The utilisation by Hollywood of classic, beloved films is something that is becoming increasingly common. It is rare to see a cinema listing these days without some form of reboot, reimagining or ‘sequel’ being found. Sometimes they work but more often than not they don’t. Indeed by its very nature rebooting or reimagining causes a film to lose the uniqueness that made the original so magical. Fortunately Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is one of the instances where a ‘reboot’ works.
The overall premise of Welcome to the Jungle at first sounds rather similar to the original 1995 Jumanji staring the late, great Robin Williams, albeit with some slight changes and modernisation. Our four leads Martha (Morgan Turner/Karen Gillan), Spencer (Alex Wolff/Dwayne Johnson), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain/Kevin Hart) and Bethany (Madison Iseman/Jack Black) stumble across the titular game, now in a video game rather than board game form, and are swiftly sucked into it where they encounter all forms of jungle dangers.
This is in contrast to the original where the game came out into the real world. Despite this though, what makes Welcome to the Jungle work so well is the fact that it is so dissimilar to the 1995 original.
Whilst undoubtedly a comedy the original was more serious in tone with much time spent on Robin Williams’ character Alan Parish coming to terms with the loss of his youth and family.
Whilst Welcome to the Jungle has its moments of seriousness, particularly when Alex (Nick Jonas/Colin Hanks), another young man who has been stuck in the game for twenty years is discovered, the emphasis is very much on comedy, which is often physical in nature. Whilst perhaps a more simplistic form of entertainment this comedy does hit the mark and is genuinely funny.
This is largely down to the chemistry between Gillan, Johnson, Hart and Black. The four work excellently together and do a brilliant job of bringing across the characteristics of their younger ‘selves’ to their in-game avatars, which is where much of the comedy derives from. The weakest link is Hart, whose character does not really develop throughout the film in the same way that the others do, but he is funny and engaging nonetheless.
However, all characters lack any real depth with their development largely being to overcome fairly menial troubles such as social media vanity, being overly judgemental and shyness with the opposite sex. Where this point is most prevalent is in the film’s antagonist Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), who has no real character at all and is simply a dark and grotesque presence who crops up occasionally to impede the heroes’ progress.
One could argue that as a video game NPC the lack of character makes some form of sense, but for a primary villain to have so little to them seems something of a waste. However, given that Welcome to the Jungle’s primary focus is clearly on comedy rather than depth and drama this is not too much of an issue and certainly does not withtract from the fun of the film.
The narrative of the film is also very simplistic. Our four heroes, becoming five once they join forces with Alex, must progress through a series of ‘levels’ in Jumanji, each with its own set of dangers, in order to return the jewel to the Jaguar’s Eye and get home. While very basic, the simplicity works well for the style of the film.
It allows for easy progression from one comedic/action set-piece to another without much need for exposition or story development. One suspects this was a deliberate choice by director Jake Kasdan and writers Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg and Jeff Pinkner so that the emphasis could remain firmly on entertainment.
In addition, these set pieces utilise the idea of the video game’s mechanics well, particularly in relation the character’s three ‘lives’, which are used both strategically by the players themselves but also to build an increasing sense of (limited) tension as each character’s life count decreases.
Overall Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a welcome piece of comedy/adventure fun. Whilst it may lack any real depth in terms of story and character it does not really matter, that is not the purpose of the film. Its purpose is pure escapist entertainment and it delivers that with wonderful, unapologetic success.
Due to the title of the film it will be difficult for some not to compare this to the beloved 1995 Jumanji. Welcome to the Jungle acknowledges the original and is respectful towards it, implementing small homages such as Alan Parish’s cabin being found in the jungle. Ultimately though, although they share the same title, they must be taken as two separate entities, both wonderful in their own way.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is out this month on Digital Platforms/ DVD.