Jingle All The Way: Revisiting Schwarzenegger’s Christmas Classic

While it didn’t do well in theaters, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jingle All The Way has become a Christmas classic. Does it hold up?

Back in 1996, movie titan Arnold Schwarzenegger’s most notable ventures away from laying waste to camouflaged aliens, gunning down police stations and impaling mad Aussies, was in the comedies Kindergarten Cop and Twins. They were both decent movies, but Twins in particular was an unusual and surprising move for the Austrian Oak. However, it did ultimately turn out to be a fairly good movie, mainly thanks to the unlikely chemistry between Arnie and the great Danny De Vito. Twins was a financial success but the relative critical bashing Arnie’s next movie would get, the admittedly decent Eraser from 1996, meant he was in need of career resurgence.

So, what better way to go about kickstarting his slightly stuttering career than to throw himself head first into very unfamiliar territory: the Christmas movie. On the face of it, it probably seemed like a good idea; after all, both Twins and Kindergarten Cop proved he could handle comedy if given the right material. However, the resulting film we’re looking back on in this episode wasn’t exactly the smash hit Arnie was hoping for, but it did have a pod racing champion as part of the cast, so it must have some redeeming features, right? Well, it happened, it exists, but should it? Let’s find out if the Arnie festive movie Jingle All the Way actually brings some Christmas cheer, or should be left on the shelf with that f****ng elf, here on ARNIE REVISITED.

SET-UP: Watching a Christmas movie is, and always will be, one of the best ways for families to bond, and bicker, over the festive period. Christmas Eve in our household not only means a trip up the Nakatomi Plaza for the greatest Christmas movie of all time, arguably, but also a visit to the Griswolds and that poor, fried feline. Great yuletide classics are rolled out over the holidays, but for every other wonderful entry in the Christmas movie catalogue, such as It’s A Wonderful LifeGremlinsElfA Muppets Christmas Carol or A Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s some shockers. Take a bow The NutcrackerChristmas With the Kranks or perhaps even the awful saccharine sweetness of Love, Actually. It’s pretty awful…Actually.

So when Arnie agreed to take the lead in Jingle All the Way, which I’m sure wasn’t solely for the reported $20 million fee he was being offered, it was a gamble, especially given the lukewarm reception his movies were getting at the time. The concept for the movie actually came from something that most parents will experience at some time of their offspring’s younger lives; the mad dash to buy that hugely sought after toy that’ll give little Tarquin serious bragging rights in the playground. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a trend was beginning where toys such as Cabbage Patch Kids and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were in high demand, and often led to shoppers frantically dashing around the local toy store which, on occasion, led to violence. In fact, in 1983, a series of violent skirmishes, called the Cabbage Patch Riots, took place between parents in a mad dash to buy Cabbage Patch Kids, that had just been released that Fall in the US. Stores such as Sears, J.C. Penny, Wards and Macy’s had to deal with people shoving, hitting, trampling and even wielding baseball bats in order to get their hands on that damned toy. The riots foreshadowed similar events where people went mad over other toys such as the Tickle Me Elmo in 1996 and Hatchimals in 2016.

The screenplay for Jingle All the Way was originally written by Randy Kornfield, after he witnessed his in-laws attempting to get a Power Ranger for his son by going to a Santa Monica store at the crack of dawn. After experiencing a similar situation when trying to obtain a Buzz Lightyear toy in 1995, producer Chris Columbus rewrote Kornfield’s script as a satire of the commercial side of Christmas, admitting that he was always “attracted to the dark side of the happiest holiday of the year”.

jingle all the way turbo man

With the script accepted by 20th Century Fox, the studio turned to Brian Levant to take the reins; a director who had form in helming comedies with his back catalogue including TV series Married With Children in 1987, plus movies Beethoven in 1992 and The Flintstones in 1994. Those movies are not exactly comedy classics, but at least he had some experience in directing some larger than life personalities, something he would need on Jingle All the Way. Columbus was enthused about Levant’s passion for the project, with the director saying that the bond between the father and son at the heart of the plot, plus the fact he got to design a line of Turbo Man dolls, were major contributing factors in him taking the gig.

