In 2008, Journey to the Center of the Earth made history as the first live action, all-digital 3D movie. But it was more than just a gimmick-driven kid flick. With a surprisingly decent script and solid action to go with the eye-popping effects, it emerged from that summer relatively intact, bringing in more than twice what it cost to make it.

Almost four years later we get the sequel (of sorts), Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which swaps Brendan Fraser for Dwayne Johnson and brings in Vanessa Hudgens as the comely female, in place of Anita Briem (though this time it’s the kid, not the dad, who’s chasing the girl).

Josh Hutcherson (the only hold-over from the first movie) is Sean Anderson, a belligerent teenager who kicks things off by breaking into a satellite facility; turns out he’s trying to boost the signal from a cryptic message he’s tripped on. Stepdad Hank (Johnson) helps Sean crack the code, and they discover the message is from Sean’s grandfather (Michael Caine) who disappeared years ago searching for Mysterious Island.

Before the week is out, the two are headed to Palau, armed with a map of the island’s location. Tour guide Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his daughter Kailani (Hudgens) chopper Hank and Sean to the middle of the ocean, and after a harrowing chopper crash, they wake up on the island… where their troubles are just beginning.

As it so happens, it’s full of interesting wildlife (butterflies are huge, elephants are tiny), erupting volcanoes, and all kinds of other hazards that the five of them (they catch up with grandpa) have to conquer in order to get back to civilization.

Director Brad Peyton (Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore) not only matches the visuals and effects from Center of the Earth, he actually tops them. The colors are super-bright and vibrant (even with 3D glasses), and he makes copious (and worthwhile) use of the added dimension.

The script by cousins Brian and Mark Gunn (which, truth be told, uses the titular Jules Verne novel more as a reference than as an inspiration) is a lot of fun– particularly the back-and-forth between Johnson and Caine. And Guzman has more than his fair share of funny one-liners, too.

Though Mysterious Island does get occasionally too bogged down with ‘family is everything’ moments, for the most part it’s thoroughly entertaining. And assuming you can just sit back, relax, and accept that it’s a wildly implausible flick aimed at middle-schoolers, it’s quite a trip.

And the all-new Looney Tunes short that precedes it makes things even better.

Note: While there’s no gore, there are quite a few tense bits and gotcha! moments in Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. It’s not for the very young, but 10 and up shouldn’t have any problem.

3.5/5 stars