Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is that rare film that will put smiles on kids' faces and keep parents laughing along with them. Given that it's been 22 years since the first Jumanji movie, some parents may find themselves basking in a warm nostalgia as well.
Director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher) effectively exploits a novel conceit when a group of four teens get magically sucked into a Jumanji video game. Once inside the game, they must return a gem to its rightful place as the eye of a giant jaguar statue in order to escape and go back home. The teens are not themselves, though; they instead take on the physical being of various avatars. For example, Bethany (Madison Iseman), a self-absorbed princess type, finds herself in the body of Professor Shelly, played by Jack Black. While this adolescent-in-adult-body trope is somewhat played out, it does offer a fair amount of quality laughs throughout.
Spencer (Alex Wolff) becomes Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), and is the first to discover that the characters have a set of strengths and weaknesses, which will pop up in a holographic display if they tap their chests. Dr. Bravestone is also the first to figure out that each character has three lives, after a hippopotamus eats Professor Shelly and he drops out of the sky a few seconds later without a scratch.
This new addition to the Jumanji canon possesses not a hint of the darkness that hung over the first film. While that darkness sparked mixed critical opinions in 1995, Robin Williams led the movie to a domestic gross of 100 million dollars, which was a resounding success at the time. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle doesn't have just one top-tier star; rather, it takes the ensemble route by giving equal time to Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan (playing Ruby Roundhouse), and Kevin Hart (playing Moose Finbar). The chemistry of the group strikes an endearing tone that solidly fuses playfulness and empathy.
Inasmuch as Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle wears its modest ambitions on its sleeve, it succeeds nicely at those. At a minute shy of two hours, the film is a bit overlong, yet it maintains enough momentum to mitigate this issue for the most part. Each of the players in the central ensemble delivers a respectable journeyman performance, with Jack Black shining just a little brighter than the others. There are plenty of legitimate laughs, and even a few decent action scenes. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a light film. It doesn't do anything spectacular, but what it wants to do, it does well. Families looking to fill the hours over these next couple of holiday weeks could do much worse than spending an afternoon with this movie.