It is not like anyone was asking for a new Jumanji movie, but we got one anyway just in time for Christmas.
Sorry to bah humbug all over this thing, but the 1995 attempt to bring Chris van Allsburg’s 1981 children’s book to the screen wasn’t exactly all that to begin with, despite attempts by star Robin Williams and a menagerie of animals to bring it to life. In this reinvention, the board game of the original is now an early-model video game from the 1990s, which is explained early in the film before it switches to present day. We meet a group of students (Alex Wolff, Ser’Darius Blain, Madison Iseman, Moran Turner) who are all thrown into detention together, but instead of studying they somehow discover this “ancient” ’90s-era video game from before they were born and begin to play, each taking on a different character in it.
Magically they are transported into another realm and suddenly land one by one in a jungle, but also in adult bodies quite unlike who they really are. Thus nerdy Spencer becomes Smolder (Dwayne Johnson), the ringleader of a dangerous expedition. Fridge, the football jock, is now stuck in the body of a mild-mannered zoologist named Moose Finbar (played with his usual gusto by Kevin Hart). The shy and inward Martha becomes the kickass hottie Ruby (Karen Gillan), and hottie and oh-so-conceited Bethany makes the biggest change of all by turning up as the paunchy and balding Professor Shelley Oberon (Jack Black). That is the creepiest part as she starts to dig the new male parts she has inherited but uses bolder language than that in this PG-13 movie that seems desperate also to attract older teens by seeming hip and throwing in some edgier dialogue than the PG-rated original ever could.
What plot there is has the team on the search for the so-called Jewel of the Jungle, which they must retrieve and return to its eye socket in the giant statue before the obligatory villain (Bobby Cannavale) finds it first. He has devious methods to stop them in their tracks – which is where the animals come in. As I say in my video review above, from man-eating rhinos to snakes and all kinds of CGI critters, they are the most amusing part of a film that is credited to numerous writers who struggle to come up with material that is neither that funny nor that exciting. It looks like these game actors are just lost in the jungle themselves, frenetically trying to conjure up some laughs. They all try too hard, but the most non-discerning of audiences, the younger the better, probably won’t mind a bit as director Jake Kasdan has ramped this all up to a fevered pace that doesn’t allow for much more than non-stop gags and largely un-amusing setups.
All of the actors acquit themselves well considering the circumstances, but Hart and Black particularly feel like they have been put on a leash. This is where Robin Williams could overcome the same drawbacks by resorting to his scattershot humor and saving the day.
This Jumanji is fine as a pass-the-time family outing, but don’t expect too much. It feels like what you might get if you merged The Breakfast Club with Freaky Friday and The Jungle Book. It might better be titled Welcome to the Jumble. Producers are Matt Tolmach, Ted Field, William Teitler and Mike Weber. Sony Pictures releases it on December 20.
Do you plan to see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Let us know what you think.