Jingle All the Way is yet another Christmas film from the 1990s. Although it may not be as reputable a film as other released during the same time frame, it does have its merits – namely an important underlying message. It is easy to see how some could view this movie as being superficial, but its messaging is a redeeming factor.
The movie centers on a workaholic father, Howard Langston, and his family. Langston’s son, Jamie, really wants his father to be more present in his life. More often than not, Langston prioritizes his job over going to his son’s karate lessons and spending time with family, among other things.
Langston’s familial absence is juxtaposed by his neighbor, Ted Maltin, who is overly active in his own son’s life and the goings-on in the lives of many other neighbors. Other mothers even bake Maltin cookies for his assistance with household projects. This is starkly contrasted with Langston’s life and feeling that he is out of touch not only with his son, but his wife, Liz.
In an attempt to ameliorate the situation and get on a better footing with Jamie, Langston offers to get his son whatever he wants for Christmas. Jamie, along with his other friends, have eagerly been wanting to own the new Turbo Man action figure. Langston agrees to grant Jamie’s Christmas wish.
However, Liz actually asked Langston to buy the figure weeks ago, but Langston was too preoccupied with work to remember. The situation is compounded by the facts that Langston makes the agreement on the night before Christmas Eve and the Turbo Man figure is the hottest toy of the holiday season. Equipped not only with determination, but the fear that failing this task may result in irreparably damaging his relationship with his wife and son, Langston will stop at nothing until he acquires a Turbo Man. The obstacles facing his path and the way in which the situation develops is humorous. Yet the best moments arrive in the third act when the characters have an important revelation.
Jingle All the Way’s pacing effectively compliments the main story beats and their development. The beginning of the film sets the context for Langston’s domestic truancy. Once he agrees to get Jamie a Turbo Man and realizes the daunting task that lies ahead, the pacing really accelerates. The context of pandemoniac holiday shopping is expertly used and communicated and it comes as no surprise that this element is the primary feature for which Jingle All the Way is known.
The holiday shopping ecosystem allows for organic character introductions, such as Sinbad’s Myron Larabee, who functions as Langston’s nemesis. The characters meet while watching in line for a store to open. This feels natural and well-placed in that it complements the movie’s story. It does not feel shoehorned whatsoever. The pace continues as Langston realizes the struggle it is to find a popular toy at the very last minute. Simply put, Langston experiences Murphy’s Law firsthand. Luckily for viewers, this makes for an entertaining screening.
As briefly mentioned above, Jingle All the Way’s tone if reflective of the movie’s two parallel storylines. On the one hand, it is about being determined not let your family down, especially when your previous actions reflect otherwise. On the other hand, it shows the competition and threat Langston feels toward Maltin. Not only is Langston distressed that Maltin seems like a better father, but he does not want Maltin moving in and filing the household void caused by Langston’s prioritization of work over his family. These simultaneous storylines and tonal elements provide both children and adults with relatable points of reference. If a “kids movie” demonstrates that it offers points of reference and metanarratives to both kids and adults, that is typically a sign of a strong movie. It should be noted that the most important message is not revealed until the film’s conclusion. Until this point, despite some of the aforementioned narrative components, it is easy to diminish the film as solely being focused on materialism and superficial pursuits.
The performances throughout the movie are enjoyable to watch and the actors display their talents in their respective roles. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Howard Langston is a character that is at once repulsive and a subject of empathy. Schwarzenegger does a great job in showing Langston’s realization that he has been neglecting Liz and Jamie and wants to do whatever it takes to restore their relationships. This is a good quality of the character and a highlight for the film in general.
Sinbad’s Myron Larabee fills the antagonist role. However, there are times where Larabee and Langston seem like they are amiable. Larabee is clearly cut from a different cloth than Langston and Sinbad does a solid job at reflecting the underlying character differences. It is refreshing that Larabee and Langston are not mere opposites, evidence of intentional (not lazy) writing.
Rita Wilson and Jake Lloyd do a great job in their roles as Liz and Jamie Langston. The way in which they show their emotional pain and sadness regarding Howard’s priorities is convincing and will likely garner the audience’s sympathy. Conversely, Phil Hartman’s Ted Maltin is a creepy, contemptible character, but is well-acted to Hartman’s credit. Seeing his actions and the responses they get from Langston is grating and adds to Maltin’s despicable traits.
The film’s cinematography is pretty good. Victor J. Kemper’s use of high and low angle shots that capture the frantic nature of the “holiday rush” provide interesting perspective. Additionally, the use of the dolly zoom technique is commendable. Some of the computer generated effects regarding jetpack use are dated, however. Yet that does not deem this movie unwatchable by any means, but should be noted nevertheless.
Jingle All the Way’s production design is well done. The film’s opening shows a Turbo Man movie. The way in which it is produced and shot is reminiscent of television ads for toys in the 1990s that mixed real world setting with toy figures. Here the characters are human as it is a movie, but similar sentiment, a sign of the movie’s time, is there. The variety of locales to which Langston’s travels in search of the action figure are well done. The climactic sequence is also well realized in terms of set and costume design.
Brian Levant does a good job in his direction of Jingle All the Way. He does an excellent job of reflecting the story’s hectic holiday shopping atmosphere. In that regard, this film is without contest. Levant also effective conveys each character’s perspective and emotions and draws audiences into the story. Lastly, as mentioned above, Levant shows that the film should not be written off as a materialistic, shallow experience. Rather Jingle All the Way has important lessons for both kids and adults.
Overall, Jingle All the Way is a good movie. Despite its stereotype of being a superficial film, it does have positive qualities in terms of its final messages. The acting and writing are also notable and will yield a great silver screen depiction of the holiday shopping rush. This movie is not a must-see Christmas film by any means, but it should not be wholly rejected.
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox
Production: Twentieth Century Fox; 1492 Pictures
Director: Brian Levant
Producer: Michael Barnathan; Chris Columbus; Mark Radcliffe
Screenwriter: Randy Kornfield
Director of Photography: Victor J. Kemper
Editor: Kent Beyda; Wilton Henderson; Adam Weiss
Music: David Newman
Costume Designer: Jay Hurley
Casting Director: Judy Taylor
Production Designer: Leslie McDonald
Budget: ca. $60,000,000
Release Date: November 22, 1996
Cinematographic Process: Spherical
Copyright Holder: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger; Sinbad; Phil Hartman; Rita Wilson; Jake Lloyd; Robert Conrad; Martin Mull; Jim Belushi; E.J. De la Pena; Richard Moll; Daniel Riordan; Danny Woodburn
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Rating: PG; Descriptors: Action violence, mild language, and some thematic elements.
Running Time: 1 hour and 29 minutes (89 mins.)