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Brian Levant’s Jingle All the Way is often overshadowed by Home Alone and The Muppet Christmas Carol as a memorable 1990s Christmas family film. Yet, it also has everything we could ask for from a festive movie. While at the same time reflecting the biggest nightmare of most parents, finding that elusive Christmas toy that has become so popular it’s rare. In many ways, Jingle All the Way reflected the Toy Story mania surrounding the Christmas of 1995 (I am sure you all remember the clammer for a Buzz Lightyear figure).
The plot surrounds a workaholic mattress salesman, Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Howard feels guilty for not having spent enough time with his son, Jamie (Jake Lloyd), and therefore promises to get him a much sought after Turbo Man action figure for Christmas. However, there’s a big obstacle; the toy is so popular it’s become unavailable. It’s not long before Howard’s urgent need for the toy escalates into a competition with a fellow dad, Myron (Sinbad). Their joint quest, a race against time as both men try to move heaven and earth to get the action figure for their respective sons by any means necessary.
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Jingle All the Way was never going to be part of any academic discussion on cinema, nor was it destined to go down in film history as a masterpiece. But does that mean it’s a bad movie? Of course not! Levant’s film is an utterly enjoyable and completely ridiculous comedy that is, without doubt, a guilty festive pleasure. After all, correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t there something intrinsically funny about Schwarzenegger playing a regular dad, bumbling about trying to find a toy? Here, just like in the delightfully odd Kindergarten Cop, Schwarzenegger feels entirely out of place. Yet, at the same time, it’s his presence that makes the film work.
Meanwhile, Jingle All the Way also brings us the big feature debut of Jake Lloyd, who just three years later would become Anakin Skywalker, with countless figures made in his image lining shop windows. While Jingle All the Way never attempts to be serious even for a second, it still includes a satirical take on the commercialisation of Christmas, which in retrospect is quite bold for a mid-90s commercial film. Its themes, wrapped in the relentless need to spend during the festive holidays and the fleeting nature of those must-have toys every kid dreams of unwrapping.
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However, I also can’t help but wonder what could have been if the producer Chris Columbus had opted for Joe Pesci as Myron rather than Sinbad. After all, we could have had a festive face-off between Schwarzenegger and Pesci, and that would have indeed been box office gold.