It’s Not Just a Jungle Out There (Jumanji: The Next Level, 2019)

Jumanji_Next_Level_PosterAlex, Martha, Fridge and Bethany have all moved forward in life, but college life has been disappointing for Alex and he has become distant from the others.

When everyone returns home for Christmas, Alex decides maybe what he really needs is to recapture the confidence he gained from the last time they went through Jumanji. When he never shows up for a planned breakfast, Fridge, Bethany and Martha find themselves forced to enter the game.  But due to damage to the console, the group find themselves lost in a new part of the game and in the wrong avatars (well, except Martha).  To make matters worse, the game has pulled in Spencer’s grandfather and his old business partner Milo.

The Next Level faced a challenge.  How to convincingly argue the kids would re-enter the game and how not to lose the magic of the interplay of the last film.  The previous film was one of those rare films that did not depend on Johnson basically being himself.  The cast was convincing and fun playing the roles of teens trapped in a video game.

Kasdan ups the ante with this one. Gillan, Black, Hart and Johnson all get to play multiple inhabitants of their avatars (with Hart and Johnson doing fun takes on Glover and Devito for much of the film).

This was a real fun follow up that manages to carry over the character growth of the last film while still capturing what made the previous so much fun. The cast is great and the action is fun.

It’s Still A Jungle Out There (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 2017)

Jumanji_WTTJ_PosterEvery so often, someone decides it is time to start up a franchise. Rather than a reboot or a remake, when they announced Jumanji (starring that Robin Willims-esque Dwayne the Rock Johnson) it was decided that they would make a sequel. The film clearly establishes itself as set in the same universe as the Robin Williams movie late in the film.

The film opens with a jogger finding the board game on a beach.  He gives it to his teenage son Alex.  The young man sets it aside.  That night he is awoken by beating drums.  He opens up the box to find, instead of a board-game, a video game cartridge. He puts it in and disappears.  The film picks up 22 years later.  Alex is the town legend, his father and house the stuff of scary stories.

Spencer is a nerd who gets in trouble for doing football player classmate Fridge’s homework.  Their teacher recognizes that Spencer has plagiarized themselves.  At the same time, popular and pretty Bethany is in trouble for talking on her cell phone during a test and Martha is in trouble for talking back to her gym teacher.  The four get assigned to detention, which will involve them cleaning up a mess in the school basement.

The kids stumble upon an old video game system and decide to give the game Jumanji a try. They find themselves transported into the game, which they then find out that they must play to the end if they want to get out. This is a reversal of the first film, where the game broke out into the real world. Here not only are they in the video game world, they are video game avatars.  Spencer finds himself as the muscular and heroic Smolder Bravestone.  Fridge is the diminutive zoologist Mouse Finbar.  Martha is shocked to find herself looking a bit like Laura Croft fighter Ruby Roundhouse.   And Bethany gets the huge shock of being the middle aged Dr. Shelly Oberon (which she assumed a woman, only to find she is a man).

The film has a lot of fun with the new video game approach.  Everybody has three bars on their arms representing lives, resulting in some amusing moments when they end up regenerating. There is also the sendups of video game tropes.  Most notably, one people have somehow been missing because they have been reacting to single still photos and ignoring the context.  Karen Gillan’s Ruby Roundhouse is a sendup of the hot female fighter video game characters.  She questions very quickly what is up with such a ridiculous outfit.  Admittedly, they could have had her change, as at least one scene shows her putting a shirt on to cover herself. But the film is on the side of the folks who jumped on how she is dressed.

The plot is thin…they literally are just trying to get a jewel to a statue to lift the curse of Jumanji.  Which puts the focus squarely on the characters.  And thankfully, Johnson, Gillan, Black and Hart are all entertaining in their roles. Fridge is frustrated by the reversal to a character who is not very athletic and has the weakness of cake.

Bethany, of course, is pained both by her appearance and lack of access to a phone.  All four have lessons to learn, but it is mostly the spectacle of events and jokes that makes this film fun.

I admit, I was not expecting a lot out of this one, but I really had a good time. This is a bit more aimed at older audiences with some juvenile humor.  But it still works pretty well to be amusing and exciting.

It’s a Jungle Out There (Jumanji, 1995)

Jumanji_1995_PosterA tale of standing up to your fears via games, Jumanji tells the adventurous tale of Alan Parrish, a bullied young man with a domineering father, who finds the magical game.  He starts a game with his friend Sarah, but before she can role the dice, he disappears into the game and the room fills with bats.  Sarah runs away and the film leaps ahead twenty six years.

Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the Parrish house with their aunt.  They discover the game and free Alan.  But the game is not over, as the house and soon the neighborhood start to fill with jungle creatures.  And to top it off, there is the hunter Van Pelt, who is chasing after Alan.

They track down the grown up Sarah and coerce her into helping finish the game, all while their world gets turned more and more upside down. Their only hope to set things back to normal is to finish the game.

Williams is fun as the grown Alan Parrish, and the film sets him up as a kid in need of a reality check.  David Alan Grier plays an employee of Alan’s father who is fired because he covers for a screwup of Alan’s at his father’s factory.  It is not that Alan lacks reasons to be a bit selfish and bitter.  But the film shows he needs to grow. In an interesting choice, the villain Van Pelt (an evil big game hunter within the Jumanji game) is played by Jonathan Hyde, who also plays Alan’s father.  He actually brings warmth to Alan’s stern father towards the end, allowing the viewer to see why Alan still loves him.  Part of that is played out when the adult Alan learns his father actually pretty much gave up on everything else in the effort to find his son.

Jumanji is dragged down a bit by it’s dated 1990’s digital effects, most distracting in the digital monkeys. However, this is still a pretty enjoyable and light film.

 

 

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