Reviewed by Freda Cooper
The word Jumanji immediately conjures up misty eyed memories of the 1995 family comedy starring Robin Williams and a young Kirsten Dunst. With a magical board game at its heart, it boasted some special effects that weren’t just impressive for their day, they also stand up surprisingly well now. 22 years later, we have an updated version for today’s generation, in theory a standalone, but who knows?
Who plays a board game? Apparently nobody, so Jumanji is now a video game, with a cassette inside the familiar box, and it’s discovered by four teenagers who are in detention doing a big clear out as part of their punishment. There’s nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), serious Martha (Morgan Turner), gigantic Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and phone obsessed Bethany (Madison Iseman) and, when they stumble across the game, they decide to give it a try. They choose their avatars, press the button and next thing they know they’re in the jungle, living the game.
And, at the risk of a seasonal pun, it’s a case of jungle all the way. There’s even echoes of I’m A Celebrity …… with the foursome falling from the sky in to the lush vegetation and villain in chief, Bobby Cannavale, looking like a walking Bush Tucker Trial with snakes up his sleeves and scorpions crawling in and out of his ears. It’s all a jolly jape, with the teenagers struggling with their avatars being their total opposites. Spencer turns into muscle bound Dr Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Fridge becomes the more diminutive Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is now the kick-ass Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and Bethany, to her horror, is Dr Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black). Without a phone.
The emphasis, inevitably, is on comedy and action, with Johnson and Hart reprising their Central Intelligence double act. While previously it was Johnson who scored the comedy points, this time it’s Hart who is genuinely funny, if a touch OTT. The humour raises more than enough laughs, but that’s down to the actors, not the script. The cast give their all and mostly succeed, although you have to feel sorry for Jack Black: there’s little he can do with his role than be effeminate, which doesn’t always sit comfortably. The moments when he gets used to “his” new physical attributes are, however, more giggleworthy.
But the action side of things is a bigger problem, specifically the CGI, which sticks out like the proverbial sore digit and just looks cheap. Given that the original was ahead of its time, today’s audiences would expect something even better, but what they get falls far short and that makes it one big let down.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle doesn’t have any pretentions to be anything other than a fun adventure. But it could have been so much more. Jumanji will always be associated with Robin Williams and here there’s none of the imagination or creativity that goes hand in hand with his name. Go along, be entertained and laugh, but don’t think too hard. And try not to think about the original either, if you’ve seen it. Because that way disappointment lies.
Director: Jake Kasdan
Writer: Chris McKenna, Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Erik Sommers, Chris Van Allsburg (book)
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan and Bobby Cannavale.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle is out on the 20th of December.