I have been trying my best to see (and therefore review) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and it has been far more difficult than it ever should have been. I was slated to see the Amazon Prime screening, almost two weeks ago, and then my area got hit with a sizable snow storm that day and I couldn’t make the fifty-mile drive to the nearest theater that was holding a screening. I then figured that I’d catch the pre-opening day preview screening, that virtually all major theatrical releases have, on the nineteenth (i.e. yesterday) before hitting the road for the holidays on the twentieth (today), the film’s official release date. But, guess what? There were NO preview screenings. So, what I’ve done for you all is stopped halfway to my parents’ house for the holidays to catch the movie and then chosen to write this review after I arrived at their house. So, thanks for the click.
(I’ll also be doing my best to keep up with all of the new and expanding releases hitting theaters in the next couple of weeks but not only are the holidays making it difficult but I also have a nephew waiting to be born any day. Bear with me!)
One of the (many, many) fun things about Welcome to the Jungle – an official sequel to, not remake of, 1995’s Robin Williams vehicle Jumanji – is that the real-life game has shifted from board game to video game. That means that there are no rules. Director Jake Kasdan is free to do whatever he wishes within the context of the game without having to concoct a ham-fisted explanation for how any of it is possible. Literally anything can happen in a video game, and therefore anything can happen in this new Jumanji. I suppose that was also true of the board game version, but converting into video game format opens up the possibilities even further, with plenty of structural assistance provided by the traditional video game framework. Hardcore gamers will nitpick a couple of logistical fallacies in the setup of the game, but let’s not forget that this is a movie, first, and needs to work as such. And it works. Easily.
In addition to the light premise with endless prospects, Kasdan has also assembled a fun, crowd-pleasing principal cast in the form of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, and Jack Black. All four possess expert comedic timing with perfect delivery and a penchant for having fun with their work, so they were all excellent choices for their respective roles. They are all given unique opportunities to shine and show off as they each play a video game avatar inhabited by the personality of a teenager who has been sucked into the Jumanji game. For each character, there is a vast chasm of a difference between who they are on the outside and who they are on the inside. This can be tough to play, as each actor must portray a teenager who is in turn portraying a video game character. All four actors not only rise to the challenge but far exceed any expectations I had, despite the fact that I’ve enjoyed all four of them in various other roles. They are clearly having the time of their lives and that enjoyment leaps out of the screen and completely infects the viewer.
What I expected even less than the nuanced performances was how funny the film ends up being. This might even be the funniest film of the year in my estimation and, even if that isn’t true as a whole, it certainly features the funniest single scene I’ve seen in a film in 2017. The script is well-written, with lots of clever lines and situations designed to humorously exploit the discomfort that these teens feel in their new bodies, but it’s the performances that put it all over the top and make it truly special and memorable. That one particular standout scene mostly belongs to Jack Black (the entire theater was howling. Trust me; it’s fantastic.) but all four deliver constant and consistent laughs, chuckles, and smiles.
Amidst all of this, Welcome to the Jungle also sincerely and organically communicates a nice message for young and old, alike. Said message is spelled out plainly for the viewer (think of when Rick Grimes said, “We are the walking dead!” and clued in the section of the viewing audience that hadn’t figured that out within the first six episodes) but I didn’t even mind because it’s done in such a sweet, heartwarming way. The film is primarily an action-comedy, but it throws in a touch of poignancy, too, just for good measure. If it was forced, I wouldn’t care for it. But it effortlessly fits right in and it would frankly have been odd to ignore it.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is simply one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences of the year. Conceptually, it’s a new Jumanji, but thematically, it actually shares a lot in common with my latest #ThrowbackThursday subject, The Breakfast Club. I wouldn’t call it a “complex” movie, but it is unexpectedly layered. But that’s secondary to the film’s true primary goal, which it achieves without question: to entertain. Sony has succeeded in reviving a long-dormant property where many other studios have failed. They did it by retaining the more memorable aspects of the earlier film(s) and then adding new elements to it that modern audiences desire to see. I expect the film to be a huge hit, and it certainly deserves to be. If all you’re looking for is a good, easy time with the family, then roll the dice (outdated, I know) on Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
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