C’mon be honest. Your eyes rolled back harder than Van Pelt’s gunshot when you heard there’d be a sequel to Jumanji. The myriad of ways this sequel could have ended in disaster were obvious and ripe. Nevertheless, against all odds, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a good movie.
The film begins, set in 1996 (Jumanji was released December 15th, 1995), with the Jumanji board game half buried in the sand. This beginning recalls the original’s ending, as the game washes up on the beaches of France. Here, it has somehow found its way back to America where it’s discovered by a dad for his teenage video game playing son. From there we fast forward 20 years.
The shift from adolescents to teenagers is in stark contrast to the original. The original Jumanji’s central appeal was from the perspective of a child who had missed his childhood, and as an adult, reentered a world he didn’t know. It’s littered with angst against parents. This angle probably had as much to do with Robin Williams in the lead role as anything else. On the other hand, this sequel’s goal is to examine teen dynamics. What’s more entertaining than watching teens bickering and solving problems? Maybe teens being eaten by hippos? …..Which this film does provide.
Playing the teens we have the typical archetypes, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) as the jock, Martha (Morgan Turner) as the brainy girl who doesn’t know her attractiveness, Spencer (Alex Wolff) as the nerd, and Bethany (Madison Iseman), the airhead beauty queen. Per usual, the only way these four disparate personalities meet is in detention. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is filled with these cliches, including shouting when your mom enters your room unannounced. The film is aware of these building blocks and wears them proudly.
The uniqueness of this sequel comes when these teens are sucked into the game. However, rather being trapped in a board game, they’re trapped in a video game. Much like Freaky Friday, each character takes on a role opposite their personality. The jock becomes Franklin “Moose” Finbar (Kevin Hart), the puny nerd, Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), the beauty queen, Professor “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black), and the brainy girl, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
These transformations work because the screenplay compliments each actor’s strength. You need a tiny guy to shout at everyone because he’s tiny? Call Kevin Hart. You need a sarcastic athletic red head? Call Karen Gillan. What about a physical comedian who’s capable of femininity and dick jokes? Jack Black. And of course, who do you call when you need a charismatic lead with bravado and strength? Ghostbusters! (I really wanted that sequel to work). The Rock.
Once more, these characters are bound by video game rules. They get three lives, have to pass levels, and have attributes. They also have to learn to work together to beat Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavle), a deranged cult-like archaeologist who’s looking for the jaguar’s eye. The funniest parts of the film are how these characters’ attributes translate to game play, and in what situations they become hinderances.
Throughout the film, there are also several references to the original, including Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas) living in Alan Parrish’s (Robin Williams) former digs. But mostly, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle succeeds best when it’s trying to reinvent an old concept for a new generation. There will come a moment when this film ages poorly, it’s heavily reliant on making references to Instagram, selfie sticks, and status updates, but for this generation, the new Jumanji doesn’t just work, it’s actually quite good.
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Photo Credit: Slashfilms