THE MOVIE THEATER — As a kid, I loved the book “Jumanji” by Chris Van Allsburg— the story was mixed perfectly with the somewhat haunting illustrations. The result was just the right amount of mystery to keep my mind running for days on the question of “what if?”
Fourteen years later, Hollywood tried to capture this feeling in movie form, giving us the original “Jumanji” movie in 1995, starring Robin Williams. At this point, I was no longer a kid and the movie didn’t seem to work that well for me, although Williams’ performance was outstanding.
The movie did well enough at the box office, but I assumed everyone felt like me and was willing to let the “Jumanji” film franchise rest in peace. I was wrong. There was at least one kid out there who liked the movie so much they were willing to spend the next 22 years of their life working their way up the Hollywood ladder to put themselves into a position of enough power to greenlight another attempt at the “Jumanji” story on film. Surprisingly, I'm glad they did.
“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is not a retelling of the “Jumanji” book or a remake of the first “Jumanji” movie. Instead, it is an attempt to capture a new audience and tell its own story loosely based on elements we liked from the original source material. Although this movie feels nothing like the book nor does it even try, it managed to make me a fan again, at least for a little while.
Here are some of the main takeaways:
There is no pretense in this movie, just look at the cast; it features Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Hart all in starring roles. It is clear from the starting lineup that this is going to be a funny and silly movie. Thankfully, they didn’t try to stick to the original tone of the book with this cast because it would have been a disaster. Instead, they gave us a movie with hilarious dialogue, a story that is easily relatable to most adults and kids, but most importantly, a story you don’t need to think too much about to enjoy.
If you are not a fan of silly movies, you're probably not going to enjoy this film. But if you want to stop obsessing about what “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” did or did not deliver, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” might do the trick. You have to be willing to take this film for what it is (and isn’t), and just let it happen. I genuinely laughed at more than a few scenes and was never bored.
Acting so good it’s bad
No, I didn’t phrase that wrong, so follow my logic. The entire premise of this film is based on (not particularly talented) adult actors playing the avatars of high school teenagers playing a video game. This scenario allows for us to see someone like Jack Black pretending to be a bratty 16-year-old high school girl trying to survive a game that wants to kill her. In a ridiculous way, this setup really works and hits the mark comedically. I even considered Black to be the best actor in the cast, until it dawned on me how much work Kevin Hart had to put in to pull off his role.
Here's where it gets crazy. In the film, 38-year-old 5 foot 4 inch tall Hart is playing the role of “Mouse Finbar,” an avatar of the 30-year-old 6-foot-4-inch actor Ser’Darius Blain’s character “Fridge” who in the film is supposed to be a 16-year-old high school football star. Where the acting genius of Hart becomes evident is when you realize he is a very short, older man playing a slightly younger, much taller man who is playing a very young man, all while still managing to act exactly like Hart always does in every movie he has ever made.
If you don’t follow, don’t worry it doesn’t matter, and it may make more sense if you see the film. Other surprising performances came from no one, but the film does have Nick Jonas and Karen Gillan who plays the weird alien sister “Nebula” from “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Look, I know it’s a stretch, but if nothing else the movie was full of great comedic timing and that’s something.
I unexpectedly found quite a bit to enjoy about this movie once I accepted it wasn’t trying to take anything too seriously. Are there any major Hollywood awards in the future for “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle?” Nope, unless the Academy is willing to look past Hart’s short stature and recognize him for the genius he is.
If not, then this is still a pretty solid no-brainer Christmas movie that will get you out of your head just long enough to forget how much you overspent on presents this year. Who knows, you may even secretly hope for a sequel.