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Blu-ray Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

March 27, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The surprise hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle provides a perfect example of how to make a belated sequel to a childhood classic.  The film successfully avoids the trap of being either an unnecessary followup or an inferior retread, and instead nicely expands upon the world of the original, while still going in a new direction.

The result is a film that is allowed to be its own fresh thing, while also cleverly using the 1995 film as a jumping off point.  Where as the first film featured a board game that sprung to life and brought Jumanji into our world, this new version features an old video game console that sucks the players right into the world of Jumanji.  It’s a fun twist on the premise, that works wonders thanks to an adventurous spirit and great comic cast.

The story begins over two decades after the events of the first film, with the four high schoolers Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Martha (Morgan Turner) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) facing detention and sent to clean up the school basement.  It’s here that they discover an old video game cartridge, and when Spencer boots it up, they are sucked into the jungles of Jumanji.  The twist is that they are each given an avatar, which couldn’t be more different from their real life personas, but these characters allow them to discover hidden strengths that they didn’t know they had.

The nerdy gamer Spencer becomes the strong and courageous archaeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson); the well-built jock Fridge becomes the small and high-voiced zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart); the shy girl Martha becomes the confidant and scantily clad commando Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan); and the vain, popular girl Bethany becomes an overweight, middle-aged male cartographer by the name of Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black).  They are met with a guide by the name of Nigel Billingsley (Rhys Darby), who explains that they must return a magical jewel called the Jaguar’s Eye to its rightful place, and keep it out of the hands of Professor Russell Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), in order to break an ancient curse and escape the game.

This is an example of a movie that is way better than anyone likely expected it to be, but it isn’t just good because of low expectations.  Make no mistakes, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a legitimately well crafted adventure that is loads of fun to watch.  Director Jake Kasdan does a fine job of balancing the adventure movie feel with the many comedic elements, helped along by the completely game cast.  The four headlining stars all do great work, wonderfully channelling their younger counterparts.  Jack Black in particular steals scenes with his hilarious performance as a teen girl, really nailing the mannerisms and vocal inflections.

There are a lot of ways that this film could have gone wrong, but Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle gets almost everything right in terms of being a long awaited franchise continuation.  One of the biggest pitfalls to making a Jumanji sequel now is obviously that the original film starred Robin Williams, who is sadly no longer with us.  This film thankfully doesn’t try to replace him, and instead offers a nice nod to his character of Alan Parrish, as a way to further tie it back to the first one.  The film works as the sort of sequel that has some clever throwbacks to the original, while also functioning perfectly well on its own as a standalone adventure.

This is probably one of the best surprises in recent memory, and it’s no shock that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became such a huge hit at the box office.  This is an incredibly fun film, and one that greatly benefitted from word of mouth, as more people discovered how good it really is.  It’s the sort of purely entertaining movie that I had a great time watching in theatres with a packed audience, and I already look forward to revisiting it.

The Blu-ray also includes a gag reel, the fake music video “Jumanji, Jumanji” featuring Jack Black and Nick Jonas, as well as five featurettes.  Journey Throught the Jungle: The Making of Jumanji is a fun piece that takes us behind the scenes of the production with the character of Nigel Billingsley acting as our tour guide; Meet the Players: The Heroic Cast features the main actors talking about how much fun they had, especially shooting in Hawaii; Surviving the Jungle: Spectacular Stunts talks about what went into crafting the action sequences; Attack of the Rhinos offers a visual effects breakdown of the rhino chase sequence; and Book to Board Game to Big Screen & Beyond! Celebrating the Legacy of Jumanji looks at the original film and how they paid tribute to it.

The version that was sent to me for review is actually a double pack, which is pictured above, that includes a copy of the original Jumanji as well.  The disc included is from the fully restored new edition that was put out as a standalone release last December, which also has the new bonus features of a gag reel, two deleted scenes and a sneak peak at Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, as well as all of the extras from the 2015 Blu-ray release.  If you are looking to add both of these fine films to your collection, then this attractive combo pack is the way to go.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 119 minutes and rated PG.

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