Big Eyes here!
If you’re looking for something lighthearted with laugh out loud humor this Holiday to watch with the family, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a great fit! When I first saw the trailer for the new film, I was actually rolling my eyes at it. The thought of a new “Jumanji” movie seemed like a garbage idea, but I was so wrong. Not only does it build on the world of Jumanji, but it gives us a very interesting look at the inside of the game itself! Within this review, I will be comparing the original for consistencies. This is because by making a “tribute” to Robin Williams in the sequel by referencing his character Alan Parrish, the original “Jumanji” is 100% canon. I’ll also be discussing the main characters of the new film, sharing what I found about the origins of the films, and of course, will be expressing what I thought of “Welcome to the Jungle”!
Alan Parrish, the man who was trapped inside of the game in the original “Jumanji” for 26 years, describes it as “an alien place filled with indescribable horrors and you should count yourself lucky for not being what they’re gnawing on that night”. He goes on to say that he’s “seen things you’ve only seen in your nightmares”. We get plenty of hints by what exactly he means by seeing the destructive animals, a hunter, and poisonous plants that all come out of Jumanji as the game goes on. Well, in the sequel, we only see ⅓ of what he spoke of. Why? Jumanji had completely “reprogrammed” itself to get its next victim(?) to play.
In 1996, only a year after the original Jumanji ended, another kid is lured to find the game on the beach by the sound of its beating drums. He takes it home because it looks neat, but puts it right on the shelf because “who plays board games anymore?” The game HEARD him say that and responds. In the middle of the night, the drums start to beat again. The kid (who will become Nick Jonas) grabs Jumanji and opens it again, only to find that the board game inside is gone and a video game cartridge has taken its place. Out of natural curiosity, he plugs the cartridge in and is pulled into the game, literally. One thing I have to nitpick here is that the graphics looked WAY too good for an old Atari on the main menu. The number of pixels per inch could have been on a Playstation or even a PlayStation 2.
Fast forward to 2017, we have a handful of selfish/fearful kids who take their lives for granted all find themselves in a Breakfast Club situation where they are all put into detention together. They are tasked with cleaning the basement of their school together but find the Jumanji cartridge still plugged into the “magic Atari” and decide that a game is more worth their time than completing their chores. They are all pulled into the game as Nick Jonas was, and that is where our story really begins. All of the players are put into the bodies of the characters they selected on the main screen, in a world that operates exactly like a video game. All the way from having a finite number of lives to use, cartoon strengths and weaknesses, and NPCs that repeat themselves and only respond to the right input.
Each one of these kids have something to change, except for Nick Jonas’ character I think. I honestly cannot recall any kind of conflict in his life during that time he was pulled into Jumanji while all of the others need desperate self-improvement. (There’s a possibility that I spaced on that part since it was the opening of the movie.) So perhaps Nick Jonas’ character was only there out of nostalgia and plot convenience. Because good lord, when he reveals to the others that he is from a different time by making HEAVY 90’s references and using 20-year-old lingo in a very cringe-worthy way, he then never says or speaks of those things ever again. You would think the culture of his time would be an ingrained part of his character, but he seems to become a modern teenager immediately after that scene. I guess the writers wanted to relive that “sad time lost” feeling we got from Robin Williams' character in the original. This is where the original did a better job because Williams’ character Alan was able to go back and revisit the time-battered places he knew as a kid. Here, we just see Nick Jonas just learn of something and be sad about it. It’s just not quite as powerful.
Another character is a jock who takes for granted his height and strength, and he is humbled by being put in a comedian’s body whose entire schtick is “lol, I’m short”, Kevin Hart. I’m not really sure what the jock was supposed to learn in Kevin Hart’s body, perhaps that even the little guy can be useful. Either way, it provided a great scene where he lost one of his lives by EXPLODING. I won’t give away the reason why so you can still enjoy the moment.
Kevin Hart’s ex-friend that he left behind during puberty, Spencer (the only kid’s name I actually remember), is a rather fearful kid due to the abuse of his helicopter parents who have literally told him to be “afraid of everything”. He is transported into the body of the behemoth Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Spencer gets the most development in his character being in a strong body gives him the experience of being confident in his abilities, that do not necessarily need physical strength to accomplish, and he grows as a person. The Rock’s performance as a mentally skinny and nervous kid is fantastic, and one of the best parts of the movie with great laughs.
Next, we have the typical narcissistic blonde who is obsessed with her phone. She is thrust into the body of what apparently every teenage girl fears, being an “overweight middle-aged man” as Jack Black. Even after the movie, I question if she has truly learned to stop being so selfish, even though she performs a selfless act for someone else that she has a mere crush on. But there are SO MANY penis jokes with this character, you guys. I’m immature and I laughed pretty hard at them and will take a pass on character development based on the entertainment value that has been provided instead. This movie is fun, not profound.
Last, we have the romantic interest, who is a girl who is too afraid to get to know people or try anything new. She is put in the body of Karen Gillan, who is a dance-fighting badass in the film. She is put in a position where she is forced to take risks and trust in herself in order to escape the terrible jungle of Jumanji. She is in this film to… be sexy? This thought had not occurred to me from watching the movie, but since I’m critically thinking about it right now as I write--Yeah, I don’t really recall her getting as many jokes as everyone else. I suppose women can’t really be all that funny in Hollywood unless they’re actually a man like Jack Black?
Put your social justice pitchforks and torches away, unlike all of the other main actors who have had experience doing comedies, Karen Gillan is not a comedian. That doesn’t mean that she didn't get a few laughs with her “awkward sexy walk”. I’m putting this subject back on the shelf, now.
I have yet to have mentioned the villain in this film. He is your typical video game baddie who is creepy and will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He goes by the name Van Pelt, which is actually very interesting because he shares the very same name with the main antagonist from the original “Jumanji”, the hunter Van Pelt.
This is interesting because although Alan Parrish was a real person in the sequel, we do not see the hunter Van Pelt inside of Jumanji and he doesn’t seem to have existed at all. In “Welcome to the Jungle” we also get to see cars and planes and even a bizarre, none of those things Alan had mentioned being inside of Jumanji. We can gather from all of this information that the game changes itself to suit the players. The current Van Pelt is designed FOR this video game version. But why does a board game do that? It is never actually explained what the game Jumanji is, or why it does what it does. It comes off as some vaguely African cursed game that somehow forces kids to grow up by exposing them to dangerous situations. Like some kind of “tough love” parent.
I tried looking up the origin of Jumanji, beyond the children’s book it was based off and came across some interesting information. Information that should be taken with a grain of salt. According to a website called Mystic Investigations: “Jumanji” is a Zulu word that means “many effects”. It is a real game that was created by an African Witch Doctor, and a Dark Witch from Great Britain in the mid-1800s. They were diabolical lovers that sought to perpetuate evil eternally in a unique way.” The true origin or the whereabouts of the real game is currently unknown! Spooky!
So overall, we did get a proper explanation and transition from the original movie, which was the very least we could ask of this sequel for those who enjoyed the original as a kid (I'm one of them). I had a great time watching this movie, it was silly, a lot of fun, and the jokes were mostly hits. I can question whether or not these kids actually learned anything, but it doesn’t matter because the movie served its purpose of being PURE ENTERTAINMENT. So give “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” a watch, you will leave the theater in a better mood than when you came!
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is out now!
Thanks for reading, movie geeks!
Oh, and before I leave you: here is an epic music video that Jack Black and Nick Jonas made for the film in a very classic Jack Black kind of way. Enjoy!