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Defending the Unloved–JINGLE ALL THE WAY

Defending the Unloved–JINGLE ALL THE WAY

Every year, plenty of movies come out that are quickly dismissed as not being worthy of your attention, but sometimes all a movie needs to succeed is a second chance. In “Defending the Unloved” we look at some films that were critically panned, but are a lot better than they were given credit for. Without further ado, we begin:

Jingle All The Way

Rotten Tomatoes

Critics Score – 17%
Audience Score – 37%

“I liked a lot of the movie, which is genial and has a lot of energy, but I was sort of depressed by its relentlessly materialistic view of Christmas, and by the choice to go with action and (mild) violence over dialogue and plot.”

While there’s some genuine laughs and warm sentimentality to be had, Brian Levant’s Jingle All the Way represents everything that’s bad with Christmas today.”

The overall effect is disquieting–too simplistic for an adult comedy and too angry for a children’s movie.”

A Christmas Story might be the most beloved holiday movie about desperately longing for a present under the tree, but Jingle All The Way is the far more accurate version of that story, and that is one of the many reasons the movie is so unfairly maligned.

Jingle All The Way (1996) had a perfect storm of problems going against it when it came out, like the fact that it was it was released in the middle of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s run of comedies in the 90s, which had grown tiresome to many that missed his big action flicks. Also, it was never made clear that Jingle All The Way is absolutely a kid’s movie in every way. But most problematic is that it is way too real a portrayal of the commercialization of Christmas and our often twisted priorities around the holiday, a message that hit too close to home during a time period when images of stampeding parents trying to buy a toy were far too common.

The film follows workaholic and constant disappointment to his son Howard Langston as he runs around on Christmas Eve trying to find the hottest toy ever, a Turbo-Man action figure, the one thing that can prove to his son how much he loves him. It’s a completely over-the-top slapstick physical comedy that plays like a series of Three Stooges vignettes, which try to cover up the honesty of its message with impossible sequencesm, like at the end of the movie when Howard himself ends up playing Turbo-Man in the Christmas parade and he gets to fly with a jet pack.

Your little ones will love it; that’s who it was made for, and that’s ultimately how it should be measured. It’s good, silly fun, and it gets its happy ending, with the family realizing they don’t need a toy to show they have love, just one another.

But there are still plenty of things to like for grown-ups. Competing with Arnold the entire time for that elusive Turbo-Man is a postman in the same boat, played by the criminally underrated Sinbad. (If you think I will apologize for thinking Sinbad is funny you are going to wait a long time.) If anything, it’s too bad Sinbad doesn’t have more to do before the big finale, where he dresses up like Turbo-Man’s enemy and stages a ridiculous attack. It’s the funniest visual in the entire movie.


Then there’s Phil Hartman, who plays the perfect, sleazy divorcee dad-next-door Ted, the one who has managed to make himself indispensable to the mothers of the neighborhood, and who has set his eyes on Howard’s wife, played by Rita Wilson. Almost every kind and generous thing Ted does for most of the movie is technically wonderful, and that’s what makes him so awful. Every scene with Hartman is fantastic (no suprise there), especially the few scenes where he is completely alone and his true self comes through.

Heck, even those of you that will never get over The Phantom Menace (raises hand) will be happy to see that Jake Lloyd, who plays Howard’s son Jamie, gets to be a normal kid actor doing normal kid actor things. It’s strangely relieving to watch now.

But the reason Jingle All The Way was so heavily criticized is that it’s secretly depressing on an intellectual level (unlike say, the beloved It’s A Wonderful Life, which revolves around a father’s attempted suicide), because it was true to life. It happens far less these days with so many Black Friday sales available online or options like eBay to pony up to get that hard to find gift, but the 80s and 90s were rife with these types of scenes, whether it be over Cabbage Patch dolls, or Power Rangers toys, or Tickle Me Elmo. People lost their minds, people got violent, and people got hurt, all over a toy. It was an ugly time that felt stupid in the moment, but feels even dumber now.

In the film Howard can’t leave work on time to make his son’s karate class, but he can disappear all day on Christmas Eve to try and buy a toy he forgot to buy two months earlier, and that seems totally honest. It was probably too honest. Now Howard, like most of those loving parents, isn’t evil or a bad guy, he just didn’t have his priorities straight, but in Christmas movie tradition that was the gift he got by the end. He got his son’s love, and an important lesson was learned about what really matters.

So Jingle All The Way might not deserve a permanent spot in the Christmas movie rotation, but it’s a fun little silly movie for kids, with a worthy message for those of us that think we can buy love with a perfect present, instead of actual care and affection, and for those reasons it deserves more love than it gets.

What do you think of Jingle All the Way? Does it deserve coal, or a spot under your tree? Tell us in the comments below.

Images: 20th Century Fox

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