‘Jumanji’ sequel lacks nostalgia with its updated version of a family favorite

Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and Dwayne Johnson star in ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.’ (Columbia Pictures/Frank Masi)

Being a ‘90s baby and a huge fan of the original “Jumanji,” I went into a screening of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” excited, but with low expectations.

All I knew was that Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson was in it, which made me think it would be a little cheesy. I was partly right, but also pleasantly surprised.

The sequel to a beloved Robin Williams classic took a nostalgic family favorite and threw it into the 21st century, but the iconic drumming that plays throughout is a nice nod to its predecessor.

If you’re expecting this movie to directly follow Alan Parrish and Sarah Whittle’s adventures with Judy and Peter Shepherd, throw that right out the window. The story feels more like the plot of an “Uncharted” video game than a fantasy-themed movie about a magical board game.

Directed by Jake Kasdan and written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenburg and Jeff Pinkner, the movie begins in 1996, one year after the original “Jumanji” ends. We meet teen Alex Vreeke (Mason Gussione), who begins playing Jumanji not as a board game, but with a Playstation-like video game console.

Fast forward to 2016, we meet four high school kids each encompassing familiar stereotypes: the nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), jockish “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain), outcast Martha (Morgan Turner) and preppy Bethany (Madison Iseman).

Instead of magical elements coming out of the board, the kids are transported inside the gaming console, become their chosen characters and, with the help of Alex, must complete the game to escape.

While I liked the idea of modernizing the game and making it more relatable to today’s youth, I was missing the nostalgia of the first movie.

I found the stereotypes too overplayed to the point of predictability. Even the actors playing the video game characters adhered to their respective stereotypes in the film industry: Johnson (representing Spencer’s avatar) smouldered, Jack Black (as Bethany’s avatar) was over the top silly and Kevin Hart (as Fridge’s avatar) was his usual overly-animated self.

The video game storyline helps with the pacing of the movie. About halfway through, I was wondering, “How are they gonna wrap this up?” But it came together in the end without feeling rushed.

I was left a bit unsatisfied with the female representation in the movie, or lack thereof.

Karen Gillan as Ruby Roundhouse, Martha’s game avatar, seemed to serve as a sexual asset more than anything else. While this may have been a parallel to Martha’s outcast status in real life — she was able to be more “out there” in the video game — it felt insulting to me as a woman.

The message I got was that you aren’t being true to yourself unless you’re comfortable with your sexuality. While it isn’t necessarily a bad message, it just seemed misconstrued to me in this context, especially given the young age of the characters.

My biggest issue with the movie was the lack of detail consistency with the first “Jumanji” film. It seems like world that Alan Parrish enters was in another universe.

While the wildlife was similar, the biggest surprise was that there were other people in this jungle. I thought it was just Alan alone for 26 years in the first film, but this movie shows a much more civilized version of the jungle with modern weaponry and transportation.

There was one familiar face in this sequel: the villainous John Hardin Van Pelt, played by Bobby Cannavale. He was also completely different from the Van Pelt we met in 1995.

I don’t want to give too much away, but he’s definitely still evil.

The most entertaining character has to be Jack Black as Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon. As a teenage girl trapped in a middle-aged man’s body, Black was flamboyant, funky and flirtatious. He perfectly embodied the femininity in his voice, physical movements and facial expressions. Just about everything he said or did got a laugh out of the audience.

Despite some inconsistencies and cheesy jokes, this movie is still worth seeing. It’s an interesting and entertaining update to one of my favorite childhood films. Not to mention, Nick Jonas is in it.

I don’t know who was fangirling harder, me or Jack Black. (Again, you have to see it to understand – and believe it.)

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is in theaters in 3D on Dec. 20.

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