David E. Talbert grew up on popular family classics like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971). “There’s only one,” he’ll tell you about the latter, throwing a cool breeze of shade on the much-maligned 2005 Johnny Depp remake.
The playwright and filmmaker didn’t have much luck, though, passing his favorites onto his young son. Talbert, who is African American, recalls with humored nostalgia showing his 4-year-old the Dick Van Dyke-starring Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for the first time.
“I couldn’t wait to share it with him, I thought he was old enough, so we sat down [with] the popcorn,” Talbert tells Yahoo Entertainment in a new interview (watch above). Talbert was singing along, attempting to engage his son, who was just not feeling it.
“He walks away, and I look at him, and I look at the screen and I’m like, ‘Oh. Wow. He’s got Miles Morales [the young Black and Puerto Rican hero of the animated hit Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse] on his wall and he probably looked at his big Black father like, ‘Why is he singing the whitest song ever?’ That’s when it hit me: If he was feeling that way, how many parents around the world, and how many children of color around the world, want to see a film represent them?”
The revelation was a driving force in inspiring the director to write his long-gestating idea for a play, what would ultimately become Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, as a movie instead.
The resulting film, Netflix’s first original live-action holiday musical, stars Forest Whitaker as the titular struggling toymaker who must save his business from doom with the help of his precocious estranged granddaughter (newcomer Madalen Mills). The project’s multicultural cast also features Keegan-Michael Key, Anika Noni Rose, Phylicia Rashad, Ricky Martin and Hugh Bonneville. The musical’s eclectic, toe-tapping original songs were written by John Legend and Bruno Mars hitmaker Philip Lawrence.
“Some of the casting directors in the U.K., they brought me only Black people. I said, ‘You know, this isn’t Wakanda,’” referencing the African country in Black Panther. “I said, ‘This is an international world.’ They said, ‘Oh, I thought you were making a Black movie.’ I said, ‘What about it is Black?’ It’s a movie, and I wanted [everyone] to have a seat at the table. And so I intentionally had Asian representation, Indian representation, Latin representation, white representation. Everyone was dancing in the town square as all cultures, because that’s what the world is.”
The efforts of the director and his producer wife Lyn Sisson-Talbert are paying massive dividends, with early reviews hyping the film as one that could play over Christmases for generations. “The magical musical Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is a new holiday classic,” reads the headline for the Los Angeles Times review. “Netflix gifts the world an overstuffed and delightful Christmas classic,” says Indiewire.
“My wife and I have been working on this for 22 years, and it’s pretty surreal,” says Talbert, whose previous film credits include First Sunday (2008), Baggage Claim (2013) and Almost Christmas (2016). “Talking to you is a blessing, and reading these reviews, my agent is sending them in. It’s like ‘Whoa.’
“But the intention was to put some joy out into the world. And some inclusive joy. And that everybody in the world could be a part of and celebrate.”
That includes Talbert’s son, who in a moment of life predicting art, helped save his dad’s Christmas.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is currently streaming on Netflix.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by John Santo
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