By Jackson Masiel,
If you’re looking for some light-hearted young-adult comedy with a little jungle action-adventure on the side, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” will surely satisfy your needs this holiday season.
While the re-hashed version of the 1995 original lacks the depth of its ancestor, it surely succeeds in the category of corny humor.
The story follows four high-school kids–Spencer the nerd (Alex Wolff), Fridge the jock (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany the classic high school narcissist (Madison Iseman) and Martha the shy, angst teen (Morgan Turner)–who are shocked to find themselves trapped inside the world of a video game they find in detention. Once inside the world, the team gains a fifth member who has been stuck in the game for twenty years: Alex Vreeke (Nick Jonas).
Where the comedy surpasses that of the original movie is at the realization that the characters are not only flung into a different world, but also into the bodies of the video game characters themselves.
Spencer turns into the monstrously athletic and courageous Dr. Smolder Bravestone, played by none other than Dwayne Johnson.
Fridge loses about half of his size to become the outrageously funny zoologist Mouse Finbar (Kevin Hart).
Martha becomes a tall, athletic, combat-adept woman named Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
And finally, Bethany transforms into a short and stout man named Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black).
In order to make it out alive, the out-of-body teens must complete the game without losing the three lives allotted to them.
The body-switch is the humor-driving force throughout the movie, specifically the contrast between the high-school personalities and their new physical traits. Sheldon Oberon’s (Bethany’s) interaction with other characters and even unfamiliar body parts (which serves to make the movie not quite as family-friendly as its 1995 counterpart) is made hilarious by Jack Black’s approach at femininity. For Ruby Roundhouse, Martha’s personality of awkwardness clashes funnily with the athletic fighter. Add onto that Kevin Hart’s panicked screams, and you’ve got yourself a veritable piece of expert comedy.
Throughout their journey, the characters face the threats of venomous snakes, humongous hippos, a psychotic jungle overlord and even indigestible cake.
The main problem with the film is its lack of urgency and fear for the characters. With the multiple lives each player enjoys, the downright pathetic fighting ability of the villains and the lack of plot complexities, you’ll likely never find yourself worrying that the characters won’t make it home alive. In this regard the movie falls short of its predecessor. The main semblance of urgency is delivered in the form of loud drums booming across the jungle during pivotal situations. Eventually, the gimmicky drums start to feel like a director’s crutch. If you’re looking for an adventure that keeps you glued to your seat in intrigue, this unfortunately is not for you.
However, the lack of panic during the adventure is easily forgotten towards the finish line, when an extra layer of redeeming value shows itself. Embodying the courageous Doctor Bravestone allows Spencer the previously shy nerd to realize his inner potential for courage; the same follows for Martha’s Ruby Roundhouse. The popular snob Bethany stuck in the rotund body of Jack Black not only offers laughs, but a chance for Bethany to see the problems with her own self-obsession. The improved-personality dynamic not only provides entertainment, but also adds to the emotional satisfaction of lifting a jungle curse.