By Britt Argo
“The gang is back but the game has changed.”
We were first introduced to this magical board game in 1995 when Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, and Kirsten Dunst battled live game pieces in the original family adventure comedy. Young Alan Parrish disappeared—trapped in the Jumanji jungle game—until his adult self was rescued years later by his grown-up childhood friend. Escaping the game was more challenging when he brought the animals, hunters, and mayhem back with him, wreaking havoc on the town. After defeating the game and returning everything “back to normal,” the Jumanji game was buried on a beach.
However, mischief always finds a way back. Fast forward to 2017, and it was time for Jumanji to re-emerge once again. Director Jake Kasdan returned to the original idea started 22 years ago—if Alan Parrish (the young boy) disappeared for all that time into some mysterious jungle game, where did he go and what did he face?
In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, a new teen (Alex in 1996) unwittingly gets pulled into Jumanji when his dad brings home the board game he found on that beach. We jump forward 20 years after Alex’s disappearance, when his dilapidated house is all that reminds the town of him. At the local high school, we meet four teens forced to clean up the library storage room in detention. Very Breakfast Club—there’s the jock (Fridge), the geeky nerd (Spencer), the awkward shy girl (Martha), and the selfie princess (Bethany). They accidentally stumble across a 90s video game console and get sucked into the game of Jumanji. These teens are hilariously turned into against-type avatars, who must work together if they want any chance of escaping the game. Geeky Spencer is turned into Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), gaining the bravery, courage, and strength he’s never had. Awkward Martha transforms into strong “kick-butt” action hero Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), using her moves to dance-fight them out of peril. Tall football jock Fridge is shrunk into the pint-sized Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart), limited to carrying weapons as Bravestone’s sidekick. And vain Bethany is horrified to see she is stuck as a middle-aged curvy man, Dr. Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). They are surprised to find a fifth avatar, Seaplane McDonough (Nick Jonas), the teen who disappeared 20 years earlier. After some learning curves, loss of video game lives, and returning a jewel to a mountain-top jaguar statue—they defeat the villain and return home as friends.
Jumanji: Welcome the Jungle was a huge hit and a wonderful delight to watch because of the four actors—Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. Perfect casting. Watching these four portray the traits of teens made this movie. I’ll admit I am a super fan, having watched this movie six times. The fun banter between Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart and hilarious Jack Black channeling a 16-year-old girl is what made this one of my recent favorites. So I was very excited to see all the actors return to take on a new adventure in Jumanji: The Next Level.
In this new film, Spencer gets pulled back into the game, and his friends must go back in and rescue him. Unbeknownst to them, Spencer’s grandfather (Danny DeVito) and his grandfather’s old friend (Danny Glover) are also sucked into the game. The fun twist, the players all end up in different avatars. The Rock gets to play the curmudgeonly grandfather (DeVito), who is delighted to have strong hips and mobility again. Kevin Hart channels Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon’s “I’m too old for this” bit) perfectly. Fridge is not happy to find himself transported into Jack Black’s avatar. Only Martha gets to return to her original Ruby Roundhouse persona. Bethany ends up as a horse. Nick Jonas returns, and Awkwafina joins the adventure. They travel beyond the jungle into new realms, battling new dangers—charging monkeys, Vikings, the hot desert, and snowy mountains—to save their friend.
Why you will love it — The actors! Again, so much fun to watch. The Rock and Kevin Hart playing off each other, this time as the elderly sparring friends (DeVito and Glover). With the bromance chemistry of these two, I’m sure they’ll make buddy movies together for years to come. If you saw the last Jumanji and loved it (as I did), this new sequel gives you more of what was great about it. The formula works, and the pacing is perfect. It has the right mix of comedy with action/adventure. It’s not meant to take itself too seriously. All four actors (Johnson, Hart, Black, and Gillan) are natural and believable together. It doesn’t really matter what situation they’re in, transport this foursome into a different movie, and (if the writing/banter is also well done) it would be a hit too. I’ll admit, I usually gravitate towards the sweeping adventure hi-jinks films. I put Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone on a pedestal as the epitome of action/adventure films. Also loved The Goonies, City Slickers, and most of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I’m already a fan of several Jack Black films (Goosebumps, Gulliver’s Travels, King Kong) and Dwayne Johnson films (San Andreas, The Game Plan, Moana). I happily add both Jumanji films—Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and The Next Level (2019) to the list of ones I’ll watch over and over again.
Will you need to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle first? Yes, it will help. Welcome to the Jungle and The Next Level are a great combo—think of them as part one and part two. The set-up of this film stems directly from what happened in the last one, and some of the jokes come from them repeating things that happened before. If you missed the 1995 Robin Williams version, you won’t need to see it to understand this one, but it is a lovely Robin Williams/Bonnie Hunt film worth watching.
Britt Argo, an avid movie fan for 30 years, sees an average of 150 movies a year in movie theaters. She is the marketing coordinator at Area 51: Aurora Cineplex and The Fringe Miniature Golf—5100 Commerce Parkway in Roswell. 770-518-0977.