When Jumanji came out in 1995 its goofy star Robin Williams was at the peak of his box office powers. Mrs Doubtfire had charmed audiences two years before and with a little help from his hyperactive blue genie, Aladdin made a mint in 1992. Jumanji was no different and became a massive global hit. Now, 22 years later, we finally have a sequel.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (yes, there are fun and games) follows roughly the same plot as the original, but with a modern twist. This time, the titular board game has morphed into a Sega-like games console, complete with retro video cartridge. Four teenagers discover the game while in detention and are sucked into its jungle, transforming into their chosen adult avatars who each have comical strengths (dance-fighting) and weaknesses (cake). To escape Jumanji, they must save the virtual world from a curse inflicted by an evil explorer, played by Bobby Cannavale.
Each hero’s avatar is fundamentally different to their real-life persona. Muscled jock Fridge becomes zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart); academic whizz Bethany turns into kick-ass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); geeky Spencer is Dr Smolder Bravestone (The Rock) and popular girl Martha becomes a podgy, middle-aged nerd (Jack Black’s map expert Shelly Oberon). The performances are top notch, with Hart tempering his tendency to overact and Gillan in a career-best role. The only failure is Cannavale, whose turn as the villainous Van Pelt isn’t a patch on Jonathan Hyde’s performance in the original.
Thankfully, that’s one of few callbacks to the first film. Recent reboots, like Jurassic World and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, have at times felt hamstrung by frequent references to older episodes. This can halt the narrative and limit creativity. In Welcome To The Jungle, director Jake Kasdan (New Girl) doesn’t find this necessary. Instead, he’s made a brand new movie that feels more sequel than remake. It might lack subtlety and lose steam towards the end, but WTTJ more than makes up for it with some hilarious set pieces and an all-star cast that oozes chemistry. We defy you not to laugh every time The Rock lets loose his eyebrow-tastic signature look. Robin Williams would have been proud.