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Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Premise: A follow up to the 1995 movie. A group of teenagers get sucked into a retro videogame where they take on the bodies of the game’s characters. They must retrieve an ancient artifact to escape the game. 

What Works: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an example of a nostalgia sequel done right. The new film is both a sequel and a reboot. Welcome to the Jungle does not overwrite 1995’s Jumanji but rather exists as a companion to it. It recalls the original Jumanji and preserves some of the core elements of Chris Van Allsburg’s book so that it is still germane to the original idea but Welcome to the Jungle exists as its own film. As a nostalgia piece, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has to appeal to new audiences as well as those who grew up watching the 1995 film and it does that pretty well. The filmmakers pick up on the retro appeal of 1990s video games and the characters are sucked into a game system that looks like a Sega Genesis consol. Once inside the game, the movie becomes an appealing mix of adventure and comedy. The movie has nearly constant action with brief comic respites in between the set pieces. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is partly a body swap movie and the teenagers are transformed into bodies that are the opposite of their real personalities. An emasculated wimp is inside the body of Dwayne Johnson while his athletic counterpart is inside Kevin Hart. Johnson and Hart had previously collaborated in the action comedy Central Intelligence and they have a terrific odd couple rapport. A mousy good girl is inside the body of a female assassin played by Karen Gillan and the actress does awkwardness very well. The movie strikes comedy gold with Jack Black who is inhabited by a prissy teenage girl. Black makes the most of this and he has many of the funniest parts of the movie. Through the comic mismatch of bodies and personalities, the characters become self-aware and learn to work as a team which gives the action some additional meaning that pays off in the ending.

What Doesn’t: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America whereas the original film was classified PG. The new Jumanji is indeed intended for an older audience. It’s not necessarily more violent than the previous movie but it does include more risqué humor (while remaining within the boundaries of PG-13). Parents should be aware this is a legitimately PG-13 movie so that they are not surprised by the content. The new Jumanji takes place in a video game, which is a clever way of updating the material, but the filmmakers don’t exploit the potential of the video game concept. Compare Jumanji to Scott Pilgrim vs the World which did that much better by incorporating retro video game elements into the story world, the music, the visual style, and even the plot. The villain of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a videogame villain type played by Bobby Cannavale. The story rarely puts him into direct conflict with the characters and he’s stupid and cartoonish and not very threatening.

Bottom Line: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is an entertaining reworking of the classic story. It acknowledges the original idea while taking the concept in new directions and it is a satisfying mix of adventure and comedy.

Episode: #681 (January 14, 2018)