JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE (8 out of 10) Directed by Jake Kasdan; Written by Jake Kasdan and Chris McKenna; Starring Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Bobby Cannavale; Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content and some language; Running time 119 minutes; In wide release December 20.
Whenever Hollywood trots out a seemingly unnecessary sequel or reboot to a beloved classic, the first question to come to many people’s minds is, “why?” Too often, they turn out to be soulless and hollow films that exist merely to cash in on nostalgia with no understanding or respect of the original. So when Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was announced, that was the first thing to pop into my head. Then, the trailer came out and it actually looked interesting and funny. So, it was with a mild hope that I headed into the theater to see what they had put together. And wouldn’t you know it, the film ended up being heartfelt, relentlessly funny and also one of the best video game movies ever.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle begins in 1996 with someone again finding the treacherous board game and bringing it home for his son who initially shows no interest in it. The game senses this and transforms into a video game in the middle of the night, and when the teenager discovers and plays it, sucks him into the world of Jumanji much the same as it did to Robin Williams character in the original. Fast forward 20 years, and a motley crew of school kids – the jock, the nerd, the outcast and the self-absorbed popular girl – are given detention and find the game system while cleaning out the basement at school. They play it and also get sucked into the dangerous jungle world and are transformed into new alter-egos – the powerful adventurer (Dwayne Johnson), the diminutive sidekick (Kevin Hart), the sexy man-killer (Karen Gillan) and the portly cartographer (Jack Black) – and are tasked with saving Jumanji from an evil overlord (Bobby Cannavale) or die trying.
This is without a doubt one of the funniest movies of the year. From the moment the characters get pulled into the world until the credits roll, almost everyone in the theater was laughing uproariously. From sight gags involving a character learning how to pee to figuring out what happens to someone with a “weakness” to cake, the jokes never stop coming, and almost none fall flat. There was also a surprising amount of innuendo here, so that, along with a decent amount of violence and blood, means that this movie proudly wears its PG-13 rating on its sleeve. Parents, be aware.
But what really makes this so much fun is watching these talented, adult actors having to play their characters as insecure or whiny teenagers. Much the same as it was amusing to see Jamie Lee Curtis pretend to be Lindsay Lohan in Freaky Friday, so too is it the same here in Jumanji. Watching Dwayne Johnson having a panic attack about being in a jungle without his allergy medication, or Kevin Hart wondering where the hell the rest of his body went never stops being funny, because as much as it’s a running gag, it never feels overused. And of course, the star of the show is Jack Black playing the self-absorbed teenage girl who just CAN’T EVEN being stuck as a portly middle-aged man without her phone. The scenes where he “learns” about the different uses of the penis got some of the biggest laughs.
Jumanji isn’t without some problems. It’s incredibly predictable, and the plot exists merely to move the players to each stage in the game, and yes, there is a lesson to be learned, but everyone will be having too much fun to care. Throw in a little plot twist with an actor I haven’t mentioned yet, and you’ve got a fun movie that will find its way into the hearts of people just as the original did.
This is the definition of a popcorn movie and one that is surprising to see during the awards and family, holiday season, but it’s completely welcome. Parents should probably keep their youngest ones at home as there are some intense, violent moments and because of the innuendo, but everyone probably 10 and up is going to love this. It’s an engaging two hours at the movies that gives everyone pure escapism, and sometimes that’s exactly what people are looking for.