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‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ (review by Benn Robbins)

Produced by Matt Tolmach, William Teitler
Screenplay by Jake Kasdan, Chris McKenna,
Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner

Story by Chris McKenna
Based on Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by Jake Kasdan
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black,Kevin Hart,
Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale


I saw the original Jumanji in the theaters and it wasn’t for me.

I had just graduated from college with a pretentious, film school degree. I definitely had my head up my you know what.

I did not appreciate it for what it was: a really magical movie that was loved and revered by an entire generation of kids.

Fast forward two plus decades later and there is a new Jumanji film out.

Three years after the passing of the legendary Robin Williams, star of the first film, this was a movie that had no reason to be made.

Or did it?

How do you make a sequel that can capture the same magic and feelings the original did for all those kids years ago when the original beloved star is no longer with us and those kids have now grown up?

The answer is you don’t. You make a new film.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle smartly does not add a “2” moniker to its title. It is not trying to capture lightning in a bottle for the legions of kids who loved the original film. In that idea, this is not so much a sequel but another story that both pays loving homage to the first film and it also is its own beast.

Nothing can ever be the first Jumanji, so the writers and directors create a whole new film, story, and characters with the game itself as it’s bridge. It updates the format in which the game is played in the film so this new generation of viewers can relate. Whether they should have or not, I loved it and thought it was exactly what it needed to be: a silly adventure film that will entertain today’s kids. Hopefully, the adults who were kids when the original came out can find something they enjoy as well.

This film tells the story of four high school kids from different cliques as they are all subjected to after-school detention.

There is the narcissistic, Bethany, who’s life is so wrapped up in her own selfishness as she spent her day taking selfie Instagram photos and earns her detention making a FaceTime call during a test.

The introverted and shy, Martha, who’s concerns about grades and academics wind up making her lash out at her gym teacher.

The jock and the nerd, Fridge and Spencer, respectively, who are caught cheating and lying to their teacher when Spencer finished Fridge’s homework so he doesn’t get kicked off the football team.

Their punishment is to clean the old AV room to make way for a new computer lab in the school. When they discover a strange video game machine called, you guessed it, Jumanji, they take a break from cleaning to play and in the process they are transported to the world of Jumanji.

Here, in this world, the kids are converted into the characters they chose. They must complete the game to return to their own world. Something else happens as well. The kids discover things about themselves and each other that allow them to grow past who they are upon entering the game to become better people should they complete the adventure.

This is your standard “discover the good in you” trope film. It is also the “coming of age” and “people aren’t who they seem to be” film. One part the old Dungeons and Dragons TV cartoon, one part Breakfast Club, and one part “buddy film”, the over the top schlock and silliness is, well, over the top. The cheese is thick and creamy, and the clichés stick out like a sore thumb. Who cares. It is fun. And funny.

This film never tries to be anything but a fun afternoon adventure film for kids. Every kid, and there were a lot of them at the screening I attended, howled and roared at the terrible jokes, the ridiculous stunts and thrilling hi-jinx.

The cast reunites Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart as the video game versions of once close friends, Spencer and Fridge. I love their dynamic and will pretty much watch anything they do together. Or individually, for that matter.

Joining this “Laurel and Hardy” duo are Karen Gillian as the bookworm turned man-killer, martial artist, Martha, and funny man Jack Black, as the narcissist pretty girl, Bethany who obviously becomes an overweight, middle aged cartographer.

Together they discover Alex, a heavy metal drummer video game kid, who two decades before them, was sucked into the game and became an intrepid pilot. They are pieces of a well oiled machine that… well, needs to be oiled. They butt heads like people do and they eventually come together to defeat the cliché video game end boss played by Bobby Cannavale doing his best Billy Zane and Arnold Vosloo impersonation.

The jokes are over the top, the premise is ridiculous and it is fun as heck. Is it as good as the original? Probably not. The nice thing about it is it isn’t trying to be. For what it is; a fun Saturday afternoon adventure film with a heart, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle succeeds.


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