Jingle all the Way = family togetherness via crass consumerism
Ok, maybe that’s going a little too far and ruining the message of this mediocre film, but isn’t that what the film’s really saying? Of course family togetherness trumps material possessions, but the film’s driving theme is the obsession with a fictional television super hero named Turbo Man. Jingle all the Way also features Arnold Schwarzenegger in his declining phase, the ever terrible Sinbad, and Jake Lloyd from Star Wars Episode I – a combination sure to make for an embarrassing experience.
Arnold plays Howard Langston, a successful businessman who’s never around for his family. Preoccupied with his career, Howard neglects Christmas shopping, unaware that the Turbo Man action figure is the hottest holiday toy of all time. In a last ditch effort, Arnold scours the city for one. On his journey he meets Myron (Sinbad), a disgruntled postal worker on the same quest. The two engage in a litany of somewhat funny antics, fighting each other throughout the film for the coveted doll. Meanwhile, Howard’s wife Liz (Rita Wilson) and son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) spend Christmas Eve at home, where next door neighbor Ted (Phil Hartman) shows up Howard with his excessive single parenting. He also constantly hits on Liz, causing tension between him and Howard.
Unsuccessful on his quest, Howard realizes family’s more important than finding Turbo Man and treks down to a local Christmas parade, where Turbo Man’s the parade’s guest of honor. Through a series of lukewarm hijinks Arnold assumes the role of Turbo Man in the parade, leading to a confrontation between him and Myron (dressed as Turbo Man’s arch nemesis, Dementor). Jamie ends up in the mix, Arnold saves the day (by giving Jamie a limited edition Turbo Man action figure and saving his life), and everybody’s happy.
The film ends with an ode to the current reason for Christmas: material possessions. Jamie comments in the film’s last scene that he doesn’t need a Turbo Man doll; instead his dad is Turbo Man. Even though Jamie doesn’t receive the toy for Christmas, he combines family togetherness with materialism. So what if he doesn’t have the doll, his reality is based on the television series. The story’s moral parallels that of bad films like Bring it on, where the protagonists don’t win the cheerleading competition and learn a valuable lesson about teamwork. Sure there’s a lesson learned, but that doesn’t change the animosity they feel about losing. Jamie doesn’t really learn the about selflessness, he learns about substitution; Jamie learns that being altruistic is fine if there’s another option, not because it’s compassionate.
The film reminds me of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze in the early ‘80s, the Tickle me Elmo fad of the ‘90s, and other such fanaticism surrounding Christmas gifts. This level of critique is funny and for a while the film condemns consumerism, instead demonstrating the good side of Christmas – togetherness, compassion, and unselfish intentions. Unfortunately the film’s final message negates this earlier criticism; a shame since the film’s first two acts promotes a move away from the crass materialism surrounding the holidays. Of course Schwarzenegger and Hartman’s motives flaunt selfishness – Hartman pining for Liz and Arnold trying to avoid getting in trouble for forgetting his shopping duties – but Liz and Jamie’s sentiments don’t. They want family togetherness for the holidays. Of course Jamie and Liz desire goods for the holiday (the scene following the credits between Liz and Howard demonstrates this), but ultimately their desire for togetherness trumps materialism. Once again, the film’s final scenes negate this feeling.
The film features a litany of notorious and excellent actors (both comedic and serious) in small roles: Martin Mull as a radio D.J., James Belushi as a corrupt Santa, Danny Woodburn (Seinfeld) as a midget elf, Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of the Nerds) as Booster, and more. Even professional wrestler The Big Show battles Arnold as a giant Santa Claus. It’s unfortunate so many quality actors received small roles, but it’s an Arnold film – Arnold always takes center stage. I’m uncertain why Sinbad was cast in the film, since he’s such a middling talent, but even he was decent in his roll. Regardless of the crude capitalist message Jingle All the Way contains, the film is entertaining and one of those Christmas movies that’s enjoyable every once in a while.
Here’s the trailer