Netflix’s latest festive family instalment Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey landed on home movie screens earlier this month. With its Greatest Showman-esque musical spectaculars and star-studded cast, it’s definitely one to add to your Christmas watchlist. We watched the movie and then caught up with Lead Graphic Designer, Philippa Broadhurst, to find out more about its creation!
Jingle Jangle Overview
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Story tells the story of downcast toymaker and inventor Jeronicus (Forrest Whitaker), who has lost his zest for life and (literal) magic touch, following an epic betrayal by his apprentice Gustafson (Michael-Keegan Key) and the death of his beloved wife.
Having turned his back on love and life for decades, a visit by Jeronicus’s curious and surprisingly skilful granddaughter Journey (newcomer Madalen Mills) prompts a series of entertaining mishaps and adventures, ultimately leading to a Christmas epiphany for Jeronicus.
Jolly Festive’s Review
The story is set at Christmas rather than being a Christmas story. But, choreographed by The Greatest Showman’s Ashley Wallen, this is a bright, bustly representation of Christmas set in an intriguing cultural mash-up – part African American, part Victorian Britain – that will leave you in no doubt of its intention as a festive movie offering.
Live action scenes are woven together with animation and illustration to tell this whimsical fairy tale. There’s a lot of story packed into the two hour runtime and it can be a little hard to follow at times. However, this is more than made up for in great one-liners, a superb cast (including cameos from Hugh Bonneville and Phylicia Rashad amongst others) and fabulous Motown-inspired musical numbers.
The film’s creation has been a labour of love for writer and director David E. Talbert. He began writing the story of Jingle Jangle some 22 years ago and originally intended it as a stage show.
However, following his production of 2017 movie, El Camino Christmas, for Netflix, David was given the go-ahead to bring his dream to life for the broadcaster, with an all-black lead cast.
Philippa was a member of the design team charged with turning David’s imagination into sparkling visual reality. Let’s hear how she did it.
How did you get involved with Jingle Jangle?
I’d worked with production designer Gavin Bocquet on a few projects already, and so followed him to the set of Jingle Jangle. We wrapped the film last year which turned out to be perfect timing as the release of a Netflix straight-to-home Christmas movie is exactly what was needed for 2020!
How long have you been working in TV & Film?
I studied Set Design at university in the UK before completing my MFA at the University of Texas in Austin. I started my career in theatre but then got my first break in TV back in 2002, working as Art Director on Channel 4’s documentary: The Last Secret of Dr. Crippen.
Since then, I’ve been involved with a multitude of different productions, both as Standby Art Director – running the Art Department on set, coordinating all aspects of set and props, and ensuring good shot composition – and as Graphic Designer – creating the props behind the scenes. Over the years, I’ve worked on quite a number of high profile projects such as Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones and the 2016 movie Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
How do you approach a new project?
When I start any new project, I buy all sorts of books on the subject and educate myself as much as possible in the themes and cultures required. I become completely absorbed in those all-important small details so that my designs can be rooted in reality and add authenticity to the production.
I’m autistic; I feel it’s important to mention this. I think the way my brain works really helps me to do the job I do. For me, it’s not just drawing; I try to marry logic with art, and become immersed in the point of the design.
Which role do you prefer: Graphic Designer or Standby Art Director?
First and foremost, I’m an artist. Everything starts with a pencil and sketchpad. I have learned the aspects of Graphic Design software I need as I go along but, ultimately, I always begin with a pencil!
That said, there is nothing like being on set! When you’re working in TV & film, you have to understand that nothing exists until it is seen by the camera. All my designs are led by collaboration between the director and designer’s vision and the need for authenticity. It’s all about what the camera sees and making sure that remains consistent with the film’s story throughout.
Prop design is about creating a world for the actors. The more believable that world is, the easier and better they can act. I remember Robert Carlyle thanking me for my work on TV movie ‘Class of ’76’ because the immersive experience of the police case files I created informed his performance as an actor. It’s really rewarding to hear when the work I do has an impact, even if sometimes it is only on screen for a flash, or not seen at all!
What Did Your Graphic Director Role for Jingle Jangle Entail?
Quite a lot! I was responsible for creating all the illustrative elements for the film, from the stained glass windows of Jeronicus’ shop to the G for Gustafson’s empire, shop signs to floor patterns – every single detail had to be designed and realised.
There is a very strong influence from African culture in the movie, so I spent a lot of time looking at African art, taking inspiration from patterns and colours. I loved the Zimbabwean textiles I studied and these were hugely influential on my final designs.
