Jake Kasdan has taken the leap in bringing the kids book and the Robin Williams film Jumanji into the 21st century. Only the second film in a movie that studios could easily run into the ground with installments. Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle isn’t a remake and is only a loose sequel to the original.
Finding themselves in detention four kids who all fit stereotypical high school personas find themselves sucked into a mysterious game, Jumanji. The personas they take on in the world of the game are equally as stereotypical to the world of gaming. Tasked with completing the purpose of the game in order to get out they set on their journey, somewhat reluctantly.
The teen actors don’t get much screen time but they do what they need to in order to move the plot forward. When the adult avatars take over the heavy lifting begins.
Dwayne Johnson is the obvious draw here. A natural born entertainer Johnson plays Dr. Smolder Bravestone. Johnson is his usual charming self who gets his chance to flex and punch. He has some great freak out moments when the insecure kid inside comes out in teenage fits.
Kevin Hart is not nearly as irritating as expected. A few of his one liners are actually funny. The polar opposite of Johnson many of the jokes are predictably the same. The Rock is big and strong? You don’t say. Oh look, Kevin Hart is short. We got it.
The real standout of the movie is Jack Black. Black’s career has been relatively quiet lately. In Jumanji Black gets to be the avatar embodiment of a selfie-obsessed teenage girl. The gimmick is hilarious and somehow never gets old. Scenes run a lot longer than they should at times to give Black a chance to shine and while it doesn’t help the plot much its forgiven for the humor.
How come in a great age of growth for women in Hollywood is Karen Gillan a cardboard cutout? Any girl that looked good in a crop top could have taken that role. She gets into some funny physical comedy but again, nothing anyone else couldn’t do.
Take this next bit with a grain of salt. It’s understood Jumanji is aimed at younger audiences. It has just enough dirt in it for young teens to feel like it’s risky. The parents are given something to laugh at without it ever feeling uncomfortable. It’s unclear if the script needed one more revision or if that notion was taken too far in the dialogue. The most dangerous thing in Jumanji isn’t the leopards or the evil Van Pelt (a wasted Bobby Cannavale), its exposition.
The exposition is high school student film level clunky. It hurts to hear the same lines reiterated three times each to explain a fairly simple premise. This takes a merciful break as the journey moves forward. The characters fall into their respective roles and its smooth sailing for a while. The exposition rears its ugly head toward the end to hammer the points home again and again.
Being that Jumanji itself is a game and a game that adapts with the times to find new victims, the filmmakers really wasted an opportunity in continuity story telling. The aspects seen in the book of Jumanji and the original film are missing. If this were the same world, it is, why doesn’t it seem like the same jungle? Making a sequel over two decades later the writers couldn’t be worried about treading old ground. Having familiar but different pitfalls for the characters would have made the whole thing feel a lot more cohesive and wouldn’t have ostracized anyone new to the series.
Jumanji is something of a classic to audience members of a certain age. Being ten when it came out and already a huge fan of Robin Williams the original movie holds a special place in my memories. When Welcome to the Jungle was announced all I could think was, ‘that makes sense.’ Sitting in the theater largely filled with kids it was nice to hear them referencing the original. It’s nice to know the movie is still finding an audience and is holding up to the new generation.
Some sloppy writing aside Jumanji is a fun movie with some great effects. The actors get to have a lot of fun while delivering a family friendly movie just in time for the holidays. It isn’t the best movie you’ll see this year but it is a fine way to kick back and relax.