Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street 3/20/18;
Sony Pictures;
Adventure Comedy;
Box Office $400.25 million;
$30.99 DVD, $34.99 Blu-ray, $45.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for adventure action, suggestive content and some language.
Stars Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale, Rhys Darby, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Ser’Darius Blain, Morgan Turner.

Whatever misgivings may have emerged over the idea of a follow-up to the 1995 family fantasy Jumanji are quickly dispelled by a very funny sequel that pays homage to the original but shows impressive confidence in its own interpretation of the source material.

The first film, based on the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, featured the creatures of a mystical jungle-themed board game breaking into the real world, freeing a man, played by the late Robin Williams, who had been trapped in the game since he was a boy.

The new film throws some clever nods to the original while using the premise to poke fun at Indiana Jones-type adventure films. With the game’s attempts to allure a new player faltering amid a modern generation uninterested in board games, it converts itself into a video game. Eventually, a group of high school students encounter it in storage and start to play, getting sucked into the jungle world of the game.

Unlike in the first film, though, where the trapped players went in as themselves, Jumanji 2.0 puts the kids’ personalities into the avatars of the playable game characters, allowing the main cast to earn the credibility of playing the kinds of roles that usually would be associated with them while being forced act against those types.

So Dwayne Johnson plays the main hero, but has the mind of an insecure teenager. Kevin Hart is his diminutive sidekick, but controlled by an alpha-male jock. Karen Gillan is a warrior inhabited by a meek academic. And Jack Black plays a professor who, thanks to a misinterpretation of the character’s name, becomes inhabited by a self-centered, social media-obsessed teenage girl.

It’s essentially a body-switch movie without the cliché of an actual body switch. The main foursome turn out to be a perfectly matched team, oozing with chemistry to spare and milking almost every possible laugh to be had from the set-up. It’s a perfect example of a director, Jake Kasdan in this case, just putting his cast in the field and letting them do their thing. Also lurking around are Nick Jonas as a pilot needed for the later levels, and Bobby Cannavale as the slimy treasure hunter and the main villain of the game.

The script cleverly takes advantage of the rules of video gaming to advance the story, which sets the characters off on a quest to restore a large jewel to a sacred statue before the bad guys can steal it. Success means they will have rescued the land from evil forces and will be sent home. So, in addition to the Indiana Jones element, the film throws in a subtle Wizard of Oz vibe for good measure. There are moments in Henry Jackman’s boisterous musical score in which its seems to echo the famed “Over the Rainbow” refrain in the midst of perfectly establishing the adventurous spirit meant to be evoked by the jungle setting.

Even the side characters get in on the fun, with New Zealand comedian Rhys Darby turning in a brief but stand-out performance as the game’s charming narrator and primary contact for the heroes.

Interestingly, the 1990s cartoon based on the first film was also set mostly in the game’s jungle, but otherwise didn’t follow what was established in the movie, from what I can tell. Mill Creek recently put out a DVD of the complete series if you want to check it out.

As for Welcome to the Jungle, the Blu-ray bonus materials managed to absorb some of the sense of fun that clearly couldn’t be contained by the film itself. The best evidence of this is when Darby shows up, in character, to introduce the segments of the 15-minute making of featurette.

Three more featurettes, running about 15 mintues total, focus on the cast, the stunts and the visual effects. There’s also a five-minute segment that reflects on the spirit of the original film, and how the filmmakers wanted to preserve that in the sequel in order to honor Williams’ legacy. (Though, it should be pointed out, there’s no need to have had seen the first film to enjoy this one.)

Rounding out the extras are a couple more detours into humor, led by a three-and-a-half-minute gag reel. But the best is a two-and-a-half premiere of the music video for the film’s “theme song” by Black and Jonas, the two musicians of the pack, whose bizarre tribute to their characters elicits hilarious bewilderment from their co-stars.

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