Talk about classics from the 90s and Joe Johnston’s runaway adventure Jumanji would make it to every single list. Besides the indellible comic timing of Robin Williams who played Alan Parrish in the film, the film had everything that a family could enjoy together. Imagine playing a board-game with your family, being engrossed in it so much that you forgot the world around you. Despite the CGI limitations of that time, Jumanji was able to bring that metaphor to life, that a game can be so addictive that you might be sucked into its trap. Jon Favreau’s 2005 film Zathura : A Space Adenture tried to reincarnate the formula Jumanji had successfully established but failed in the box office with a meagre $64 million as compared to the $300 million earned by the latter.
Two decades later, Jake Kasdan’s reprise seems yet another ploy by Sony Pictures to cash into the endearing story adapted from Chris Van Allsburg’s 1981 children’s book of the same name. But does it reduce the allure of its predecessor ? Jumanji : Welcome to the Jungle begins in 1995 when a teenager named Alex Vreeke (played by Nick Jonas) is handed down “Jumanji” from his dad who had found it buried in the sand on the beach (too convenient ?). Well, its 1995 and board-games are kinda defunct by then as most kids were hooked into Nintendo, Alex stashes away the game on his shelf and forgets about it. One night he is woken up by the characteristic drum-roll that precedes any mishap thats created by the game. When he opens Jumanji, he finds a Nintendo cartridge with Jumanji written on it. Intrigued by this strange game he had never heard before, he places it on his console. Before we know it, he is sucked into it just like Alan was in 1969.
Cut to the present and we are in Brantford High-school where we are introduced to four teenagers, the lanky misfit Spencer Gilpin, the buffed-up jock Fridge Johnson, the diva Bethany Walker and the snobby geek Martha Kaply. As destiny would have it, all four of them end up in detention tasked with de-stapling old magazines in the storage room. While checking out the oddities strewn on the dusty shelves, Spencer stumbles upon the very same Nintendo console that had sucked Alex in, with the Jumanji cartridge still intact. Desperate to fight boredom, Spencer and Fridge hook it up to an old TV and convince Bethany and Martha to play with them. As the screen lights up, each of them chooses one character displayed and sure enough, gets sucked into the world of Jumanji. To their surprise, each of them has now assumed the body of their respective avatars. The lanky Gilpin is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (played by Dwayne Johnson), Fridge turns into Mouse Finbar (played by Kevin Hart), Bethany transforms into Shelly Oberon (played by Jack Black) and Martha changes into Ruby Roundhouse (played by Karen Gillan. Complaining about their changes (except Spencer of course, who is now a greek god), their only way to return home is to find a jewel called the Jaguar’s Eye and lift the curse from the Jumanji Jungle which is easier said than done as there are perils on the way and levels with increasing difficulty.
Despite the CGI setting of the jungle and a fast-paced screenplay, the story doesn’t quite stand up to the appeal of its predecessor. Jumanji played with much bolder ideas such as letting lose a herd of rhinos in the middle of a bustling city. That’s the kind of odd setting that would tickle your bones in today’s world where playing with CGI has become the norm. Seeing rhinos, elephants and jaguars in jungle just feels, you know, normal and too convenient. Keeping aside the execution, it is the comic timing and chemistry of the characters that saves the day. Kevin Hart’s whiny quips and Jack Black’s woman-in-a-man’s body portrayal leaves you in splits. Karen Gillan lives up to her femme fatale character well but it’s Hart and Black who steal the show. Johnson and Hart seem to have developed a great chemistry after their stint in Central Intelligence and that shows on screen too. Bobby Cannavale as the Canna-villain, is a weak character and is barely allowed to make an impact. And finally, Nick Jonas as Alex Vreeke is reduced to a marketing gimmick (What’s with movies casting pop stars as non entities ?- Harry Styles in Dunkirk).
All said and done, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a sequel that wasn’t needed at all. The bid to create a more evolved and elaborate Jumanji reduced the story to a hollow Temple Run game that lacked depth. Some movies just need to be left alone – said no Hollywood Producer ever !
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