Every movie is a product of its time. No matter when a movie is made, the time period the movie is made can’t help but seep into the movie. Certain movies that are made can only be made at a specific point in time. For example, Home Alone could not be made today. In fact the plot contortions that were required to have it make sense in 1990 were pretty blatant, but it would be impossible to make it seem realistic in today’s world. Jingle All The Way is a perfect example of this. It is a movie that is a perfect time capsule of its time period – the mid 90s.
Back in the days before the internet made getting certain toys for Christmas easy, there were toys that became impossible to find. I’m thinking of Power Ranger toys, or Tickle Me Elmo, toys that for one reason or another became the hot item of the year they were made. Because demand wasn’t expected, and too few were made, finding these toys to get for Christmas became something of a challenge. Making a movie about the hunt for a popular toy on Christmas Eve is a smart idea, and particularly in 1996. The toy that the main character is trying to find is a “Turboman” action figure, which is based on a fictional TV series that in the movie had spawned a number of tie ins like breakfast cereals and comic books. This scenario remains true to this day, you can pretty much substitute Turboman for your favorite superhero and it still makes sense.
The oddest choice this movie makes is its choice of its leading man – Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold is a lot of things, but a natural comedian is not one of them. Not only is he expected to play a leading role in pretty much a straight comedy, but he is also playing an “everyman” character. Now, I don’t have to go in depth on how he doesn’t work as an everyman, but just point to a picture of him circa 1996. I could buy Arnold going on a killing spree to acquire an action figure, but not being trampled by holiday crowds. Basically you’re hiring the biggest action star of the 90s to play the hack role of the “father who spends too much time at work and not enough with his family”, which is odd because the more dramatic elements of the movie are outside of Arnold’s acting range, and taking away his action star appeal.
Arnold’s character is hindered in his quest to get the action figure by Sinbad’s character, who is an unhinged postman who threatens people with packaged bombs. In a kids movie. Remember when everyone was afraid of postmen going crazy? Well here it is in a kids movie! Isn’t it hilarious how Sinbad nearly strangles someone early in the movie, or when he nearly kills Arnold’s kid near the end of the movie? This movie is tonally odd. It wants to be a family friendly comedy, but has these elements of darkness that come from out of nowhere.
I can’t go through the movie without praising one performance in particular – Phil Hartman. He pretty much steals the movie as the neighbor of Arnold’s character, who is single and tries to move in on Arnold’s wife by helping her out constantly. This movie makes he even sadder that he would die tragically not soon after this movie came out. In other people’s hands, this character could be extremely annoying, but Hartman makes him just the right kind of annoying. Also in the movie is future Anakin Skywalker, Jake Lloyd as Arnold’s son, giving us a sneak preview of the wooden acting still to come in Episode 1.
The movie is at its best when it is somewhat tethered to reality. Going to a store and being laughed at for looking for a popular toy makes sense. So does trying to buy the toy under the table and being ripped off. But when the movie reaches its climax, it really falls off a cliff. The climax is so ridiculous that it almost literally turns into a cartoon. Apparently a Christmas Eve parade would have a functioning jet pack that they would hand over to an actor. The military doesn’t get one, but a holiday parade sure does! This is so corny and stupid that it I can’t help but enjoy it for the cheese that it is. Make no mistake, this is not a “good” movie, but it is one I really enjoy. It is so “90s” that it is incredibly nostalgic for me.