If you enjoyed Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, you’ll likely enjoy Jumanji: The Next Level. It’s not quite what its subtitle would imply, instead it’s mostly more of the same, but that’s what a lot of us are looking for during the holiday season. The sequel delivers more action and humor from the same premise with a few tweaks of the formula. It’s fine popcorn entertainment.
Because we didn’t do a list of movies to watch after Welcome to the Jungle, this week’s selections may apply to the franchise in general, though I avoided the obvious, like TRON (or even that movie’s own follow-up), Ready Player One, and the Indiana Jones adventures. These picks are not necessarily influences for the new movie but they did all come to mind while watching The Next Level.
Grandma Gamer (2016)
The big joke in Jumanji: The Next Level is having Danny DeVito and Danny Glover playing old men who wind up inside the Jumanji video game. Because old people playing video games is silly, right? Well, it turns out that more and more aging citizens of the world, including those in America and Japan, are becoming gamers. Studies are even showing that it’s good for people in advanced years. And since this fact is so fascinating, I’d bet there’s someone out there making a feature documentary on the phenomenon.
Until then, here’s a short documentary about one elderly woman who plays video games. A very short documentary. In fact, Grandma Gamer is part of the series 60 Second Docs, so it’s only a minute long. There’s nothing here about the rising numbers of old folks gaming. We just meet the titular grandma gamer, (then) 80-year-old Shirley Curry. She is a fan and avid player of Skyrim and advocates for gaming as a way for older people to keep their brains active. If only the Jumanji game was real, they could also feel like they’re physically active as well.
The Gamers: Dorkness Rising (2008)
The original Jumanji children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg is about a board game that brings elements from the game alive, making it more interactive and impactful. For some RPG gamers, that’s not a strange premise. While mainly in their imaginations, role-playing games can be a very big part of their players’ lives. The characters in the new Jumanji movies, which involve a kind of magical RPG video game that literally pulls people into the action, also consider their experiences as players to be very transformative.
The Gamers and its sequels are low-budget movies following RPG players as they play a Dungeons & Dragons type game, with the quest narrative and action of their campaign depicted with the same actors (usually) as their avatars. They’re parodies but lovingly mocking so they’re very popular with RPG fans. The not-so-direct second installment, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, ups the production value a bit and is somewhat more relevant to the new Jumanji installment in that it involves a game some characters have played before as they introduce newcomers to the campaign, and there’s more play with avatar identity.
Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005)
In my list of movies to watch before the releases of 2019, I assigned Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as the sole necessity for Jumanji: The Next Level. While I did suggest the 1995 Jumanji movie, I wasn’t really that familiar with its direct connection to the 2017 reboot let alone its very significant link to the ending of the latest sequel (spoiler: a certain character returns). So those are both best seen before seeing Jumanji: The Next Level. Then there’s this other movie that’s up for debate whether or not it’s actually part of the franchise.
Zathura: A Space Adventure is based on the Chris Van Allsburg picture book of the same name, which is a direct sequel to the Jumanji picture book but follows different characters and a different game, this one involving outer space. Sony capitalized on its similarities to the hit 1995 movie by implying through the marketing that it was connected. But the movie itself has no ties, and director Jon Favreau has insisted it’s a separate entity. However, Jack Black, star of the recent Jumanji installments, has been going around classifying The Next Level as the fourth in the series by including Zathura. He also thinks the next sequel should loop it in officially by having his character and the other video game avatars head to space. Don’t tell the ostriches that are loose in Brantford awaiting their continued story.
Now that James Gunn is a superhero movie icon and millennials who grew up with this movie are older, the live-action Scooby-Doo (and its sequel, Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed) are finally considered cool. I felt like an oddball 17 years ago when the first one came out and no other adults seemed to be appreciating its sense of humor. Based on the classic animated franchise about a teenaged gang of mystery solvers and their titular talking dog companion, the Gunn-penned adaptation is a perfectly cast, candy-colored concoction of dumb kiddie entertainment mixed with a touch of twisted Troma flavor.
The first Scooby-Doo takes the estranged members of Mystery, Inc. and throws them on a new case at an island resort. The group winds up in the jungle where they wind up swapping bodies thanks to some demonic possession nonsense (the convoluted plot isn’t important). It’s a bit similar to the identity mix-ups in the new Jumanji, and of course, both have that annoying obligatory bit where a man is in a woman’s body and gets all excited about being able to touch him/herself. Other than that, it’s a fun live-action cartoon.
The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
For the third week in a row, I’ve got Danny DeVito on the brain (apologies to fellow newcomer Danny Glover and his relevant oldies, Silverado and Lethal Weapon). Sure, it helps that DeVito is actually in Jumanji: The Next Level. Unlike my picks of his to watch after The Irishman and Marriage Story, though, this one is not directed by everyone’s favorite short, bald actor. Instead, it’s an adventure sequel featuring DeVito at the peak of his movie stardom (before he became a TV icon again thanks to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). The Jewel of the Nile is definitely a lesser follow-up to Romancing the Stone, but it’s also still hard to resist given the chemistry between DeVito and Michael Douglas. Plus a very catchy Billy Ocean tune.
The rascally Ralph, as portrayed by DeVito, is a perfect descendant of such classic pulpy character actors as Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet — really he’s those two guys rolled into one sketchy antihero who’d sell out Douglas’ Jack Colton and his leading lady, Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner). In The Jewel of the Nile, like Jumanji: The Next Level, the original’s primary jungle setting is swapped for the desert. But unlike the MacGuffin of the new Jumanji movie, the “jewel” of The Jewel of the Nile is not a gemlike artifact. It’s a person, much to Ralph’s disappointment.
