Susan Granger’s review of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (Sony/Columbia)
This re-imagining of Robin Williams’ 1995 action comedy delights in its own right, as four archetypal teenagers, serving detention in the school’s storeroom, discover a vintage video game and decide to play, each assuming an avatar.
Brainiac nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) picks Dr. Smolder Bravestone, football star Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) chooses zoologist Moose Finbar, egocentric Bethany (Madison Iseman) opts for ‘curvy’ cartographer Shelly Oberon, leaving angry, uptight Martha (Morgan Turner) as Ruby Roundhouse.
To their amazement, they‘re suddenly ‘grown up,’ inhabiting the bodies of their avatars. Insecure Spencer has become muscular Dwayne Johnson. Fridge turns into acerbic comedian Kevin Hart, whose duty is to tote their weapons in his backpack. Beautiful Bethany is appalled when she discovers she’s been transformed into pudgy Jack Black. And geeky Martha gets her groove on as rockin’ Karen Gillan.
After adjusting to the unexpected body-swap, their quest within the jungle game is to replace a green gemstone that’s been stolen from the eye of a giant jaguar statue. If they succeed, they can break the curse perpetrated by Dr. Bravestone’s smarmy former partner, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale). And Nick Jonas appears briefly as a former pilot who’s been stuck in the game for more than 20 years.
What makes it work is how they defy their stereotypes, epitomized by the flawless casting. Dwayne Johnson oozes self-deprecating charm, while Jack Black captures the many nuances of Bethany’s annoying self-absorption.
Inspired by the work of children’s author Chris Van Allsburg, it’s scripted by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner and adroitly directed by Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan, who worked as a screenwriter with Steven Spielberg on “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” You can spot the familiar connections.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a spirited 7, a fun-filled adventure that should appeal to the whole family.