Film Review: ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ Encapsulates Fun and Laughs

A staple of the 90’s kid’s childhood is the 1995’s action-adventure “Jumanji”, starring the late Robin Williams. When it was announced that they would make a sequel, heads were scratched. When it was announced that Dwayne Johnson would star in the next installment, eyes shuttered. When the first trailer dropped revealing that “Jumanji” would no longer be a board game, rather a video game, the screams of grown men indulging in their childhoods could be heard for miles. I’m proud to report that Jake Kasdan‘s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” presents itself as a fun and entertaining piece that introduces the mysterious game to new generations, while still having a respect for its origins. Chock-full of laughs, it’s an enjoyable flick for a family outing, even with its fair share of narrative shortcomings.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” tells the story of four teenagers, who discover an old video game console titled “Jumanji.”  When they are literally drawn into the game’s jungle setting, and become the adult avatars they chose, the teenagers must work together to save themselves from certain death.

I’ve always found it very interesting how Dwayne Johnson has cemented himself as a bonafide blockbuster star, able to transcend into genres that appeal to different demographics. As Dr. Smolder Bravestone, yet still concurrently playing the teenage Spencer (played by Alex Wolff), he’s able to portray insecurity, masculinity, and charisma simultaneously.  He helms the film admirably, albeit a tad predictable.

The real scene stealers are Jack Black and Kevin Hart.  Black (who plays Professor Shelly Oberon) as the cell phone obsessed Bethany (also played by Madison Iseman), is in top form. This work is likely his best since 2011’s “Bernie,” a role that lives among his most undervalued.  Black successfully brings the emotional richness of the story, as Bethany learns about the world and helping others.

Hart, admittedly playing the role as straight as we expect Kevin Hart to play a role that looks and sounds just like Kevin Hart, is downright hilarious and gathers some of the film’s biggest chuckles.  Karen Gillam allows her comedic beats to blossom while doing her best to portray pure “bad-assery.”  Bobby Cannavale‘s cartoonish villain works for the most part due to the setting in which it is placed, but it’s hard to engage with someone who is so two-dimensional in a three-dimensional world.

Nick Jonas also proves that he should be allowed in more movie roles, as long as the film and characters aren’t demanding too much of him.

What made 1995’s “Jumanji” so enjoyable was that its visuals were challenging to the industry during its time.  The second installment feels a bit more like a restoration of what’s been seen thus far. Instead of the studio and director challenging themselves to revolutionize the medium, it’s refreshing to see its origins still appreciated and intact. That being said, its production designs are skilled and impressive while DP Gyula Pados frames action suitably.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” presents itself as a fine option for the holiday season. While it may be a tad overzealous for the younger kids (I brought my 6-year-old and she liked it despite not “getting it”), it slivers its way as a rumpus ride if no other option is available.

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is distributed by Sony Pictures and opens in theaters on Dec. 20.

GRADE: (★★½)

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