Satires are hard to come by. Good satires are much more rare. Satires that fooled everyone, from the audience to the actors playing in the film are toughest to find. Jingle All The Way achieves just that. By throwing a social commentary joke over the heads of audiences instead of into their minds, and then by delivering a biting message that stands just as true today as it did when it first came out, Jingle All The Way went from disappointment to one of the most realistic holiday films ever, despite its lack of realism. The hypocritical statements are flying in this first paragraph, but the truth is almost everyone missed the joke, the main picture. What looks like pure family fun turns into commentary with an attack on commercialism and the American public buying into the scheme. Even if you don't want to look into the deeper details, why skip out on Sinbad and The Terminator going at it?
Jingle All The Way follows a workaholic dad by the name of Howard who disappoints his wife and son year after year. After missing another karate practice, Howard promises to not only show up at the parade the next day, but also get his son the TurboMan doll that is based off Jamie's favorite television show, favorite cereal, and favorite hero. The catch is simple: it is impossible to find the doll since it's a massive hit. Not only that, but most shipments are not arriving on Christmas Eve (notice the setting getting a bit dangerous), therefore increasing the supply-and-demand. Howard is still determined to find the doll and not disappoint again. Christmas Eve turns into D-Day on the shores of stores across the nation.
This sort of idea has always been present in television shows everywhere, but to take a simple concept and stretch it into a full-length motion picture is a challenge to the utmost level. Thankfully, we have good writing by Randy Kornfield, decent direction by Brian Levant, and the supervision of Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Harry Potter, Mrs. Doubtfire, Adventures in Babysitting). Looking past the seemingly heavy dosage of criticism against American society and Big Business, we see the cast throw our victim fathers into every possible awful and unfortunate scenario possible, and the range of ideas presented are amazing.
Arnold Schwarzenegger must have a sense of humor, because he isn't afraid of embarrassing himself by getting beat up and pulverized by the holiday rush, a bitter mailman, and a Santa Claus that can scare blind children. His performance by no means is Oscar-worthy, but we see him with his determination like in his usual action films, but in a whole new arena, a totally different atmosphere, and that just adds a dosage of humor to the entire film. To see an action star have to claw his way out of a melee of people trying to get bouncy balls is priceless. Almost as rare as Schwarzenegger looking wimpy is Sinbad in a superb film. His performance as the disgruntled mailman just matches him perfectly, and his determination to get the doll is just as bad. Rounding out the cast is a bunch of underrated and/or B-list stars like the brilliant Phil Hartman, Rita Wilson, Robert Conrad, and James Belushi.
Why in the world would anyone want to skip a movie in which we see a rumble involving an angry dad and a bunch of Santa Claus frauds running an illegal toy-manufacturing/distributing operation (Best scene of the movie for sure)? Why miss out on The Terminator take on a raging reindeer? Why skip out on a mailman posing as TurboMan's villain and flipping the bird to spectators during a family parade? With an endless amount of silly, over-the-top, brilliant moments in which represent Christmas at its truest, Jingle All The Way stands as the most realistic holiday movie ever, since it really shows what its all about. Forget the sappy messages you see in Christmas movies, it doesn't matter what you did, what illegal things you performed, how many assaults you have committed, as long as you get that gosh-darn toy for your child in Christmas, it will all be forgiven.
Everything in this film, whether unintended or intentional, downplays the meaning of Christmas and all that goes on. There isn't a single decent Santa Claus in the film; they are all corrupt human beings with a different agenda. The stores are not trying to please anyone; they just want money for themselves and enjoy seeing people scrap for chances of earning a doll like starving dogs fighting over a hunk of meat. The main child doesn't say he wants his dad to stay home for Christmas, he says he wants a certain doll, and even recites the entire commercial, including the final words "Batteries Not Included." Nobody is helping each other; everyone is fighting, pushing people towards aisles and toy displays. While the entire thing is comical, it truly does happen in the real world. There was even one pivotal scene in which Byron the mailman discusses the importance of getting that special gift; he compares himself to another child that got the hot item on a certain year. Byron is disappointed, grows up to become a loser; neighbor that gets the doll becomes a multi-millionaire.
Can a Christmas without material possessions scar you and turn you into a loser? Or is it Commercial America making it seem that way? Is this film a perfect satire or did it accidentally become that way? While the clues are pointing towards lampoon, Levant looks like he really aimed for the heartfelt, emotional Christmas movie with the bittersweet ending. Instead, we get a film that predates (and apparently predicts) the Tickle Me Elmo, Pokemon, Playstation, and Furby holiday horror stories. From the campy introduction to the hysterical final showdown, it's a great movie for what it is, and after aging like fine wine, becomes something moreaccidental or not.