I remember very little about the 1995 film Jumanji. What I do remember are primitive special effects and the late Robin Williams chewing up scenery. For me, it was a one and done film. The fact that Jumanji barely remained a blip on my radar made be feel quite surprised when I found out that, over 20 years later, there is now a sequel Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Then I saw it with my kids. Even bigger shocker? The sequel one-ups the predecessor.
The first 20 minutes of Jungle are a tad hackneyed and painful. Because kids are too distracted to enjoy board games, the magical board game Jumanji magically evolves into a video game cartridge. Because, whether the movie ever admits it or not, Jumanji appears to be a supernatural force that lures and feeds on children. Technically, it’s Pennywise. The victims this time around are a 4-some, millennial version of The Breakfast Club minus a surrogate for the Judd Nelson rebel character. While in detention (of course), they are wooed by the Jumanji game console, and sucked into the game’s universe.
Now this is where the fun begins. The nerd’s avatar is Dwayne Johnson. The jock – Kevin Hart. The outcast braniac takes on the form of a sexy badass (Karen Gillian) The narcissist bitch with a selfie stick? Jack Black! The gang, each equipped with three lives, must work together to overcome villains on motorcycles, man-eating animals, and perilous environments to beat the game. If not, they are stuck there forever so that the game can presumably feed on their souls (I’m telling you, it’s Pennywise).
Jungle has a weak start, but director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard) is clearly aware that this film is reliant on the power of ensemble. All four of the actors are clearly having a great time with this setup. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, as they did in Central Intelligence, use their contrasting physiques for effective physical comedy. Jack Black is particularly scene-stealing as a stocky professor being puppeted by a whiny teenager. Gillian, the lesser-known of the comedic troupe, also holds her own as a sexualized, Lara Croftian avatar being controlled by an awkward outcast.
Jumanji does not need a detailed analysis or explanation. It is just a fun movie with a cast that works well together. It is the remedy for what happens when Hollywood executives come up with a stupid idea. Casting, casting, casting!