It seems I am going backwards in a franchise. Last year I caught Jumanji: The Next Level (2019). It is a serviceable sequel to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017). Maybe one of these days I will get around to watching the original, Jumanji (1995), starring the late, great Robin Williams. The first of the series never really interested me, for whatever reason. Thus when this new version, which is also kind of a sequel (I guess? Maybe?) came out, I did not immediately rush to the theaters. This was in the days before this blog, and I was a little more selective. But I allowed a friend to convince me to go and I was pleasantly surprised.
I gave a brief synopsis of the plot to Welcome to the Jungle in my review of The Next Level as they are pretty identical to one another. In brief, you have a group of four high school teenagers with divergent backgrounds who in a The Breakfast Club (1985) type moment all end up in detention together. In fact, you could basically sub in Assistant Principal Richard Vernon (Paul Gleason) in the 1985 film for Principal Bentley (Marc Evan Jackson) in Welcome to the Jungle and you would have pretty similar movies. While Vernon is more aggressive than Bentley, I make such a comparison because of the speeches they give their respective groups of teenagers about sorting out the kinds of people they truly wish to be. For Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Martha (Morgan Turner) in Welcome to the Jungle, this is going to come while being sucked into what is now the title video game and assuming avatars with traits and abilities far removed from who they believe themselves to be. When they land in the tropical forest, the skinny, asthmatic Spencer is now the muscled and seemingly invincible Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson); the tall and athletic Fridge is now the short and slow running “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart); the young and vivacious woman Bethany is now the older and more rotund man Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black); and the shy and nerdy Martha is now the deadly “slayer of men” Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian). After a brief introduction to the dangers of this new world, Nigel (Rhys Darby) arrives to give them their mission. In short, the evil Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) stole the Jaguar’s Eye jewel that controls all the wildlife in the realm. Handing them the jewel (which Nigel conveniently nicked in a cut scene because video game), it is now up to these teenagers to return the gem and restore peace. Problem is, Spencer is not a buff adventurer; Fridge is not used to being so small and seemingly helpless; Martha is not a killer of anything; and as for Bethany, she essentially acts the same but in an overweight man’s body. Yet as they progress through the levels towards their goal, they must learn to not only come out of their shells, so to speak, but learn to work with one another. Doing so not only creates a close group of friends, but also teaches Spencer to be brave, Fridge not to be so reliant on his physical gifts, Bethany becomes less vain, and Martha to take a little more initiative. Along the way, they also meet Alex (Nick Jonas) who had been sucked into the game in 1996 (though it only seems like months to him, that is twenty years of being missing) as “Seaplane” McDonough. In the end, they all use their gifts, both in the game and in real life, to return the stone and get back home.
In my review for The Next Level, I mentioned the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who said that people are not built for comfort. We must challenge ourselves in order to grow, and the trials we face can also do the job. The same concept applies here in Welcome to the Jungle. All the characters are safe in their own little worlds that they had constructed for themselves in their day-to-day lives, and they barely notice anyone outside of their separate purviews, even people they had gone to school with for years and former friends. It is interesting to reflect on the role that going out into the wilds has done for the development of Christianity. In the first centuries after Christ, there developed a loose community of hermits in the deserts who were instrumental in the development of the Faith. For millennia afterwards, groups of men or women have taken themselves from the world to contemplate the mysteries of God. There are also the missionaries who have gone out into unknown places simply because they felt called by God to evangelize those who had not yet heard of Him. The point I am trying to make here is that these experiences change people, and they are small miracles. When the movie began, you could not have had a more different set of people. By the end, they could not have been closer. That is nothing short of miraculous.
Welcome to the Jungle is rated PG-13. While there are some moments of rude humor as when Bethany in the guise of Professor Shelly Oberon is coming to terms with having a penis, overall there is not much here that the entire family could not watch. It is just a well paced and fun movie, and if you have never seen any of the other installments in the franchise, the jokes will be that much funnier.