Spies Like Us (1985)
Released theatrically just five days before The Jewel of the Nile, this adventure comedy also follows a bunch of dummies dropped into the desert without a clue what they’re doing. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd star as government employees viewed as fuck ups who are recruited to serve as top-level spies. Of course, they’re just decoys to distract the enemy from making the true secret agents. The mission winds up taking them into the Soviet Union from the south in order to take control of a mobile ballistic missile launcher pointed at the United States. Like The Jewel of the Nile, the movie received poor reviews yet still made the domestic box office top 10 that year. It’s also notable for having a catchy theme song, this one by Paul McCartney.
Like Jumanji: The Next Level, Spies Like Us is one of those comedies in which the heroes go along with mistaken identity for the sake of their survival only to find out the real expected people they’re claiming to be have been described differently and/or have to perform some task that the fakers are not fit to handle. Here it’s masquerading as surgeons. In Jumanji: The Next Level it’s played sort of randomly and unnecessarily, though it is a movie about imposter syndrome so it’s fine. Spies Like Us is a more traditional mistaken identity caper that combines something like North by Northwest with the Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road to… movies. Unfortunately, critics in the ’80s didn’t seem to be down with homages to that franchise, but unlike Ishtar, this movie hasn’t found greater glory after all these decades.
The Impossible Bird (1980)
Ostriches are fascinating creatures and have been depicted with great curiosity since the dawn of cinema. Eadweard Muybridge first documented the flightless bird in motion in his 1887 photographic study Ostrich Walking. Since then, they’ve appeared amusingly in such fiction classics as the live-action Disney adventure Swiss Family Robinson and the animated Disney musical Fantasia, as well as more recent Disney movies as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. And they’ve been further studied and presented more authentically in documentaries, including Disneynature’s African Cats. Thanks to the funny ostriches in Jumanji: The Next Level, kids are going to want to be seeking some of these previous showcases.
Instead of recommending any of the many Disney items, I’m going with something a little more obscurely old school. Sir David Attenborough has been a nature doc narrating legend for more than 50 years, though today he’s mainly associated with such specific programs as Life, The Blue Planet, Planet Earth, and Our Planet. Some of those do feature scenes of ostriches in the wild. Earlier, he narrated every episode of the BBC series Wildlife on One, which ran from 1977 to 2005. The Impossible Bird is a short documentary film presented as an episode of this series in January 1980. And yes, among other facts about the creatures, they’re shown to be very fast indeed. No pecking people to death, though.
Vice Versa (1948)
The last and the latest Jumanji movies function similarly to body-swap comedies. Mostly they’re just about people’s souls inhabiting avatar bodies, and there are plenty of jokes about these bodies being very different from the real bodies of the characters, whether the avatar is in better shape, worse shape, a different race or different gender. And in the case of one character in Jumanji: The Next Level, a different species. The latest also goes further with the body-swap gags by having characters in different avatar forms than they were in the previous movie, in a way swapped with another’s, and then thanks to some magical water, there’s avatar exchanging a la body-swapping within the story as well. I already noted above how that ties to a scene in Scooby-Doo in which, as is typical, men wind up in women’s bodies and immediately feel themselves up.
The gender swap thing doesn’t happen in the earliest body-swap movies, probably because that’d be taboo during that era. Despite a lot of people’s misconceptions that the genre is mostly from the 1980s but seemed to begin the decade prior with the original adaptation of Freaky Friday, body-swap stories go back to at least the 19th century with the novel Vice Versa. And that book’s premise was brought to the big screen a number of times before the best-known 1988 version. The first was in 1916, but while I can’t find any method of seeing that silent short if it has even survived, I’m recommending the 1948 incarnation scripted and directed by Peter Ustinov. It’s the father/son swap variety but there’s an interesting difference in this one from most body-swap comedies. Here, the father first wishes to be young, after which there are two versions of the boy, one of them with the father’s mind. Only after a few minutes does the son decide to then wish to be older, and he becomes the father. It’s not an immediate simultaneous transference.
The Flying Deuces (1939)
Before Hope and Crosby went to French-controlled Saharan Africa in Road to Morocco, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy took on the region in The Flying Deuces. Since this feature, which is in the public domain, is sort of a remake of their earlier short Beau Hunks, I believe the setting here is in Algeria. The legendary comedy duo plays their onscreen alter egos as they join the French Foreign Legion, serving in some sort of desert location. Hijinx and romantic entanglement ensue, they wind up having to escape incarceration, and they crash a plane. Spoiler: only one of them survives. The other, as desired, is reincarnated as a horse.
Yep, just like Danny Glover’s character, Milo, in Jumanji: The Next Level, sort of. He’s not exactly reincarnated, but he does wind up with his soul inside a horse avatar within the game — a winged horse, to be specific — and he decides to stay there in that equine body. Does Milo, who reveals he’s dying, get to live forever as the horse within the game, so long as he doesn’t lose his three lives? The rules aren’t clear with that, but that seems to be the implication. The Flying Deuces also has direct connection to Jumanji star Karen Gillan. In an episode of Doctor Who, her character and hubby are kind of watching the film on TV but miss the Doctor dancing on screen with Laurel and Hardy.