Though not filled with the nostalgia that one would expect from a sequel, “Jumanji: Welcome to The Jungle” provides a better option: It gives parents the opportunity to laugh at their kids’ inabilities to navigate 90s tech, their distressing lack of team spirit and their widely reported lack of common sense. “Jumanji” will give parents plenty of snickers and is packed with kid-friendly humor.
It is 1996 and some kid in a Metallica t-shirt finds the original Jumanji board game. He tosses it aside, quipping, “Who plays board games?” As he sleeps, green Jumanji-jungle light fills his room and he wakes to find the board has converted itself to a video game cartridge circa Nintendo. Naturally – that is not strange – and he inserts the cartridge into his game console. Fast forward to today and his house is in dilapidated ruin. His father is the town creeper and kids are afraid to walk past his “freak house.”
We then meet our four teen tropes: Anthony “Fridge” Johnson (Ser’Darius Blain) is the handsome football player who needs the nerd’s help to pass a course or he’s going to be kicked off the football team. Spencer Gilpin (Alex Wolff) is the nerd who wants to rekindle his childhood friendship with the football player and receive his validation so he does his homework for him. Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) is the Molly Ringwald of the group who just wants to focus on her academics and not bother with sports and Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is the social medialite who spends every waking moment updating her Face-Twitter-Insta-status for her followers.
Each kid has their own self-serving attributes and each lands in detention for valid reasons. While in detention, they are tasked with prepping magazines for recycling and find the 1990s Jumanji video game and console. Why didn’t the video game convert itself to a phone app, you wonder? How did the video game and console make its way to the school? Gratefully, “Jumanji” moves along swiftly so there is no time for tawdry questions! They pick their characters and the fun begins.
Spencer chooses Dwayne Johnson, I mean, Dr. Smolder Bravestone, who is perfect at everything and has no weaknesses in the game. “The Fridge” chooses Franklin “Moose” Finbar, a zoologist, played by Kevin Hart. Martha chooses Ruby Roundhouse, the Laura Croft/Tombraider-esque character who can dance-fight (Karen Gillan), and Bethany chooses Professor Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon, a paleontologist and archaeologist, played by Jack Black.
The beauty of “Jumanji” is that it doesn’t have to overexplain the satirical nature of each of the characters. Anyone who plays (or played) video games knows that you pick the badass characters. In “Jumanji”, the Generation Z youngins are out of their element in choosing characters from a 90s video game that were endowed with certain skills, knowledge and gifts – not necessarily badass attributes. Spencer – the nerd – has no idea how to use his full physique or the power of … the smolder. The Fridge is frustrated by his lack of speed, agility, and the downfall of being killed by cake. Martha fails to understand how her revealing leather outfit is practical in the jungle, and Bethany is horrified and fascinated by her newfound male anatomy.
The character development is superb and provides the fun aspect of the storyline. Dwayne Johnson easily embodies the sweet, nervous innocence of Spencer/Alex. It is a fun treat for fans to watch “The Rock” pretend to be unfamiliar with his own, delectable skin. He is mystified by his muscles, fascinated by his strength and afraid of squirrels. Kevin Hart fans will not be surprised by his portrayal of Fridge’s/Ser’Darius’ determination to prove that he can save the day and his refusal to be sidelined by the other characters. Karen Gillan pokes fun at the contemporary views of a character such as Ruby Roundhouse. Her perfect fish-out-of-water portrayal is reminiscent of the great 80’s and 90’s romantic comediennes. However, it is Jack Black’s portrayal of Bethany/Madison that will win over audiences. Black’s timing, expressions, mannerisms and confidence as a teen girl are accurate and comical. Parents and friends to the Bethanys of the world will shed a few tears while laughing at Black’s mockery of their vapid nature.
Unlike the original film in which the kids tried to avoid getting sucked into the game, this reboot immediately tosses the kids into the land of “Jumanji.” There they must replace the jewel of Jumanji into a towering jaguar statue so that peace can fill the land. The setting is retro “Indiana Jones” with an outdoor bazaar, a pit of snakes, vines and marauding motorcycle bandits. The nostalgia comes from the memories of a time when video games were played with more than one player simultaneously, and you were in the same room playing cooperatively. The teen-characters-in-adult-bodies must learn to trust the strength of the others – and themselves – to replace the jewel and escape the game.
The movie is a fun escape from the seriousness of the adult world and parents may go dust off their old consoles that are buried deep in attics and basements.
Mario Brothers, anyone?
For Fans of the Original “Jumanji”: 3 out of 4 Miners
Parents who want to have fun, too: 3 out of 4 Miners