film stars Forest Whitaker as an incredibly talented toymaker and genius inventor Jeronicus Jangle who crafts all sorts of wonderful toys that spark inspiration and wonder in a child. However, when Jeronicus’s most trusted apprentice (Keegan Michael-Key) steals one of his most prized creations, along with a book of inventions, Jeroncius falls into depression. Broken and defeated, it is up to Journey (Madalen Mills), Jeronicus’ granddaughter to help him rediscover the magic of his inventive spirit and the holidays’ true meaning.
ThatsItLA had a chance to sit down for a virtual roundtable with David E. Talbert and his wife, who also produced the film, Lyn Talbert, about bringing his 20-year passion project to life, sharing that story with the world, and how the global audience can make sure more films with inclusiveness and representation gets made.
For the Talberts, ‘Jingle Jangle’ is more than just a passion project that is 22-years in the making. It was a symbol of both their love and the hard work they put into the film. “My wife and I when we listened to the song, we were both driving, and we just got the download of the song that Usher recorded with Kiana Ledé, ‘This Day,’ and we both had the same thought: we were both in the car crying,” David said. “Because, the lyrics, ‘even when life is knocking you down, you had to figure it out, make your way through the doubt, you were lost turn and find your way.’ And the lyrics of the song is what our 22-year relationship has been about.”
To be able to take ‘Jingle Jangle’ from the page to the screen after a 22-year development may have been a dream come true for the Talberts, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Shooting in London for a little under a year meant that the family needed to find a new home and school accommodations while simultaneously working on the film. “She never got a chance to turn it off. You can’t turn off, mommy. You can’t turn off wife. You can’t turn off producer,” David said of his wife. “She helped make everything work. She created an atmosphere to help me do what I do. She held down the set. She held down the home. She held down my baby boy. So, I didn’t feel all of the stress and strain that I have because I had her every step of the way.”
“I think being mom’s, being women in general, we take on things and have to get it straight. We have to figure out the best way to pull everything off,” Lyn added. “Picking up and moving my family across the world for eight months, finding the right school, finding the right area to live in, as he said it doesn’t stop. To be honest, and I share this with the other ladies. I gained 30lbs while I was on set. It was a very stressful time, but it was for a greater good.”
Lyn said she was grateful for the experience because it allowed her son to experience priceless moments like traveling across the world, being at a British school, see “different ethnicities and beautiful women of all cultures.” “To bring this film to life with him as the inspiration so he can visualize himself flying, it was tough. I don’t want to go through it again, but I would so we can get to this l place so that we can have this beautiful piece for you guys,” she said.
There were also challenges on the production side of things, especially when it came to the CG animation that helps act as a transition for the film. “When you are going into something unfamiliar, you are a bit nervous about it,” Lyn said. “But the cool thing about it was our imagination was endless, and we kept finding new ways to reveal pieces of the story.”
And ‘Jingle Jangle’ builds that nostalgic connection to its adult audience through the use of an old-fashioned storybook. “We wanted to find an element that was very child-like but also spoke to us as adults as well,” Lyn said. “My son and I, we love to watch shorts, and they are never talking. It’s always some kind of narration or some type of score. From that, you can really take those pieces out and watch them on their own, and they stand alone as well. I think trying to understand that world of CGI was a bit difficult at first, but I felt like ‘oh, we could do anything.’ Really trying to find a way to merge a story that is not only entertaining for adults but that kinds will find intriguing as well, and bridge that gap where we are all enjoying it together.”
For David, he writes the film as much for the audience as he does write it for himself. “The thing I want to remind myself in the film was – my favorite line in the movie is ‘never be afraid of what people don’t see what you see, only be afraid if you no longer see it,'” he said. “That was to trust that inner voice, that instinct, that dream you had, that thought you had, or an idea for a book or song or anything, someone told you that it doesn’t make any sense or they don’t get it, and therefor you put it in the back of your closet or in your hard drive, it is to remind you that no one has to see your vision. The only person who has to see it is you.”
