“Jingle Bells, Batman smells.” The 1990’s were a fantastic decade for Christmas films. With titles such as Home Alone, The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Santa Clause, and Batman Returns belonging to the decade, it’s no surprise that the 90’s are so revered by millennials. In this edition of “only 90’s kids will remember,” however, we’re looking at a Christmas flick that’s entirely underrated: Jingle All the Way.
Released on November 15, 1996, this unsung Arnold Schwarzenegger-starring holiday masterpiece was initially met with tough reviews from critics who wouldn’t know a good movie if it beat them over the head with a decorative candy cane. Pulling in an absurd 17% approval rating on review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, critics stuffed coal in the stocking of the film’s script, the direction of Brian Levant, and the performance of Schwarzenegger. WHAT? Haven’t these writers any holiday spirit? Allow me to make up for their Christmas-season treason. Here are five reasons why Jingle All the Way is actually a perfect holiday film.
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, and Phil Hartman are hilarious.
When Schwarzenegger is mentioned in conversation (which happens often if you know me), people tend to focus on the action side of his resume. Throughout the years, however, Arnold has proven himself to be diverse, committing entirely to several comedic performances- one of which is Howard Langston, the workaholic mattress salesman father of a young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd, whose name is actually Jamie in this film). After missing Jamie’s graduation from karate class, Howard plans to redeem himself by purchasing a Turbo-Man action figure, thus fulfilling Jamie’s ultimate Christmas wish. Things don’t quite work out that way, though, as Howard encounters a psychotic postman named Myron, played by Sinbad, who is dead-set on purchasing the same toy for his son. The two men form a rivalry of sorts as they search the town for the frequently sold out action figure- all the while Howard’s creep neighbor, Ted (Phil Hartman), tries to steal his wife away.
All three of these actors are given outstanding comedic material throughout: Schwarzenegger with his tough-father, no-bullshit demeanor; Sinbad with his conspiracy monologues and harsh outlook on life; and Hartman with his faux-good guy behavior/over-the-top Christmas spirit. IF NOTHING ELSE, Jingle All the Way is recommendable based on the comedic gold of these three actors. Fortunately though, the film has so much more to offer.
It’s a comedic take on the commercialization of a beloved holiday.
The 1990’s were a happening time in the toy department. Personally, I owned dozens of the toys that Jingle All the Way was inspired by, especially the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The film serves as a satire for those ultra-popular toy lines and the way that they dominated the Christmas holiday- often leading to intense searching by parents and occasional violence among the shoppers. Think Black Friday, just for an entire month. God, I don’t miss working in retail.
The original script, written by Randy Kornfield (I’m jealous of that last name, tbh), was based on his firsthand experience of witnessing his in-laws shopping for a Power Rangers action figure at a toy shop in Santa Monica. Producer Chris Columbus (director of Home Alone 1&2 as well as the first two Harry Potter films) had a similar experience in 1995 while attempting to purchase a Buzz Lightyear action figure. As a result, Columbus re-wrote the script as a satirical take on the commercialization of Christmas. Though, at its root, Jingle All the Way is a sweet film about bettering your family and bonding with your children, these underlying themes strike a chord with a society hellbent on purchasing holiday spirit.
Schwarzenegger beats up Santa.
If you’re like me, upon hearing that perennial tough-guy Arnold Schwarzenegger is starring in a Christmas film, you immediately mark “I want to see Arnold and Santa fight” atop your Christmas list. Though that isn’t exactly what happens, Jingle All the Way gave us the most appropriate version imaginable for a family-friendly film.
After failing several times to acquire the Turbo-Man action figure for his son, Howard attempts to purchase the toy from a Mall of America Santa (Jim Belushi) who is actually the leader of a band of counterfeit toy makers. Santa takes Howard to the warehouse in which the toys are packaged and sold, something Howard isn’t entirely comfortable with. When he accuses the Santas of undermining the values of Christmas, a brawl breaks out that leads to Howard beating the jolly gentlemen with a large candy cane decoration. This is one of the greatest fights of Arnold’s movie career, and I’m not afraid to admit it. In addition to fighting a warehouse full of Santas, Howard also fights and shares a beer with a reindeer. Tis the season.
Christmas puns, one-liners, and Arnold screaming about a cookie.
What’s a Christmas movie without great dialogue? Holiday classics such as A Christmas Story and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation have unforgettable dialogue, and Jingle All the Way follows suit with great moments of spoken humor- most of which belongs to Sinbad. Apart from Arnold screaming “PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN! NOW!”and begging for women to stop beating him with their purses because “I’m not a pervert! I just was looking for a Turbo-Man doll!”, the majority of the laughable dialogue comes from Sinbad’s Myron and his bleak outlook on the holiday- namely a monologue that you can find here.
It’s actually a superhero film about fathers and sons.
A resounding theme of Jingle All the Way is the way that sons look up to their fathers and how fathers reciprocate that admiration by doing whatever it takes to make their boys proud. In the case of Howard, he’s been so preoccupied with work that he’s missed out on things that have been important to Jamie. Though Howard’s heart is in the right place, Jamie cannot see the affection he so badly craves from his hero. In an exciting finale, Jingle All the Way finds Howard starring as Turbo-Man in a parade- thus turning the film into an actual superhero movie. After Howard saves the day and presents Jamie with the Turbo-Man action figure, Jamie refuses the toy, giving it to Myron for his own son’s Christmas, stating that he doesn’t need a toy when he has the real Turbo-Man at home. “Awww” on three. One… two… three!
As a Christmas film, as a satire, and as a superhero film in disguise, Jingle All the Way more than holds up 20 years later. This is a fun film with plenty of laughs and a sweet message that merits annual viewing. Jingle All the Way is an underrated Christmas classic.