Tell Us About Jeronicus’ Book of Inventions
That was a vast project in itself, and in the end only three pages of over 80, are actually seen! We didn’t even see the front cover which was produced by a specialist leathermaker – every detail of the book was hand-drawn and the whole thing was specially bound. I was basically handed a blank book and had to fill it from my imagination!
So it took about four weeks to add all the designs – each one drawn directly into the book. Research on biotechnology and woodworking mechanical toys inspired my designs to give as much of a sense of reality as possible. The equations were based on reading into mechanical engineering. I also spent time with the prop makers, seeing the weird and wonderful toys they were creating.
All of this has to be constantly balanced with the need of the camera. As it pans across a scene, how will the prop be discovered? For example, in the case of the page with Jeronicus’ design for the Don Juan Diego figurine – a matador toy with a seriously inflated ego (voiced by Ricky Martin) – I had to understand whether we would be introduced to the figurine from the right or left to ensure the drawings were positioned correctly. It’s all about the camera, and ultimately, the eyes of the audience.
Which prop are you most proud of?
That would have to be the three stain-glass windows at the front of Jangles and Things – World of Wonder and Wishes, Jeronicus’ shop.
I spent hours poring over images of Victorian shop fronts, Victorian glass, African textures and patterns, and thinking how to blend everything together. Finally, I created a few designs for one of the panels: Wonder. It was then down to the designer and director to chose the style that fitted best with their overall vision for the film.
Once we had a decision, I added the other two windows: World and Wishes. We selected a bobbly antique style of Victorian glass. Then, a team of people lead-lined the panes by hand to create the design.
The amount of effort expended for each and every prop is really extraordinary. But, without it, you lose that immersive experience that makes the audience really connect with the movie.
What was life like on set?
The director (David E. Talbet) is a passionate guy with an incredible bouncy personality. A theatre director; he’s dynamic and bold with his directing style. And, he created one of the most inclusive set environments that I have ever experienced.
We had a read through for the entire crew very early on in production. It’s really unusual to have every single member of the team involved in these things. However, that’s David’s style; he wanted us all to understand the story completely and feel part of the team.
Some of the roles hadn’t even been cast at this stage. So David hired some UK theatre performers to cover the roles, including Lisa Davina Phillip. When they finished performing, there was a impromptu standing ovation. Lisa’s performance especially was so incredible that David decided to cast her in the movie as Ms. Johnston, the local postie who holds a candle for Jeronicus. He even filmed the moment when he told Lisa the news. She was so excited! That’s the magic of Jingle Jangle!
Does Jingle Jangle Draw Inspiration From Other Films?
The movie certainly pays homage to some classic fairy tales we watched growing up: Mary Poppins, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and, in particular, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Chitty is one of David’s favourite films and a huge inspiration to him. Gavin, the Production Designer, knows the set decorator who owns Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He called in a favour and had it brought into set one day as a surprise for David. David was beside himself with childhood joy! We all got to sit in it!
There were little details incorporated in honour of these classics throughout the film. The contract drawn up by Jeronicus for Journey, for example, was designed to be reminiscent of the one used by Willy Wonka in his factory in the 1971 production.
One of David’s favourite ‘Easter eggs’ is the Wakanda sticker on one of the trunks as a nod to another all-black lead cast movie, Black Panther.
Another piece I’m very proud of is the counter front in Jangles and Things. We only had a day to create the design. I spent time investigating what would typically be portrayed on a Victorian counter. This turned out to be prices and advertisements but, for a touch of extra magic, I wove these into a poem. You’d need to pause the movie to notice it of course but, I know it’s there!
Lastly, what do you like to do when you’re not working?
I run. When you’re on film sets and away from home, there’s far too many temptations in the restaurant and at the bar, so running keeps me sane and healthy! During the spring lockdown, I started putting out cocktail rainbow flags as I ran in my local area (Windsor, Berkshire) for others to spy. I must have put out around 1,200 in total and earned myself the local title of Flag Fairy! It was lovely hearing stories of people finding the flags when they were out on their walks while keeping my secret mission exactly that: secret.
It gives me great pleasure to do things like that for my community. With Jingle Jangle, I was able to recycle some of the props locally too! The props department made over 1,000 Christmas decorations for use around the set – pinecones and other traditional ornaments. When filming was finished, my Mum and I took around half of them to be sold at our village Christmas fair.
I love the idea that a little bit of Jingle Jangle magic is being shared in homes all around the area over the festive season – whether on the screen or on the Christmas tree!
Jingle Jangle is available to watch on Netflix now. Fancy playing some Christmas Movie bingo as you watch? We’ve got two FREE printable sets of bingo sheets for you to download. Click here for more details.