Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Like many kids of the nineties, I was a huge fan of the original Jumanji. To see the craziness of a supernatural jungle let loose in a small town was something I’d not seen since the mayhem of Gremlins or The Goonies. It has since always retained a special significnce to me as one of those movies I can now introduce my own children to.

Imagine my scepticism then when I discovered there was to be a sequel. I’m not a huge fan of long-after-the-fact sequels to classic movies. It too often reeks of a kind of corporate cynicism; mining the successes of the past in the hopes of recreating that success from a place of fiscal security. Even given the questionable performance of the new Ghostbusters movie, studios still seem keen to revisit older properties to pick over the bones in the hopes of fresh meat.

So I was all ready to be a negative nancy and naysay my way all over this new installment of what I suppose we can now call the Jumanji ‘franchise’. I caught the trailer whilst waiting to see another movie (probably The Last Jedi) and as it opened to show us a new coming-of-age squad of cliched miscreants I prepared to feel vindicated in my pessimism. “Haha!” I thought to myself. “Surely another flop, trying to capture a youth market using fresh-faced nobodies to try and lure a new generation into spending cash on a sequel to a movie they’d never heard of”. It was all I could do to stop myself chuckling glibly into my popcorn.

Then everything changed.

As the premise of being sucked into a videogame was played out, those cookie-cutter teenagers were replaced with actual actors! People I considered to be funny, who I could actually watch in a movie! I had the distinctly uncomfortable feeling that I was about to eat my hat, or at least a large slice of humble pie. This might actually turn out to be good.

Once totally over myself, I actually started to look forward to seeing the movie and my instincts would prove well-founded. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle follows the path of the mystical boardgame thought disposed of by Alan Parrish and friends back in the first movie. In an attempt to snare new victims, the game mutates into a videogame console and finds it’s way into the dusty storage room of a high school, awaiting a cohort of unlucky detainees to happen across it whilst serving out their detention.

This is where the movie really takes a clever turn. Having selected characters in the game, the cheerleader/nerd/jock/outsider stereotypes are sucked into the videogame and transformed into their digital counterparts which is, gratefully, where we say goodbye to them for the remainder of the movie. The nerd is transformed into a musclebound adventurer played by Dwayne Johnson, the awkward outsider is transformed into a flame-haired martial arts expert played by Karen Gillan (Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy), the jock is transformed into a tiny sidekick played by Kevin Hart (Ride Along, Central Intelligence) and perhaps best of all, the cheerleader is transformed into a tubby scientist played by Jack Black (School of Rock, Goosebumps).

As the gang blunder through the jungle, beset by all manner of snarling beasts, we also get to see how the characters come to terms with their transformations and how a sudden change of identity helps them discover some personal truths along the way. It’s basically Stand By Me with murderous hippos.

The comedic work of Hart and Black really works well with Gillan and Johnson’s playful action heroes which makes for an overall charming team and you really do start to become invested in them.

We took the eldest (8 yo) to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. There’s a few grown-up jokes that tended to fly over his head but for the most part it was a funny, family-friendly comedy that I think will stand up to a few re-watches once it inevitably turns up on Netflix, etc. Smaller children may get a little scared by the intimidating jungle creatures and minimal violence on display, but given how well this has put this cynical movie nerd in his place, I would definitely recommend it for anyone else wanting a funny action movie to watch with the older kids.

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