It’s been over two decades since the first Jumanji film starring Robin Williams and found it’s special place in the hearts of families everywhere. I loved, and continue to enjoy the hell out of that film and while I didn’t particularly need a franchise, I can’t say I wasn’t a little excited at the prospect of returning to that jungle hellscape. Make no mistake, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is silly. The tone of this movie is more comical than threatening, which is both a strength and a weakness. But if you are looking for something fluffy and fun to watch this holiday weekend you could do worse. Or better (i.e. Last Jedi).
Spencer (Alex Wolff, Dwanye Johnson) is a nerdy kid who adores video games and writes his former best friend Fridge’s (Ser’Darius Blain, Kevin Hart) school papers so Fridge can keep his grades up and stay on the football team. Bethany (Madison Iseman, Jack Black) is your typical self-absorbed princess never two feet away from her phone, and Martha (Morgan Turner, Karen Gillan) is a quiet academic type who is also conventionally pretty but no one notices except Spencer because this is a movie. They all wind up in detention together for various reasons and are tasked with cleaning up a storage room. It’s there that they come across a vintage ATARI-looking game cartridge of Jumanji. No one wants to clean, so they play. And they get stuck. And it’s up to their avatars to save the jungle and their lives.
The first act of this film is typically high school comedy, but when we enter Jumanji this is a movie about video games. How levels work, how the strategy unfolds, only in this particular game, it’s three lives and then game over for reals. But because of the overall silliness of this film and the lighter treatment of the world of Jumanji, I never feared for the lives of our heroes. I remember as a kid listening to Robin Williams explain Jumanji to Kristen Dunst and being terrified. “There are things that hunt you in the night…and then something screams…and you hear them eating….and you hope to God you’re not dessert.” It’s hard to think of this Jumanji as threatening when it looks like a Disney theme park ride.
I prefer the darkness of the original Jumanji but was able to fully embrace the comedic chops of Johnson, Hart, Gillen and particularly Black, as they embody their teenager stereotypes. Yes, Jack Black playing a teenage girl is an easy joke that might get old but it doesn’t, because Black plays Bethany seriously. Johnson, with all his deliciousness, plays Spencer’s awkwardness seriously. It’s endearing, and with all the ridiculous things going on in this movie there needs to be something real to keep it all grounded.
I liked Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. It’s not a great movie, it’s a long two hours that could be cut down, some of the key rules of the game are not consistent with the original which might irk some. But there is enough here to entertain and enough cutesy references to the original that maintain appropriate levels of nostalgic wistfulness. Not bad for a board game with drums.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is now playing in Philly area theaters.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.