It’s unusual for me to go out of my way to see a new movie in theaters. Even more-so after I’ve gotten home once already and I’ve decided that I have no interest in leaving my household ever again #introvertlife
However, my friend and I had finished getting caught up on some of the new anime that had grabbed my interest this season (disclaimer: one really good one, one mediocre one and one mostly satisfactory one. More on those another time), and we had decided to sit down for a nice quiet evening of Minecraft. That motivation lasted for all of 5 minutes before the two of us got incredibly bored. Then, a thought struck me.
The new Jumanji movie had come out a couple weeks back and I had heard from two other friends that the movie was exceedingly good. With little else to do, we packed up and shipped out to the big city to go see the movie.
If this were to be a review piece, I’d now tease you, reader, relentlessly for about half a dozen paragraphs about whether or not I liked the movie while picking it apart on a cinematographic level and quoting some needlessly inane metaphors to make my opinion sound more trustworthy. However, this is not a review, and I’ll save my inane metaphors for my typical nerd-tastic anime reviews another time (I did say more on the three anime later, didn’t I?). Instead, all you really need to know is that I fucking loved the new Jumanji movie.
Going into the movie, I was already rather confident I’d enjoy it thoroughly. My friend, however, was much more skeptical. Most of his skepticism was born out of cautious interest in anything resembling a two-decade later reboot (actually, 22 years later, but that’s neither here nor there) of a franchise that was solid in its inception with a good ending (well, good in an enjoyment sense anyway) and nothing much left to say. We’d both seen the trailers for the movie and knew about the same amount going into it.
Moreover, much of my friend’s worries stemmed from the casting choice of having Jack Black playing a 16~ year old girl trapped in an “overweight, middle-aged man’s” body. I can most certainly see where his worries would come from in that sense: we’ve all seen that trope used before and become an exercise in patience rather than good joke material. To cut to the chase on that matter, that role was played surprisingly well: Black played the girly-ness often enough to just remind the audience in who he was on the inside, but not to the extent that it was painfully in-your-face the whole time.
By end of the movie, both my friend and I agreed that the movie was amazing, the casting choices were solid, and that we’d both be willing to see it again in theatres. This, of course, brings us to the main question of this article: why, exactly, did it work?
For starters, we’ll poke at the whole premise of the movie. I was similarly worried about how the idea of Video Game Jumanji would have come into existence: neatly answered by the fact that the game is sentient-enough to understand its audience (or victim, depending on wordage) and change itself into an Atari game to better work for the times. This does raise several questions that are not answered by the movie itself: why does this game seek to bring people into itself, does it feed on human souls or something, why is the game (which clearly has no regard for whom might be harmed in its playing) so strict on following its own rule set and giving the players a reasonable chance to win?
I’m not answering those today, but you get the point.
Once inside the world of Jumanji, you see the story really come into its own. It’s not a remake/reboot of the previous movie. It did not awkwardly try to tie in references to the past movie, or call on mindless star-power to sell its tickets. It also had, much like in the first movie, a core message it was trying to relate. A moral to the story, as it were.
In the first movie, the main moral was that the cowardly Alan Parrish needed to learn how to face his fears and stop running from his enemies and/or consequences. This was reinforced by the various trials and tribulations that Alan, and his unlucky companions, were forced to overcome. Specifically, in the form of Van Pelt in the first movie’s iteration: ironically played by the same actor who played Alan’s father. In the beginnings, we see how Alan’s father is hard on the boy and how he is almost portrayed as harsh and unforgiving, controlling his life and direction. Take that to the extreme where Van Pelt, same actor, is actively trying to hunt Alan and is, in many senses, the final battle.
In the new movie, the main message is learning about yourself: who it is you want to be. It’s a message that most assuredly resonates with younger audiences today than the previous message would: high school is a sick sort of jungle on its own where the student body almost dons personalities and become artificial characters in the interest of fitting in. I could go into much more detail, but I feel many of you folks could start filling in the blanks yourself. In this iteration, Van Pelt does not serve as a literal antagonist much like he did in the previous movie.
In actuality, his presence is significantly less important to the heroes to overcome than it is themselves that pose the greatest threat to their own survival. Overcoming their own personal biases, insecurities and shedding their artificial personas to find who, it is, they really want to be. The changes in these four Breakfast Club contenders from Jumanji entry and exeunt are small, but significant.
Besides the significance of the character dynamics and developments, the setting of immersion in a game world is much more relevant to facing challenges in the real world to my, and younger, generations. In many regards, the youth of today do most of their self-exploration and development in a digital format: translating that into video game terms might actually have been the only way the game of Jumanji itself would have had any sort of impact on the movies’ audience. Gaming is a very common pastime, and no longer just for the declared “nerd” culture.
By extension, this makes the intended audience much more literate in the short-hand gaming terms that are used in the movie; almost to an extent that the included dialogue used for explaining certain game functions (cutscenes, NPCs, etc.) to really be for the purpose of older audiences who were fans of the original movie and wanted to see where they’d go with the new one.
And, of course, you have all the staples on modern action-film cinematography: lots of explosions, an injection of womanly sexual push, big-name cast, more explosions, a few penis jokes… (I never claimed this was a very forward-thinking movie, just a good one) When brought together, you are presented with a very tight and well received movie but audiences at large. It really comes as no major surprise that audiences love this movie as much as they do; even if they might not understand all the details as to why it works.