How ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ Helped Me Bond With My Son
The following was produced in partnership with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, available now on Digital and on 4K Ultra HD, DVD and Blu-ray March 20. The original Jumanji is now available on Blu-ray and Digital.
“Whoa, 1996,” my son says when we begin watching Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and the film opens with a flashback set 22 years ago. “That’s a long time ago.”
It doesn’t feel that long ago to me. In 1996, I was a senior in high school, and the new Jumanji’s 1990s references – pixelated video games, goofy skater slang, liberal usage of the Reality Bites anthem “Baby, I Love Your Way” – are still as compelling and understandable to me as they were when I was rocking plaid Abercrombie & Fitch shirts and swigging Surge soda.
But maybe that’s the point. As my 10-year-old son moves out of the simple toys and pastimes of childhood and into the complicated rules and rites of adolescence, we’re surely going to be moving even further apart with regards to the sort of stuff we relate to. Earlier today, he’d received a package in the mail from my sister, his aunt, filled with the Lego sets we used to play with growing up. “There aren’t any cool pieces,” he declared, scrounging through the boxes of basic, brightly colored blocks, looking for the miniature lightsabers and Harry Potter Minifigures he’s used to. And before that, he’d spent the morning downloading new audiobooks onto his iPod. I know soon enough he’ll trade in that device for a smartphone, along the way adopting a lexicon of emojis and acronyms that to me will look like gibberish.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle becomes more relatable to my son when it jumps to the present-day world of hyper-realistic PS4 games and selfie sticks. It’s a world that to me looks increasingly foreign. How are we ever going to be able to like the same things? How are we going to find value in similar activities? How are we even going to be able to agree on what sorts of movies to watch together?
But then the movie’s story kicks into high gear. I realize I recognize the main characters in the story; it’s the same ragtag group of nerds and jocks and overachievers and cool kids that populated the movies of my youth, from Breakfast Club to Goonies to, yes, the original Jumanji. The premise remains as fantastically preposterous as ever – four kids in detention get sucked into a bizarre wilderness via a magical video game – but it’s the same brand of ridiculousness that made cult classics like Tron and The Last Starfighter so much fun. In other words, I dig movies like this – and more importantly, so can my son.
He laughs hilariously when Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson carries Kevin Hart on his back through the jungle, bad guys on their tails and Hart screaming like a baby. And by the time Karen Gillan takes out a bunch of evil henchmen by “dance fighting” to the tune of, ahem, “Baby, I Love Your Way,” my son declares, “I like this movie.”
That’s when I realize something: While the trappings might change with the times, fun is fun, no matter how old you are. After all, adventures both on the screen and in real life are all about leaving the environs you’re familiar with and venturing somewhere exotic and challenging and exciting. That’s the sort of concept my son and I will always be able to understand together, no matter if one of us uses selfie sticks and the other listens to Dave Matthews when no one else is around.
I remember when my dad first showed me one of his favorite films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. While it was by then a quarter-century old, I loved every second of it. I didn’t care that the film was grainy and the soundtrack was filled with hokey songs. Everything about it, from the swashbuckling robberies to the iconic final shootout, was downright cool. When I got my first DVD player, cutting edge at the time, the film became a staple of my collection, alongside Braveheart and Dazed and Confused.
Plus, I should probably cut my kid some slack. Maybe he’s not as jaded by the modern world as I sometimes worry he is. After all, it didn’t take long for him to dig into those boring old Lego bricks he got in the mail, spending hours building imposing medieval barricades. And despite all the audiobooks he has on his iPod, he never misses a chance for me to read him a few chapters from an old-fashioned book every night. (We’re nearly through Heidi.)
So my son enjoys Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. But does he grasp its underlying themes of teamwork, self-confidence, and self-sacrifice, the sort of age-old ideas that populate any adventure flick worth its salt?
When the credits roll, I ask him if he learned anything.
Yeah, he replies. “You only have one life, so use it well.”
And, he adds with a wry smile, “Don’t play with weird video games you find in detention.”