In 1995 the incredible Robin Williams brought the dangers of the jungles to our world in the film Jumanji. Boasting some of the best in digital effects for its time the original Jumani film was a fun piece fantasy that seemed to tell all there was to tell about a dangerous, enchanted board game.
How does one evolve a special effects heavy film about an enchanted board game? Thankfully the film does a wonderful job of picking up precisely where the original film left off. The board game is found in the sand on the beach. But unlike the original film the new owner of the game has no interest in playing an old relic of a board game and it gets put on a shelf. This is where the filmmakers found a way to really enhance the “legend” of the Jumanji game. The game magically analyzes the video game console of the young boy who chose not to play it and transforms itself into a 90’s era video game cartridge. What fun!
The film then flashes 20 or so years forward in time to introduce us to four teens who will inevitably find themselves lost in the game as well. My only complaint with the film is that these characters are too shallow in their development. They are weakly drawn stereotypes, the nerd, the dumb jock, the hot girl and the introverted girl. But since we are only with these teens for a small amount of time before they are sucked into the game, forgiveness can be made for their lazy characterizations as a way of making them easily digestible before they are converted into the avatars of the video game.
Once they are sucked into the game that is when the fun of the movie really starts. The game is similar to the conceit of the original, all the players must finish the game for it to truly be over. The stakes seem higher here though as each player is given the video game standard of three lives. The unknown consequence of wasting those three lives is the very real possibility that death in the game could mean death in the real world. This both allows the characters the chance to make mistakes but also be fearful of a real consequence to their actions.
Naturally there is a lot of humor in having a group of teenagers suddenly thrust into the bodies of grown ups. This is played to delightful humor in how incorrectly matched each character is to the grown up they inhabit. Spencer, the nerd of the group, becomes a muscular hero (Dwayne Johnson). Fridge, the jock, gets thrust into the weak sidekick role (Kevin Hart). Bethany, the beautiful self-centered girl, is hilariously turned into an overweight middle aged man (Jack Black). Martha, the introverted awkward girl, become a beautiful woman in the vein of “Lara Croft: The Tomb Raider” (Karen Gillan). The comedy that comes from these four actors playing teenagers trapped in their bodies is hilarious, and carefully timed throughout the film.
The plot of the movie is basically the plot of any co-operative video game. The players must learn to build on each other’s strengths to achieve access to the next level of the game until they get to the final level and can save the day. This forced cooperation leads the four teens to discover new things about themselves, and each other, along the way. Ultimately making them better people and friends in the real world.
Interestingly, the original Jumanji film put the perils of the jungle into the real world, and boasted some of the best uses of digital effects for its time. The sequel pulled a reversal and put the characters into the jungle itself. By doing this, the new film seems to rely on the visual effects a little less intensely than the original. There are still some impressive set pieces, including a fun one with a helicopter and some Rhinos near the end of the second act, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle seems to rely more heavily on the development of the characters playing the game more than the game itself. And in that way the film is a fun success for me.
Fans of the original film will have fun catching all of the call backs and parallels to the original in this film. It is also very easy for anyone with no prior experience of Jumanji to enjoy this film on its own as well. The reviewer took his 9 year old nephew to the screening and enjoyed watching him transfixed for the duration and cheering, hollering and laughing throughout the film.