While Total Geek Live has already discussed the sequel to 1995’s Jumanji, I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters. As it just recently came out on video, I thought I would take a look at the new film to see how a 22 year time span (a more common thread for film sequels lately) updated a classic formula.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a direct sequel to the ’90’s era film. While the death of Robin Williams prevents his character from making a cameo (or even a CG-created appearance), the film takes a moment or two to acknowledge a few fond nods his way. Robin Williams is missed, but the film finds its own direction and voice.
The Jumanji formula has been updated to the current age, as the board game evolves itself into an Atari-esque video game system to remain relevant to its audience. While the prologue hints at the game’s power when the titular adventure ends up with teenager Alex Vreeke in the 1990’s, the timeline shifts to modern day (2016) for the rest of the story.
At the beginning of the film, four students from Brantford High School find themselves in detention for various reasons. The high school tropes play out like a modern Breakfast Club with Spencer (the nerd), “Fridge” (the jock), Bethany (the popular girl), and Martha (the loner). As the kids get ready for a weekend of tedious tasks at school, Patrick, finds the modernized Jumanji, and as the kids each take a game controller, they are pulled into its world.
Each kid finds themselves inhabiting an avatar that is the complete opposite of them. Patrick becomes muscular and perfect. Fridge becomes tiny and slow (with an aversion to cake), Martha finds herself sexy and athletic, and Bethany finds herself as Jack Black. The kids are bound to “video game rules” with various set abilities, NPC characters that can’t stray too far from their dialogue path, and three lives to live. The kids have to restore a mysterious jewel called the “Jaguar’s Eye” to its rightful place if they ever want to go home again.
As an adventure comedy, the adult cast shines playing a group of awkward teenagers. Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, and Kevin Hart each have moments to shine, but Jack Black steals the show as a teenage girl stuck in the body of a middle aged man, without her looks or phone, but with newfound anatomical additions. Nick Jonas also plays the avatar of Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough. Jonas does an adequate enough of a job for the role, later revealing a surprise about the player behind the character.
I found Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to be a pleasant surprise. It adheres well to its game world logic, fully taking advantage of that fact to come up with some clever solutions to the obstacles and dangers the players encounter. There are a lot of entertaining action scenes, and a surprising amount of heart, as the actors well convey the insecurities and inexperienced worldview that come with being an adolescent, while remaining positive in its message of going beyond the normal to see what one is truly capable of.
There are also a lot of random, surprise moments of humor that are well placed, and don’t detract from the story by being too meta or trying to latch onto “X” year’s current pop culture reference or trend. The characters do grow throughout the film, and it’s handled well.
Overall, for a fun all-ages action film, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle succeeds well. The cast looks like they are having fun with both their roles and the environment itself, translating into something less cynical and “samey” to so many films that have come out recently. It’s nice to see a film share a genuine sense of enjoyment with the audience, while allowing a two-hour sense of escapism from the real world.
Of course, the film did well enough to warrant another sequel. Here’s hoping that they keep the same sense of lighthearted charm.