As we all know, the Austrian Oak was cast in the lead role of dad, Howard Langston, but who did he manage to bring along for some good ol’ yuletide cheer? Well, in the role of Langston Jr, Arnie’s son in the movie, is Jake Lloyd, who would later go on to polarize Star Wars fans, to say the least, as Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace in 1999. To be fair to Lloyd, his performance in the movie is fine, apart from having some overly sentimental lines to spew out on occasion. Unfortunately for the young actor, he was forced, no pun intended, to quit acting in 2001, reportedly due to bullying in school and harassment from the press, both in response to his role in The Phantom Menace

Other notable cast members include Sinbad as Myron Larabee, a dad and rival to Howard Langston in the movie’s main plot. Sinbad wasn’t the studio’s first choice for the role, with producer Chris Columbus keen on bringing Joe Pesci on board to play the foil to Arnie’s character. However, Sinbad was ultimately chosen because of his similar height and size to Schwarzenegger, despite the film’s producers being concerned that playing a villain would harm the comedian’s clean cut family image. According to reports, Sinbad improvised the majority of his lines in the movie, and Arnie did the same in the conversations the two share on screen. And…It shows. The cast is pretty decent overall and also includes the likes of Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman, Robert Conrad plus the great James Belushi as ‘Mall Santa’.

jingle all the way Schwarzenegger

REVIEW: In 1996 there were two movies set in the Twin City region of Minnesota in the United States, both featuring a man on a quest in the snowy, picturesque region. However, one helped to launch a very popular TV series, and the other should probably be forced to stay on Santa’s naughty list for eternity, or in the bargain bin in charity shops. Fargo and Jingle All the Way couldn’t be more different in terms of quality and plot, obviously, so the similarities end with their shared setting.

The movie’s plot sees Arnie’s incredibly badly organised businessman, Howard, promise to buy his son, little Annie, a Turbo Man doll after neglecting the poor kid and missing his Karate exposition. Trouble is, it’s Christmas Eve and every store is sold out of the much sought after toy, and he must battle fellow desperate parents, including Sinbad’s mailman Myron, all over town to find one. Not only must Howard find the toy in time for Christmas but he must also make it to the Holiday Wintertainment Parade where, shock-horror, the real Turbo Man will be in attendance.

It’s a decent concept that could have been a fun, throwaway entry in the Christmas movie genre, if not for its ridiculous gags that are largely based upon booze and parcel bombs, plus characters that are incredibly unlikable. We all know Arnie can handle comedy given the right script and direction, but director Levant doesn’t afford the actor with the kind of self-deprecating lines that usually suit his comedic side. We’re supposed to believe that Arnie’s this high powered businessman, who sells beds by the way, with terrible organisational skills. His wife, played by Rita Wilson, is an awfully one-dimensional stereotype and the director’s choice of visual style, which didn’t work in The Flintstones, doesn’t help things here also. If you have nothing better to do this Christmas, maybe check out another classic American actor in the half-decent Candy Cane Lane, otherwise, if you must watch Arnie in what looks like a Power Rangers suit in the movie’s climax, you have been warned…

LEGACY/NOW:  Jingle All the Way opened on November 22nd, 1996 and was a relative success in both its domestic and international territories. It grossed $12.1 million over its opening weekend, in fourth place behind Star Trek: First Contact, Space Jam and Ransom and brought in $129 million over a reported budget of $75 million. Critically, the movie has a rather low approval rating of 20% based on 46 reviews and an average rating of 4.3/10 over at Rotten Tomatoes, if you take notice of that particular website. 

Movie critics were largely lukewarm on the movie, with Empire magazine criticising Arnie’s “wooden” performance plus Sinbad “trying desperately to be funnier than his hat”. The New York Times felt that the movie lacked any real plot and that it should have included Myron’s son, who is only ever mentioned in the film. In the UK, the BBC criticised the movie’s script and didn’t like how it primarily focuses on the more commercial side of Christmas, and amusingly, refer to Arnie’s performance as having “the comedic timing of a dead moose”, but did appreciate Phil Hartman as neighbour ‘Ted’.

Well, ultimately, Jingle All the Way not only failed to set the Christmas box-office alight, but it also failed to ignite the imagination of movie-goers enough to be considered a success for Arnie. I’m sure it does have its fans, somewhere, and if you’re one of them, let us know in the comments. After all, it’s YOUR opinions that matter the most to us here at JoBlo, so let us know your thoughts on Jingle in the comments section, and until next time, have a wonderful Christmas!

About the Author

19 Articles Published