There’s nothing new under the sun in Hollywood or so it seems. Everything now-a-days is a reboot-of-this or a reimagining-of-that. So it was a nice surprise when viewing Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle to find that although it is considered a sequel to the 1995 film, it is actually a whole different film entirely. The original board game from the first film makes a brief appearance and the premise is similar, but that is about it. If you remember in the first film, two kids play a game of Jumanji and the game comes to life within their home. Here, just the opposite happens.
This story is sort of a mashup of The Breakfast Club, Freaky Friday and the original Jumanji. It features four high school kids who wind up in detention in December. (The month isn’t all that relevant, but it must be close to Christmas vacation because the school and the town is decorated for the holiday, but there is no mention of Christmas in story itself which seems to suggest that it was an afterthought of the studio and a weak attempt of making Welcome to the Jungle a holiday movie.)
Spencer (Alex Wolff) is a smart kid, a nerd and avid videogame player. Fridge (Ser’Dairus Blain) is jock who expects Spencer to do his homework for him so that he can continue playing football. Bethany (Madison Iseman) is the popular girl in school who doesn’t understand that the world does not revolve around her and cannot live without her cell phone. Martha (Morgan Turner) is the too-smart-for-her-own-good girl who doesn’t understand why P.E. is important when there are so many other pressing issues that should be dealt with. Naturally, all four of these kids clash. That is until they find an old video game system in a back room that they are supposed to be cleaning as part of their punishment. In the system is the cartridge for the game, Jumanji. The four agree to play and are literally sucked up into the game.
When the four come to the other side, they find that they look no longer like themselves. Instead, they become four game players. Spencer turns into a muscled explorer (played by Dwayne Johnson), the tall Fridge becomes a short zoologist (Kevin Hart), self-centered and beautiful Bethany becomes an overweight, middle-aged man (Jack Black) much to her horror and Martha becomes an underdressed explorer with great abs who is a kick-boxing expert (Karen Gillan). It soon becomes apparent that they have to play the game as avatars in order to go back to their original high school lives.
Now in their new virtual reality environment the kids are even more different from each other. Kudos to Johnson, Hart and Gillan portraying the kids in their movie star bodies. It is hilarious to see Johnson get spooked by a squirrel and utter phrases to himself like, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.” But the Oscar in this universe must go to Black whose impersonation of Bethany is spot on perfect. Especially when she discovers that she is now equipped with male equipment.
After a couple of incidents that go wrong, the group quickly realizes that they need to work together as a team or they will never leave the jungle alive. Throughout their journey, they learn to rely and appreciate each other’s talents. The self-absorbed become aware of the others and vice versa.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a nice surprise as it is much better than I expected it to be. The story is fun, there are a lot of laughs and the plot isn’t too obvious. I appreciate the film’s focus on friendship too. My only regret is that the movie is PG-13. Along with the rating comes some language and penis jokes. Not too shocking for the over 13 crowd, but this film will appeal to kids much younger as well. I caution parents to watch the film themselves before sharing it with their young ones unless they want their kids to repeat some of the more outrageous lines of the film at inopportune moments. Like in church where the comments will not be appreciated.
(Main Image: Sony Pictures)
I write about pop culture, arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.