When you watch Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, you will notice that this cast is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a live action, original musical. There hasn’t been a predominantly Black cast like this ever, and this movie is such a joy. Not only is it stuffed with unbelievable music, but it has so much heart. This is director David E. Talbert’s passion project for nearly two decades, and it was so worth the wait.
Doing a musical film is tricky enough to pull off, but Talbert achieves the impossible with the size and scale of Jingle Jangle. The ensemble is robust and the costuming is impeccable–I need to see this on stage as soon as possible to satisfy my parched musical theater thirst. He assured me that Jingle Jangle on Broadway is the next step. “The theater flows through my veins and to be able to put this on the live stage, that would be the ultimate dream,” he said at the end of our chat.
Talbert was motivated by his love for his son. He was able to see his script through the eyes of his child when he was born, and Talbert will stop at nothing to continue delivering joy to him.
Awards Daily: There have been many stories about how long you’ve been wanting to make this movie almost two decades ago. What changed the most from original conception to executing it?
David E. Talbert: The biggest hting was when my son was born. I thought the issue was that we needed worked with the music or the script. I needed to look at it through the eyes of a child. I need to re-discover my inner child. When he came along, I just started to get in touch with that again.
AD: I was going to ask if it was always going to be a musical.
DT: Oh, yeah. It was going to be a Broadway musical.
AD: Well, that made my season! I know you were inspired by Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. What was it like to create a world unto itself?
DT: We were inspired by all of those films of the past but we wanted to put our own touch on it. What would this kind of European world look infused with this Afro sensibility? That’s something we hadn’t seen before so we kept asking what new things we could do, and the result was this Afro Victorian world.
AD: Yeah, it reminded me of something Charles Dickens would put out, but the characters and people different. It’s a different experience.
AD: You have two really talented kids at the center of this, Madalen Mills and Kieron L. Dyer. How do you think being a father helped you with directing these two who handle a good bulk of the story?
DT: It was everything. I called Kieron my nephew and I treated Madalen like she was my daughter. It was like I was directing family members. That’s the care that I wanted to put into the directing of those two. With Madalen, I never thought I was directing a kid. She felt like an adult in a kid’s body because I spoke with her about subtext and backstory and nuance and beats and objectives. She is mature beyond her years. While she may not know all the technical details I am putting forth, but she recognizes the intention of what I was trying to communicate.
AD: I was re-watching ‘Square Root of Possible’ and she has that presence that can’t be taught. With these big musical numbers, what was the biggest challenge? These are huge performances.
DT: Ignorance is a powerful thing (laughs)
DT: When you don’t know the level of difficulty then you have no fear. Now I talk to people and they say, ‘Wait. You did an original musical period piece? And it’s good.’ I didn’t realize the degree of difficulty that it was so going in there, everyone was geared up. We wanted the best music. We wanted the greatest choreography so that’s why we got the man from The Greatest Showman. That’s why we got Phil Lawrence and John Legend. I wanted to put our foot into this musical and people recognize that it’s worthy along with all the other great musicals. While I was in London, I saw Dreamgirls, The Lion King, and Hamilton. That was a trip seeing Hamilton in the UK, by the way (laughs). I saw the Six. I saw all of these to get a sense to make sure that we were raising the bar with what we were doing. Just boldness and not knowing any better.
AD: When I spoke with John Debney about the score, he mentioned that you talked about the moment seeing Black kids flying. It reminded me that I have never seen a holiday family film with a Black cast like Jingle Jangle. What was it like to write that moment on the page and then get to film it?
DT: The difference is that when I was growing up and watching a movie, it was always from, ‘Wow they are having so much fun’ or ‘Wow this is so magical.’ When people of color watch this movie, they say, ‘Oh, they are me’ or ‘I can do that.’ There’s a big difference. The whole thing with flight is, I was an emotional mess whenever anyone would do it. My son, when I showed him the design of the Buddy 3000, he was five at the time and he asked me what the robot could do. I said he could walk and talk, and he asked if he could fly. I hadn’t thought of it, and I told him that it could. He then looked at me and said, ‘Daddy, can I fly?’ When I tell you that just wrecked me. I looked at him, I looked at him in the eyes and I said, ‘You can fly too.’ His eyes just lit up and a smile filled his face. That’s when I decided that not only is the robot going to fly but he can make other people fly.
AD: That’s really beautiful.
DT: When my son saw it, he lost it. He told me that it was his favorite movie. It will probably change next week (laughs). But at least for the first week it was his favorite! Of course, I am overwhelmed by the response to the movie and it fills me with such joy. As a father, though, the look on my son’s face is everything. That’s the Oscar.
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is streaming now on Netflix.