Papa Spoke to Me: The Father/Son relationship in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Jingle All the Way

Posted by Alain Pierre-Lys on December 24, 2014 · 7 mins read

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad and action-figures, what do these three things have in common? They’re all at the core of what was my favorite childhood Christmas movie, Jingle All the Way.

Released in 1996, Jingle All the Way was buried under a great year for movies — Space Jam, Mighty Ducks 3, The Nutty Professor and 101 Dalmatians, and that’s just family entertainment. On the adult side, we were blessed with Independence Day, Vivica Fox in Independence Day, Fargo and Jerry Maguire, and those are truly just the tip of the iceberg. So it’s understandable why there is a definitive “What?” when I get to talking about Jingle All the Way.

In case you don’t already know, Jingle All the Way is about a typical, All-American workaholic father named Howard who’s played by the eccentric Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger. Howard has a picturesque life — a beautiful wife, great son and wonderful home. So, of course, like any father in any movie, he works too much and doesn’t enjoy his family. After letting Jamie, his son, down in last-straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back-fashion, he promises to get him the action-figure of the year: Turbo-Man. Knowing the hysteria involved with Christmas shopping for items such as Turbo-Man — in case you are unaware, people occasionally, like, die on Black Friday — Liz, Howard’s wife, told him to get the action-figure two weeks in advance. But he forgot.

Complicating Howard’s Christmas is his neighbor Ted, a divorced father who has a knack for one-upping — who uses Howard’s absence as a way to try and creep closer to Liz. Howard’s main nemesis, though, is Myron, played by Sinbad, a postal worker who’s got himself in the same situation as Howard — desperately needing a Turbo-Man on Christmas Eve. Ridiculous situations ensue, such as finding a ring of Santa Claus impersonators who run a fake toy scam; a man vs. reindeer fight; and Howard wearing an actual Turbo-Man costume and saving his son’s life.

The movie’s ending is rather cheesy, with Jamie getting his coveted Turbo-Man and giving it to Myron so that his son can have it — considering Schwarzenegger is the real Turbo-Man anyway. Although the movie focuses on the commercialism that Christmas is concerned with and the mob mentality that is the holiday shopper, that’s not what this movie meant to me when I first saw it. To me, Howard was like my Dad. My Dad was a busy guy all throughout my life, and he made promises that sometimes he couldn’t keep, but I still loved him as much Jamie loved his dad.

When I first saw this movie, I thought that Howard was doing what a dad was supposed to. I’d wanted — at the time “needed” — so many different action figures and toys; my Turbo-Man was Pokemon Crystal. Now that I think of it, I’m not mad at myself for wanting it as bad as I did, but I’m actually a little frustrated with what I thought it would accomplish. Like I said earlier, my Dad was a lot like Howard — always taking calls, inconsistent appearances — but each time he did come around it gave me a burst of energy. Ask anyone you know whose parents aren’t together, they’ll tell you that the parent that was around less when they were a child was actually their favorite.

When my Dad promised me that Pokemon game I flipped a couple shits and thought my life was perfect — and that so was my Dad. And this is exactly what I’m frustrated with. Thanks to watching as much T.V. and movies as I did at that age, I figured that Christmas was supposed to be when your parents pulled out all the stops and got you that exact thing you wanted. It certainly was how parents were measured on the screen. Watching Howard literally go to every toy store in the city to find a Turbo-Man was funny to me, but what I really thought was funny was how long he waited.

Consumerism held me tight in its grips when I was a kid. I figured as long as my Dad got me Pokemon Crystal that would make up for the whole year, and that would set the next year on the right foot. Back then, that philosophy made sense; now it’s a little disappointing I boiled a relationship with my father down to a game.

Unlike Jamie, I didn’t have a defining moment where I realized that Christmas wasn’t all about consumerism because I got Crystal and that Christmas was perfect. My Dad didn’t have to go to the lengths that Howard did but he still produced and I loved that. Now that I’m 22 and know a considerable bit more than when I was 9, I know now that Jingle All the Way wasn’t a perfect movie — it was funny at best and childhood nostalgia adds a few brownie points. I also know now that materialism is a big part of Christmas and that I can’t be mad about that.

It’s hard to show your appreciation for someone without getting them a gift, and so if it’s the most popular thing around you get them, perhaps the person is worth it. But the last thing I learned about that Christmas was that my Dad didn’t get me the game; my mom got it for me. As Christmas crept closer, she figured out my Dad had forgotten the game, so she got it and put his name on it anyway. I needed that then and now I love her more than ever for it. Christmas is a time to let your loved ones know that you truly love them, and that’s what I like about Jingle All the Way. You can go to great lengths but sometimes even the smallest bit of effort can result in a Christmas moment someone never forgets.

Read more of Alain’s film challenge:

Alain’s Holiday Cheer: A Film Challenge Preview

Die Hard: America’s Greatest Christmas Movie

American Values in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation