As a 90’s baby, I grew up in the original Jumanji (1995) craze, a movie which really should not have existed considering the brevity of its source material, a children’s book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. I absolutely wore out my VHS copy of the film, watching it dozens of times to the point that I can to this day recite the movie largely line by line.
When I heard there was a ‘new’ Jumanji in the works, I was initially upset. It was my observation that there is a massive lack of originality in Hollywood, and this remake/reboot phenomenon had finally started to creep into the franchises I am emotionally attached to. As more came out about the film and its premise, as well as the first trailers, I was less apprehensive. “They aren’t doing the game board coming to life – they are getting sucked into a video game!” I rationalized.
Then the numbers came – Jumanji was getting the box office love and critical acclaim I didn’t quite expect. Let’s be honest, most people born after 2000 probably haven’t even seen the first film. This means that many are experiencing Jumanji for the first time and know nothing of the classic original. It was time to see what all the fuss was about for myself.
Into the Jungle continues a couple of canon Jumanji game rules set in the first movie – once you start playing, the game isn’t over until you win, AND a lot of lines from the game are set in verse. Now set in the modern day, there’s new twist – the board has used its powers to transform from a board game to a video game (in order to attract new victims, err, players, that is). The latest victims are four ‘losers’ stuck in detention together. While digging through the ‘alternative classroom’ aka storage area they are in, they locate an old video game console and decide to hook it up. What seems like a cool throwback game on an obscure gaming console ends up transporting the group to another dimension.
They are whisked into the fantastical land of Jumanji, and are tasked with returning a sacred jewel that was stolen by a rival explorer-turned-maniacal-jungle-warlord. As the team discovers to work together despite being drastically different physically than their game avatars appear, they make quick work of the various levels and inner workings of the game. From motor-bike mounted raiders to alligator pits and even rhino stampedes, the perils and challenges of the jungle are numerous. They end up finding their ‘missing piece’, a long-lost fifth player who has been trapped in the game for over two decades. When they complete the ensemble, it bolsters their chances to complete the game and return home, having grown as friends and learning to overcome challenges in the process.
Let me set things straight – I am still a fan of the original 1995 release, but this spin on ‘Jumanji’ is certainly no slouch and stands quite strongly on its own two feet. An incredible ensemble cast (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan), some neat canon and backstory to the violence and dark power of the jungle that is Jumanji, entertaining dialogue and a classic feel-good coming of age and discovering inner strength feel all lend to an entertaining and largely fulfilling popcorn flick. I really appreciated the attempts to connect the jungle to the first film, going as far as to pick up where the last movie ended (the game board, having been tossed in a river by the kids at the end of the first, washes up on a beach and is discovered by a new player) as well as the graffiti left by the Jungle’s previous long lived occupant, Alan Parrish.
It’s definitely worth a watch, but I’m left thinking that the jungle’s secrets have been all but revealed at this point. I think there’s some fun poked at the fact that ‘kids these days’ don’t play board games (but it’s something I’ve picked back up in the past few years), as well as the cliche sappy teen love story/coming out of your shell/finding your inner strength hoopla. I really, really appreciate that this was a sequel and not a reboot. It made this so much more enjoyable!
A fun romp, but lacks the heart of its predecessor