Award-winning writer and director David E. Talbert and his producer wife Lyn Sisson-Talbert, are the brains behind one of 2020’s mega-hit movies. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.
The idea which first came to him two decades ago as a stage play but proved financially draining to pull off at the time has effortlessly swept hearts with contagious cheer and uniqueness; featuring original songs by John Legend and a stellar cast such as Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose, Hugh Bonneville, Keegan-Michael Key, Ricky Martin and newcomer Madalen Mills.
“Growing up, whenever I saw little white kids, I just knew they could fly … white kids were magical,” says David, laughing. “When my son sees this film, sees people flying who look like him, he’ll know he’s just as magical as everyone else.”
The idea to bring the story to screens was revisited in 2017 when Lyn suggested that her husband reapproach it as a film. David — who had released his third feature, Almost Christmas, the previous year — sold Jingle Jangle to Netflix in the room. Budget was not discussed. And when the one that was ultimately settled upon doubled, the Talberts say they experienced zero pushback. “We really had to hammer home the idea that this was for a global audience, so they could think as big as they possibly could,” says Netflix vp original film Tendo Nagenda. “All too often, underrepresented talent isn’t free to think that way because there’s a predefined lane where seemingly they can participate in the commercial marketplace. We’re trying to upend that.” Hollywood Reporter reports.
For the Talberts, ‘Jingle Jangle’ which took 22 years to come to life is far more than just a passion project, 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.”
On the approach of the movie to adults:
“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.”
Netflix released the film in 90 theaters on November 13, but with the COVID-19 crisis, premiere was impossible.
The movie follows renowned toymaker Jeronicus Jangle (Forest Whitaker) whose whimsical inventions are wondrous. But when his apprentice (Keegan-Michael Key) steals his most prized creation, it’s up to his precocious granddaughter (Madalen Mills) to retrieve all that has been lost.