Watching ‘Jingle Jangle,’ you can’t help but notice that it is inspired by films like ‘Mary Poppins’ or ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,’ as well as Christmas classics. David says that was completely intentional. “Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka was everything to me,” he said. “He would say weird things like ‘no one should question what no one is sure of.’ So, I had Jeronicus say things like ‘hurry back as slowly as you can.’ I just love the cleverness that was put into those characters from Mary Poppins to Doctor Doolittle and even Willy Wonka. And there were messages for kids, and adults, that they might not even get until they get a little bit older to see what the movie was really trying to express.”
Since this was a 20-year passion project finally getting made, there is bound to be a few scenes or songs that don’t make the final cut. “There’s a gorgeous song that Anika Noni Rose sings called, ‘With Love,’ and we’ve been saving it for something special,” Lyn said. “I think something is going to come up where we can share that bonus scene with you. But, yes, there are those elements you find in editing. You have to start chopping and making it weave together properly. You don’t want stuff to be too long, and you have to start tightening up and tightening up. We find that it ends up working so much better. But there are always those few things that end up like ‘dang it,’ I wish it could have made it.”
Though there were a few scenes that did not make the final cut, Netflix was sure to give David the tools and support he and Lyn needed in order to make the film the way they envisioned it. “Everything you see on screen is an elevation – it’s more than what we ever could have expected to be,” he said. “Before I started writing the film, the executive, Nick Nesbit, said, ‘don’t write the budget, write your imagination, and we will figure out the budget later.’ No one has ever told me that before.”
But a big part of the ‘Jingle Jangle’s appeal is in its representation. Though it is a Black Christmas film, its story is universal and will resonate with those who dream of achieving the impossible. “The film had nothing to do with race or culture, more for me it had to do with humanity in everyone,” David said. “It was Lyn’s idea – we were in a Victorian setting in 1800s Europe – and Lyn’s idea was: ‘well, we are going to have Victorian fashion, but in this time this would be first-generation Africans, so they would have gotten out of America because of slavery, but still have a connection to Africa. So she went to the costume designer and said ‘let’s infuse Victorian fashion with authentic African designs. So that’s where you get the vibrancy.”
The costume designer then flew to Ghana and Nigeria to get those authentic designs Lyn was looking for. This is the kind of representation that made even some of the cast members emotional as they saw a part of themselves and their culture woven into the costumes’ fabric.
“The world is vibrant. It’s this tapestry of people, colors, and cultures. I wanted that to be represented to that there is something for the world,” David said. “Not just something for Detroit, Chicago, or Atlanta, but for the world, and I think we were able to accomplish that.”
We’ve seen how people are hungry for more of those stories that are heavy with themes of diversity, inclusion, and representation. And ‘Jingle Jangle’ embodiment of all that tied with a nice Christmas bow. “I think that there has been an awakening in the industry of inclusiveness, and it all starts out with films being successful,” David said. “I mean, ‘Get Out,’ usually Black people died within the first five minutes of a horror movie. And then ‘Black Panther’ was the first big, epic, $200 million-dollar film. I think, films like this normalize inclusiveness for the world to sit down and watch. Because this is what the world looks like.”
David believes that the success of this film will open up those inclusive doors across the board and thanked Netflix for understanding that all color and cultures want to sit down with their families be represented.
“We’re trying to open doors for other creators to do projects like this,” Lyn Talbert said. “You have to tell your friends, put on Netflix, and watch ‘Jingle Jangle’ November 13, 2020. We show that we are supporting films like this, and they do well, they will have more of them. Because they don’t always look at black and brown and white. They look at green, unfortunately. So, this takes away the fact that we don’t support films that are multicultural. That’s what we need to prove. They want to see more films where it shows representation of all cultures, and that’s what it is going to take so we can do many more for you.”
‘Jingle Jangle’ debuts exclusively on Netflix on November 13, 2020.