Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

It is surprising that it has taken 22 years to bring out a sequel to the Robin Williams tale of an enchanted board game. The story by Chris Van Allsburg who also illustrated and wrote The Polar Express and Zathura gets a second life with this reinvention of children getting pulled into a jungle world where they must battle to get home. The game moves from the roll of the die to pick up a game controller, director Jake Kasden brings the classic children’s novel to life and hopes to connect with a new generation.

The story begins in 1996, which helps to connect this journey to the original film, with the disappearance of Alex Creeke after he chooses to try the video game with a bizarre name that was discovered by his father. Twenty-one years later, some of the teens from the neighbourhood and local high school find the dated but functional game in the basement of the school while serving detention. In an attempt to avoid the work given to them by their principal, they all decide to have a go at the Jumanji video game. After choosing their avatars within the imaginary jungle world, the real drama begins with the game drawing the four students jungle world as these new personalities.

Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) who is a good student and video game aficionado becomes the explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), while the local football star finds himself as the zoologist and weapons specialist, Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart). The foursome is rounded out by Martha (Morgan Turner) who is a quiet bookworm who becomes the killer of men, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany, the beautiful cheerleader, who discovers that she is the celebrated cartographer Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, who happens to be a middle-aged man. The unlikely foursome must battle the John Hardin Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) to return the Cursed Eye of the Jaguar to save the world of Jumanji and to help them to get home.

Reminiscent of the storylines of action comedies from the 80’s and 90’s, this film has the potential to be a ridiculous disaster if it were not for the brilliant casting of all four lead characters. From the creative and hilarious screenplay from Community writer Chris McKenna, the utterly ridiculous concept is made accessible to audiences and provides one of the funniest comedies of the year.

Kasden and McKenna allow their lead actors to play to their strengths but manage to strike a delicate balance between these characters that make way for this joyride through the jungle.  The inventiveness of McKenna writing is to excuse away plotholes by capitalising on the stylings of the older video games. A few short, pithy lines manage to explain away sudden jumps in the story or unexplainable elements. The stellar cast supports the celebrated writer by slotting right into these roles and become the characters. Hart and John play to their strengths of comedic timing and physical comedy with Gillian capitalising on her action-hero skills from Guardians of the Galaxy fame. Admittedly these stellar performances are eclipsed by Jack Black’s role as the man who is inhabited by a teenaged girl. Not since School of Rock has he dominated every scene that he has on screen.

A significant difference between this version and the original is the target audience. The original was intended for younger viewers, even though it was darker than this new adventure. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is designed to engage the teen and ‘less than mature in spirit’ adult market with its humour and action sequences. The comedic turn of a teenaged girl living out her life as a middle-aged man may cause some discomfort for some audience members, but it is all meant to be in good fun. The creators of the film do not attempt to take themselves too seriously, and it is nothing more than an enjoyable romp through the jungle. With the help of Dwayne Johnson, the team has delivered an engaging and entertaining option for this holiday season.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

The life of a teenager has been known to be a time of insecurities while searching for a personal identity. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle taps into this uncertainty of this life stage in a unique way, but ultimately it is the same story the need for these teens becoming comfortable in their skins. The message of the film becomes a lesson in these young adults finding their internal value despite what they see as external limitations of their lives.

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

There is a biblical story of the rejection of a teenager named David because of his youth and size could be a modern teen drama. Thankfully the persistence of a wise man within his community helps to prove that this young man is the right person at the right time to become the eventual leader of a nation. Even though he would grow into an impressive and influential man, the real value that he has to offer to God is his strength of character and heart. The annals of history hold the journey of David’s life and have become legendary, but as the quest of many modern films, it is the realisation that humanities real value is not based on outward appearances, but on the quality of their inner spirit.

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.