I did not expect to leave the Wednesday matinee of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with questions. I expected to have to answer some, maybe. (Ma’am, why are you following this field trip of eighth-graders into a movie theater alone? Or, Is it really appropriate to buy a large popcorn at 11 a.m.? Or, Excuse me, you’re trying to expense what?) But I figured that Jumanji 2.0 would be a reasonably straightforward excursion. I, like so many millennials worth our avocado toast, grew up in the warm glow of the Robin Williams–led original, released in 1995. The new version, out this week, was pitched as more or less the same story, with some minor twists: This time, the world is accessed via a video game instead of a board game; our four heroes are sucked into the jungle instead of having the wild creatures of Jumanji burst out into theirs; and due to the video game element, they assume adult avatars, leaving their original teen forms (and actors) back in detention. (The Purell-clutching nerd becomes the Rock, the star football player becomes Kevin Hart, the popular girl becomes Jack Black, yadda yadda.)
But I was wrong, because Welcome to the Jungle is not as simple as it seems. Or, rather, it is very simple, but in a way that itself is a little complicated. While the movie calls itself Jumanji and spends most of the first 10 minutes showing us the written-out word from every possible angle as if in disbelief that the relevant intellectual property really had been acquired, it does not seem to have much of anything in common with its precursor. There is jungle, yes, and there is the vague contour of gameplay. But continuity there is not. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle violates every rule of Jumanji, a story I had not previously thought of as a place that had rules, at least until the theater-wide coos of eighth-graders at the first sight of a shoehorned-in Nick Jonas. Welcome to the Jungle has the name of the beloved franchise, sure, but the filmmakers apparently couldn’t be bothered to carry over much of anything else. That’s right, friends: It’s time to get Mad Online about Jumanji. I invite you to sign my petition.
In 1995’s Jumanji, we don’t learn a whole lot about the actual jungle of Jumanji land. (The new movie teaches us that the place itself is actually called “Jumanji,” something that you are sometimes required to shout in unison, which, OK.) We learn from Williams’s Alan Parrish, who survived 26 years there before being summoned by Kirsten Dunst’s and Bradley Pierce’s Judy and Peter Shepherd back into the present (i.e., 1995), that it is a wild place full of things that can and would very much like to eat you. The animals there are super-sized or super-smart; quicksand abounds, as does a sentient monster-vine. We learn that Jumanji land has at least one (1) native human being, a mustachioed British colonist nightmare-hunter who stalks Alan for the duration of the movie. But the hunter seems to be a rarity: The heavy implication is that Alan has been toughing it out alone for his quarter century in the jungle. If there’d been anyone else there, survival might have been easier—or, at the very least, he might have bothered to shave.
Compare this to the Jumanji land—ahem, Jumanji—we find in Welcome to the Jungle. It’s 2016 now and, in a callback to the O.G., a boy named Alex has been stuck in Jumanji for 20 years, but because he entered the world as a video-game avatar, he’s stayed the same age the whole time. (We get a single scene with a grumpy, Metallica-T-shirt-clad teen before Jonas takes over the role in the jungle.) But my, how other things have changed. The jungle now teems with apparently Jumanji-born and -bred people, a great number of whom get around on souped-up dirt bikes. There is a veritable city tucked away in the mountains, as well as massive ancient carvings and a tunnel system that suggest grand civilizations both current and former. The animals, other than a handful that take orders from a certain bad guy and a (I looked this up) crash of rhinos who’ve developed a taste for human flesh, are of normal sizes and dispositions. Niceties abound: Slices of pound cake are peddled in the local bazaar, while one character wards off mosquitos with a collection of citronella candles. (I guess junk science exists in Jumanji as well. Better try some aloe vera next time!) Long-lost Alex has chosen to live in Alan Parrish’s old treehouse, but we quickly discover that he needn’t: The Jumanji land of 2016 has walls and roofs and helicopters galore. We learn that it might not simply resemble Earth—it might actually be Earth, or at the very least a close copy of it. One guide mentions the world’s seven continents as well as a character’s previous exploits in Peru.
