Jeronicus Jangle (Justin Cornwell) was a very successful toymaker in the town of Cobbleton. One Christmas, Jangle completed his work on Don Juan Diego (Ricky Martin), an amazing talking android toreador doll with human emotions. However, the vain Don Juan did not want to be mass-produced, so he convinced Jangle's struggling apprentice Gustaffson (Miles Barrow) to steal him, together with his book of original toy designs and ideas. After this sad experience with treachery, Jangle lost all his interest in his work and even in his family.
One Christmas several years later, Journey (Madalen Mills), the spirited daughter of Jangle's estranged daughter Jessica (Anika Noni Rose) visited her grandfather (Forest Whitaker). She found him to be a bitter, cranky, broken old man who could not get his new toy to work. With the help of Jangle's dorky young apprentice Edison (Kieron L. Dyer), Journey was able to make Jangle's incredible toy robot Buddy come to life, walk, talk and even fly around. However, Gustaffson (Keegan-Michael Key) was about to foil Jangle's life all over again.
This whimsical fantasy and family film written and directed by David E. Talbert, who is now on his third Christmas film out of the five he directed so far in his career. The whole look of this film was very rich, with bright, glittering and luxuriant colors in the dynamic sets and ornate costumes. The live action sequences were also augmented with some cleanly executed computer-generated animation, as well as impressive stop-action animation, particularly in those interludes featuring figurines of all the characters as the grandmother (Phylicia Rashad) was telling their story. It certainly looked like an extravagant, very expensive film.
This is also a musical film, with songs written by John Legend and Philip Lawrence. The exuberant opening song "This Day," featuring the young Jeronicus Jangle singing and dancing with his wife Joanne (Sharon Rose) and daughter Jessica (Diaana Babnicova) along with all his loyal customers, was already a big showstopper. For me, this was the best song number of the film, with some of the best acrobatic dancing moves to the very catchy tune, with an unmistakable vibe from "The Greatest Showman."
The amorous postmistress of Cobbleton Mrs. Johnston (Lisa Davina Philip) who had a big crush on old Jeronicus delivered a powerful jazzy gospel vocal performance in the song "Miles and Miles" sang in full-on, soulful "Dreamgirls" style with her own trio of male backup singers. Among the slower songs, the best one for me was "The Square Root of Possible" sung by Journey to celebrate the infinite possibilities in her life. This song best showcased the beautiful singing voice of Madalen Mills.
However, there were certain aspects which I did not like too much. The kid actors and even some adult actors, were so over-eager to please, such that their cheerfulness did not feel sincere. The pacing of the film felt leaden, which made it feel long and the middle section sag. There were many designs and scenes reminiscent of older films, like "Wall-E", "E.T.", "Mary Poppins" or "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." It was feel-good for sure, but there was just that nagging overall feeling of holiday excess and pretense that overloaded its spirit.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."