Sunday, April 15, 2018

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: A Great Laugh for the Whole Family

Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
Version: Library borrow

I haven't enjoyed a movie like Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in a long time -- it was full of laughs! Grab-your-tummy laughs. Laugh-out-loud laughs. Giggle in your guts laughs.

Four misfit teens end up in detention at school. Rather than sitting at desks doing boring homework for detention, they're assigned to pull staples from old magazines as punishment, and unsupervised by the school counselor, they look for other diversions when they become bored to tears. Spencer (initially played by Alex Wolff) finds a dusty old video console with a game cartridge, which he hooks up to a dilapidated old analog TV. One by one Spencer and the other characters come over and pick out game characters to play. Spencer is a quiet nerd. Fridge (initially played by Ser'Darious Blain) is a tall, over confident jock. Bethany (initially played by Madison Iseman) is a self-absorbed blonde bomb. Martha (initially played by Morgan Turner) is a reclusive girl who lacks self confidence. As they pick out different macho sounding game characters and start the game, they are sucked into the console and are brought into the jungle land of Jumanji.

As Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, an Martha arrive, they become the characters they have chosen -- and totally unlike themselves physically. Spencer is this tall, handsome, muscular heroic figure (played by macho man Dwayne Johnson). Fridge is a short, scrawny Black dude (played by fearful comedian Kevin Hart). Bethany the young and beautiful becomes this squat, fat, bearded older dude (played by Jack Black). And Martha the insecure and unsocial becomes the fearless and badass (played by Karen Gilann). Into the story, they are joined by Nick Jonas as Alex, who had been an earlier player lost in the game and unable to escape on his own but learns to team up with the others to battle the game.

As with the original movie Jumanji, the idea is that once you begin playing you can't quit until you finish the game, and you face many ultimate dangers. In this case, the players are set on an island jungle where they must find their way across the land to locate a stolen jewel and return it to its rightful place. Working against them are a plethora of jungle animals and the bad guy who originally removed the jewel from its place of honor. As with many video games, the players are given clues and goals to accomplish before they can reach each step of the game. And each character they play has abilities and weaknesses, which they can use to help them or which provides conflict in reaching their goals. And each character has three lives to spend trying to reach their goals. If they are killed, they come back.

What's so amazingly fun about this movie is watching Johnson, Hart, and Black play reverse roles from their stereotypes. Johnson the testosterone-driven hero becomes a mild and meek guy unsure of the way to proceed. Hart whose character originally is this self-confident jock becomes this insecure little man. Black plays off femininity and girlish charm while oozing fat-old-guy ugliness. And they're hilarious. There's a scene in which Hart and Black have to take a leak and Black, originally a girl, discovers her penis for the first time, and it's handled with sensitivity but it's so funny. Just seeing Jack Black play a light-headed, self-absorbed beauty queen is uproariously funny. And when Nick Jonas's character Alex arrives, Jack Black's character Bethany becomes so giddy. Again, so funny! Karen Gilann's character Martha becomes a badass martial artist, often a scream as she tackles bad buys on motorcycles or in a fight in the jungle.

The situations the writers put these characters and actors into are imaginative and simply fun to watch. And as the story progresses, you watch them grow as persons, so this isn't just a movie about jokes, there's a message there, too.

When the movie was over, we discussed which version of Jumanji we liked best. My daughter and I thought we liked Welcome to the Jungle best. My wife thought she still liked the original best, despite having spent a good portion of Welcome to the Jungle giggling with the two of us. In my humble opinion, you get the adventure, the conflict, the danger, and the great characters of the original in this second film, but you get the added benefit of tons of laughter. And darn it, as much as I loved the late Robin Williams in the original, there was something really original about the casting of Johnson, Hart, and Black in Welcome to the Jungle.

If you want a movie where you can relax over a good laugh -- no, a great laugh -- definitely see Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. You won't regret it. Giggles for the whole family.

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