When I began looking at ratings and reviews for the classic Christmas movie ‘Jingle all the Way’, I was quite frankly shocked. It turns out that, according to the internet at least, it is not as beloved as I had imagined. In light of this, I could only reach one logical conclusion - the internet is clearly wrong and this classic is an absolute must for lovers of Malls, Christmas, Anakin Skywalker, Lionel Hutz and Austrian actor/bodybuilders! For those who disagree, we would like to make a case for this vital piece of nineties festive entertainment.
An exterior establishing shot of the mammoth Mall of America - it looks very different today
The industrial, nineties look of the Mall in 1995
Workaholic Howard (Arnold Schwarzenegger) loves his family dearly but is unable to spend time with them because of work. He has one job for Christmas - to buy his son Jamie (Jake Lloyd) his present; a highly sought-after ‘Turboman’ action figure (accessories sold separately, batteries not included) based on Jamie’s favourite animated series. He promises to get his son the toy as recompense for missing an important karate grading ceremony. Unfortunately he leaves it too late, not understanding that this action figure is in fact the hottest toy of the year. The next day he sets out for the toy stores and reality begins to dawn.
He soon finds out that this is not going to be a an easy task - the toy is sold out virtually everywhere. Along his travels he meets another father, Myron (Sinbad), a postal worker who seems nice at first but proves to be a bit of a nemesis to Howard. After much futile searching, word goes around that a toy store in the Mall of America is about to receive a shipment of Turboman figures. Howard immediately sets off to nab one of the rare toys for his beloved son. At the store, there are far more people than action figures, so the manager decides on a system where a little plastic ball represents one toy and each customer would receive one ball to be redeemed for a Turboman. Things take a bad turn when the employees holding the buckets of balls, in fear for their lives, decide to throw them at the baying crowd. Chaos ensues throughout the Shopping Mall as balls bounce everywhere!
Howard heads to the Mall toy store to (hopefully) grab himself a Turboman action figure
There are far too many people and far too few Turbomen!
In the meantime, nosey neighbour Ted (Phil Hartman) is sniffing around Howard’s wife Liz (Rita Wilson). In order to win her heart and in the absence of Howard, he pretends to be the perfect husband and father figure to Howard’s family, baking them cookies, filming and supporting Jamie at his karate grading and organising parties. This is itself is a whole sub-plot which runs throughout the film. Back at the Mall, Howard meets a crooked Santa who may have just what he is looking for, and proceeds to take him down a rabbit hole of organised crime and knock-off toys. To say it gets a little crazy would be an understatement!
The movie is so great because it taps into both the all-engulfing childhood desire for a special toy at Christmastime and the struggle of parents to both understand what on earth is so special about these bits of plastic and get hold of these festive rarities so as not to bitterly disappoint their loved ones. It is hilarious watching Howard and Myron, most probably perfectly reasonable people otherwise, descend into demented lunacy as they struggle to please their families, to the point where homemade explosives become involved!
The store manager explaining the rules of engagement
All hell breaks loose when the balls get thrown into the air!
The cast is incredible. When Arnold Schwarzenegger left action for comedy in the late eighties and early nineties (starting with the great ‘Twins’, co-starring Danny DeVito), people were shocked. How could this hulking action hero possibly be funny? How could he go from punching camels in loin-cloths to punching belligerent reindeer in Christmas sweaters? Turns out he could be fantastically funny. Throw in two of the finest supporting nineties comedy actors, Sinbad and Phil Hartman (who tragically died very young), and you have yourself a couple of hours of cheesy, slapstick and utterly wonderful Christmas comedy.
The carnage spills out into the Mall
Howard is on the trail of a stray ball
‘Jingle all the Way’ was filmed over five weeks in Minnesota, and as such there was only one clear choice for where the main Mall scenes were to be shot - the mighty and magnificent Mall of America in Bloomington, stuffed with over 500 stores over seven levels. In fact, the wintery weather and the Mall were the two main draws to film ‘Jingle all the Way’ in Minnesota. This wonderful Shopping Centre is the largest in the USA and has just recently celebrated its 25th birthday. The huge success of Mall of America is rooted in the fact that, very early on, it chose to put as much emphasis on entertainment as on shopping, ensuring that it is truly future-proof in this age of thumb-shopping. You can even see the magnificent Lego theme park within the Centre in the movie, which remains today. I could happily spend a week in Mall of America and not give one thought to the outside world!
While Arnold found the filming in the Mall an absolute delight, he described the Bloomingtonians as ‘well-behaved and cooperative’, director Brian Levant was not as enamoured and found the entire experience an absolute nightmare. While he loved the people, the Mall was constantly buzzing and always loud - put thousands of people in an massive enclosed area the size of seven Yankee Stadiums and you’re going to get some serious noise. This made filming impossible on some days and they had to regularly abort - in all just over a week of the five week schedule was spent in the Centre. Arnold doesn’t seem to have been too scarred though, he has been caught on camera back in the Mall on several occasions since, browsing stores and munching on ice-cream.
The Lego theme-park still remains in the Mall of America today
Howard about to have a chance meeting with Santa himself...
The film in fact features three Malls - Mall of America mainly, but other scenes were shot in the Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis and the Seventh Place Mall, located in another city just down the road from Minneapolis, Saint Paul. These two outdoor Shopping Centres were used for most of the external shots seen in ‘Jingle all the Way’. All other scenes, including the big finish involving an entire street parade, were filmed on a lot at Universal Studios in California. All three Malls are still very much in operation, despite the fact that they took a bit of a knock as people moved from town centres to the suburbs back in the sixties, a time when modern enclosed Malls were truly beginning to come into their own. Definitely go check them out if you’re around!
The movie took some making - Arnold was supposed to be filming a ‘Planet of the Apes’ reboot instead, which was luckily (for us, anyway!) canned, and Sinbad was swanning around Bosnia with Hilary Clinton, which caused filming to be delayed. The boredom on-set almost drove the younger cast members (including the future Anakin Skywalker Lloyd!) crazy - luckily the hilarious Phil Hartman was there to entertain them. The film, however, managed to be made and, although it was more-or-less a box office failure, making a little over half a million dollars profit at the box office, ‘Jingle all the Way’ has entered the echelons of syndicated classic Christmas movie, in constant rotation throughout the Christmas season.
The brilliant Jim Belushi plays a not-so-kosher Mall Santa, with an equally dodgy partner Elf (Danny Woodburn)
It's TURBO TIME!
Anyone who has attempted to buy a Tamagotchi, Furby, Cabbage Patch Doll or SNES mini as a Christmas gift will understand Jingle all the Way. Like so many awesome nineties family films, kids will get a kick out of the toys, action and slapstick, but there is also an adult-themed thread running throughout which will fly over the kiddies’ heads but grown-ups will find it hilarious. Of course there is the valuable moral at the end of the story which will give everyone that warm fuzzy Christmas feeling. Of course, no Christmas is complete without a festive trip to the Shopping Mall, and the craziness which can sometimes take place in a busy seasonal Mall is hilariously shown in the film. It is certainly part of my Christmas playlist along with the likes of Gremlins and Home Alone II, and will remain so for the foreseeable future!
All images: 1492 Pictures / 20th Century Fox
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