In 1995, the original Jumanji came out and became a childhood classic for those of us who grew up in the 90’s. I was six-years-old at the time, and I thought it was so cool to see a board game come to life on the big screen. I later asked my parents to get me the VHS tape and that tape was played quite a few times over the next several years. I can’t say I ever expected a sequel, but here we are twenty-two years later with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
I was very skeptical going into my viewing of the film; I am fond of Dwayne Johnson and I’m a massive Jack Black fan (I’ve been to a few Tenacious D shows over the years…), but the trailer for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle didn’t grip me. All signs pointed to a potentially weak cash grab using the Jumanji name. I’m happy to report that this isn’t the case; Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a hell of a fun ride.
The plot is relatively simple. In 1996, a teenager named Alex gets the Jumanji board game after his father finds it on a beach (a throwback to the end of the original film). He doesn’t want to play it as he’s into video games, not board games. The next time he checks the box it has transformed into a video game cartridge. He puts it in his console to play it and is immediately sucked into the game.
Twenty years later we meet Spencer, a nerdy teenager who has been writing essays for his former friend Anthony “Fridge” Johnson so that Fridge doesn’t get kicked off the football team, Bethany, a self-absorbed, selfie-obsessed “popular” girl, and Martha, a shy, slightly less popular girl. They all get stuck in detention together, and it’s there that they discover the Jumanji game. They decide to play it, choose their characters, and then they too are sucked into the game.
They appear in the middle of a jungle as their game avatars. Spencer is the handsome explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Fridge is the short zoologist Moose Finbar (Hart), Martha is badass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Bethany is Dr. Shelly Oberon (Black), an out of shape male cartographer.
The four players learn that power-hungry explorer Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) has found a special jewel called the “Jaguar’s Eye” that allows him to have control of all of Jumanji’s animals. These four must get the jewel and return it to the giant jaguar statue it came from and yell out “Jumanji” to save the jungle and escape the game.
That sets up the rest of the film, which is a surprisingly enjoyable movie-going experience. Black’s performance in the role of Shelly is hilarious. He steals the show in almost every scene acting like a girl trapped in a guy’s body. A preview of the type of fun Black gets into: there’s a scene where Bethany learns what it’s like to pee as a guy. I’ll let you see the rest yourself.
These four characters, dealing with their new, different bodies is what makes the movie so enjoyable. The gag should get old as the movie goes on, but it doesn’t. The action sequences are nothing spectacular, but they don’t matter as, the cast’s performances carry the film. Also, Nick Jonas’ character, who is introduced a bit further into the film as Alex, the teenager who’s been trapped in the game since 1996 (who we saw in the opening scene), is a welcome addition as well. His avatar is the pilot Seaplane McDonough, and as Seaplane, Jonas produces a screen-worthy performance. His character also name drops Alan Parrish (Robin Williams’ character from the original film) so look out for that!
Although it is far from original, and not completely devoid of cheesiness, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is well done. The stakes never feel high, and the action sequences aren’t impressive. but with solid performances and a concept that pays tribute to its predecessor, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is fun and enjoyable and worth seeing.