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Jingle All the Way (1996): Film Review

Arnold Schwartzenegger is running in the film Jingle All the Way

The unlikely duo of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad make Jingle All the Way worth watching during the holidays even years after its original release.

With Christmas right around the corner, I am sure that you have already secured all the necessary presents for your loved ones. Hopefully, it is nothing major If you still have a few things to pick up, otherwise you could wind up in a situation like the one in 1996’s Jingle All the Way.

The film is largely inspired by the mania surrounding such items as Cabbage Patch Kids and adds in a bit of satire about how commercial Christmas has become. Certain toys and items have forced parents to go on wild goose chases over the years and it can get absolutely insane in several ways, not unlike what is depicted here. In fact, I sent my folks on the hunt for the very action figure depicted in this narrative when I was little and to be honest with you: I think I just wanted it because I saw it in the film, I was not even aware it was real at that age.

Turns out, the Turbo-Man figure from Jingle All the Way was real, and all my household went on the hunt for it. Much to the disappointment of young me, they were not able to find it. That did not stop me from watching this film more times than I could count growing up and loving it. Over time, this film has sort of served as a time capsule of a particular era while the idea of parents doing everything to get their hands on one specific Christmas gift for the people that they love has never gone away. How does this Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle hold up in 2023? Well, the answer is more interesting than you might think, especially since I did my best to take off my nostalgia glasses for this review.

Jingle All the Way sees a workaholic father named Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) try to make up for his shortcomings during the year by getting his son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) a Turbo-Man action figure, based on a popular television superhero in this universe. Unfortunately for Howard, this is the hottest selling toy in years, and he finds himself in a mad dash to get one on Christmas Eve. Howard also winds up clashing with Myron Larabee (Sinbad), a mail carrier who seeks a Turbo-Man for his own son.

Jingle All the Way (20th Century)

This narrative is very much of its time, with plenty of what were then topical references and a lot of it is unrealistic. You must give it some credit though as one of the most well-known films to take a stab at the crazes that certain toys and gifts caused in the real world. That part is handled quite well as is the satirical element of how commercial Christmas has become.

Getting a highly sought after gift is not always easy and we get to see that, even if it is exaggerated. What audiences also see along the way is the lengths that a father, who has obviously not been perfect, will go to in order to make his son’s Christmas special. While Howard’s intentions are not as pure at first, he learns that there are more important things than presents along the way. That is something that people can forget, the season is not about the gifts, no matter how much television advertisements and other things can make it seem that way. Sometimes all that matters is being there for the people that love you. Even though this story takes a wild ride to get to that message, it does land.

That message of family is part of what makes this silly little narrative something everyone can vibe with no matter their age. There are also several jokes that Sinbad’s Myron delivers that went over my head as a kid. These jokes were clearly aimed at adults, so Jingle All the Way tries to give us all something to laugh at during the holidays.

The performances of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad make this film absolutely hilarious even at its worst moments. A bunch of these jokes do not work as well as they used to, including a strange bit revolving around a reindeer. When you put Howard and Myron together though, it creates a chaotic dynamic and what I consider to be the best jokes in the entire film. That falls in line with Schwarzenegger’s career in general, especially in comedies, if you pair him with the right person, you will get something memorable one way or another.

Sinbad really leans into the character he is playing and has fun with it. Yes, Myron is technically what one considers to be the main antagonist but my god, he is also a total goofball. This makes it hard to stay mad at him no matter what he does. We have Phil Hartman as Ted Maltin, the Langston’s neighbor to stay mad at though so it balances out. Ted may be somewhat funny, but he is also intentionally annoying and to me a bigger villain than Myron at certain points.

In terms of things that have not held up, and one could say did not even look good at the time is the CGI. During the third act, the visuals are laughably bad, especially anything involving the Turbo-Man jetpack at the parade. Said jetpack looks like it is made from paper when you see it in flight and the flames have clearly been added in during postproduction. However, what do you expect? What was then known as 20th Century Fox is a big studio, but they are certainly not going to invest billions of dollars into inventing a working jetpack for an Arnold Schwarzenegger holiday film.

Even the film’s biggest drawback is funny in a real slapstick way. If you are a kid watching this, you will be naive like I was and think that everything in the parade sequence is legit. As an adult, the parade is where Jingle All the Way completely goes off the rails and you just must roll with it. Somehow someway, it manages to work its way back to being heartwarming despite having said ridiculous climax. The writers manage to capture the original message of the importance of family versus getting presents in a way that makes sense, even if the end points and message becomes obvious to any adult viewers watching.

At the end of the day, Jingle All the Way is a holiday classic that kids can take good lessons from, and adults will be able to at least laugh at a bit. Even after watching it more times than I can count, there are still bits that are just so funny to me. If you are a Schwarzenegger fan, this is peak silly Arnold, even more so than Batman & Robin (1997). He is just being his regular self for much of the runtime but really seems to get into the comedy when placed alongside Sinbad, who is really off the wall. Their energy as a duo rubs off on viewers and even when things are ridiculous, you can get into this story.

Also, in case you were wondering, I did in fact get my Turbo-Man years later. It was one of the most unexpected Christmas gifts that I have ever received in my life. That moment kind of sums up the magic of the holidays for me, the gift itself was cool, but what makes it better is that my folks remembered it and after spending so much time watching this film together as a family over the years, having something to tie those memories to in the form of this figure just warmed my heart. That, my friends, is what gift giving is all about, especially as you get older. You begin to cherish these moments and presents that you receive even more because of the people around you. Jingle All the Way may be ridiculous, in fact I know it is, but I am happy that I can still enjoy it after all these years for that very reason.

Get it on Apple TV

Jingle All the Way is now available to watch on digital and on demand.

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