If there are seven continents, Peru exists, and there are sufficient ingredients to create pound cake (key component: vegetable shortening), then there are some serious implications about the similarities of Earth and Jumanji land. This would mean that there are places in Jumanji land that are not jungle—that jungle there might even be a relative rarity, as it is here on Earth. This means there are tectonic plates. This means there was an Inca empire, a Simón Bolívar, maybe a Francisco Pizarro. My god, there might even be ceviche.
There are other worrying implications: If Alex was sucked into the video-game version of Jumanji in 1996, that means either he somehow didn’t hear about the premise of the Robin Williams blockbuster that was released the year before (or else when his dad brought the cursed game home, he would have thrown it the hell away before it could drum-roll him into its grasp), or that the 1995 movie Jumanji did not happen in the Jumanji universe. Another casualty: the Rock, who is known as the explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone in Jumanji land but who goes unrecognized by the quartet of 2016 teens. That means that poor Dwayne Johnson, wrestler, actor, muscle-haver, entrepreneur, voice-over artist, 1991 Miami Hurricane national champion football player, selfie-taker, and future president, either doesn’t exist on Earth or simply never became famous. Jumanji giveth; Jumanji taketh.
But the more pertinent question for our purposes might be this: If the only difference between the new Jumanji land and the old Jumanji land is (a) time and (b) method of entry by the respective film’s teen(s) (i.e., video game vs. board game), how did we get from Point A to Point B?
The way I see it, there are two options. The first is that poor Alan, when he crash-landed in Jumanji land back in 1969, had the terrible misfortune of appearing somewhere very unforgiving and very remote. I’m not talking Jumanji land’s Amazon rainforest or Jumanji land’s Papua New Guinea—lovely places, surely, but maybe not quite a parent’s first choice for where a 12-year-old from the suburbs should be dropped off alone. No, Alan’s fate was much more dangerous: He landed smack dab in Jumanji land’s very own Jurassic Park, the only place in the whole world populated exclusively by mythical doom. Alan didn’t just get sucked out of his time and into an alternate universe—he had the rotten luck to land in the only part of it with man-eating flowers and old-timey British people. He might have spent his whole 26 years in that dreadful corner of Jumanji land, running for his life and pining for his old neighborhood, unaware that there was pound cake waiting for him just over the mountain ridge.
Option no. 2: Robin Williams—er, Alan—somehow kick-started civilization in Greater Jumanji land. Let’s say he lands in the jungle in 1969 and, well, that’s pretty much it: horrible animals, horrible plants, horrible mustachioed colonist. But let’s say there was a little more than what he let slip upon his return in 1995—like, maybe he wasn’t totally alone. Maybe there were some other people living in Jumanji, and, you know, maybe things happen in the jungle. What, was he going to tell middle-school-age Kirsten Dunst that he spent the entirety of his teenage years loving up on the ladies of Greater Jumanji land and making little Alans? Much of Welcome to the Jungle’s plot revolves around a giant emerald—well, maybe ol’ Alan opened a mine. Maybe he brought in the Parrish family pound cake recipe. Maybe he left the jungle and went exploring, and found that the board game’s world, much like his own, had seven continents, and maybe he named a nation on one of them Peru for old time’s sake. Maybe 2016 Jumanji land is really just the culmination of Alan’s kingdom.
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s option no. 3: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is precisely as bankrupt as it seems. Maybe Jungle + Game + Big Movie Star seemed like all the formula that was necessary, and this movie just couldn’t be bothered to look at the goofball whimsy—and, yes, reasonably coherent rules—that made the original special. It just might be that the only thing connecting this Jumanji, or Jumanji, to the cherished one from 1995 is the name itself, deployed this time around to push a nostalgia button and do precisely nothing else.