By Laurie Coker
Picking up where the original 1995 version starring Robin Williams left off, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle highlights a wonderfully comedic cast. Witty dialogue and a fast-paced storyline from a host of talented writers keep the film from bogging down during its nearly two-hour runtime. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillian star is this reboot that begins in 1996 and leaps into the 21st century and with director Jake Kasdan at the helm, the movie and its outstanding visuals thoroughly engage.
In the film’s first few minutes, a father finds the game, gives it to his son, Alex (Nick Jonas) and poof the boy is gone – pulled into an Atari-style version of the game that magically appears in the box. Jump forward twenty years and four high schoolers serving detention find the old game station and are pulled into the jungle environment of Jumanji. Bethany (Madison Iseman), a self-absorbed, pretty girl, Spencer (Alex Wolf), a neurotic nerd, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), a star football player and Martha (Morgan Turner), a brainiac with a huge dislike of physical education, arrive in the game as, Professor Shelly Oberon (Black), Dr. Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), Moose Finbar (Hart), and Ruby Roundhouse (Gillian). Some of the film’s funniest bits come when the teens discover their avatar bodies. Bethany, in spot-on Jack Black comedic form, states, “NO! I’m an overweight middle-aged man. Wait a second. Where’s my phone?” staying true to his female counterpart’s shallow personality and propensity for selfies and video-chatting.
The best part of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, comes by way of the differing personalities of the main characters, but it is Black who truly steals the show. His performance as a teen girl trapped in a chubby, old man’s body is priceless. He flits and struts and whines with ease. That said, however, Johnson, Hart, and Gillian are hilarious too. Having gone from scrawny nerd to Dr. Smoulder, Johnson gets the opportunity to show off his massive body, delightful facial expressions, and natural comic timing. He and Hart work well together. Hart’s avatar is diminutive while Fridge as a teen suits his nickname. When the group discovers their individual superpowers (or lack thereof), Gillian gets to shine as a ninja-like, dance fighter. The addition of Jonas and Bobby Cannavale (villain Van Pelt) add a tinge of seriousness to the story when all else is laugh out loud silly. Jefferson ‘Seaplane’ McDonough (Jonas) is the link that allows the team to advance in the game and a character that surprises.
In Welcome to the Jungle, we get to see inside the game where Williams’ character Alan Paris grew up and Kasdan knows how to work his cast and to captivate the audience with stunning visuals and high-speed action sequences in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. The film’s soundtrack adds to the movie’s overall energy. Rated PG-13, Jumanji does have a few tasteless gags and remarks, but the kids, with parental guidance, will enjoy the ride. Some aspects might prove a tad scary for little ones, but overall the film entertains across generations. I am placing a B+/A- in my grade book. No, it is not perfect, but it affords an excellent holiday hustle and bustle distraction.