In the 1995 Robin Williams vehicle Jumanji, a young man finds a strange board game at a construction site. It is 1969. He invites a friend to play and upon rolling the dice, is sucked, physically into the game. Terrified, his friend flees the house. The young man, Alan Parrish, is never seen again.
Twenty six years later, two siblings move into the former Parrish house and resume playing the game after they stumble onto it. With every step that they play, they awaken all sorts of monstrous and wondrous creatures, bringing the game to life in different terrifying, yet thrilling ways.
Because the year is 2017 and there is no original idea anymore when it comes to making films, the Hollywood suits have decided to greenlight a remake, titled, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Where the original worked with Williams as the biggest draw, these days, it takes more than that one superstar to drag bums to seats. And so Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black are recruited – alongside the relatively unknown Karen Gillan, plus a surprise appearance by dreamboat, Nick Jonas- to help sell this product.
Four high school students are shuffled off to detention after they are caught in a range of offences; from plagiarism to talking back rudely at teachers. While sorting out the materials for recycling in the school’s basement store, they find a 90’s style video game version of Jumanji. They plug and after selecting their characters, are instantly vacuumed into the weird, tropical world of Jumanji, a jungle not-quite-paradise that has rampaging rhinoceroses, deadly mosquitoes and a bad tempered villain (Bobby Cannavale) in frantic search of an orb like object.
It goes without saying that the heroes are trapped in the game and the only way out is to keep playing till the end. To further complicate things, the kids have each morphed into grown up versions represented by their avatars. Geeky Spencer is now the musclebound Dr Smolder Bravestone, (Dwayne Johnson) the official leader of the pack. Young jock Fridge is demoted to the physical form of Kevin Hart, the zoologist and trusted sidekick to Dr Bravestone. Narcissistic Bethany is transformed into male cryptographer, Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) while introverted Martha becomes the bombshell dance fighter, Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).
The foursome spend some time struggling with their new bodies- cue in the Kevin Hart punchlines and the body jokes- before they are chased along by bike riding henchmen. As the video game genius, it is up to Spencer to figure out why a lot of the stuff happens and the significance.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t a sequel as much as it is a resurrection of an old property with the high hopes of kick starting a franchise. That is the surest way to profits these days and with the success of projects like this at the box office, more of them are going to be greenlit, leaving little room for original content.
But it is difficult to quarrel with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle as it is from start to finish, a thrilling, hilarious ride through today’s world with both timely and tried and true gag reels. It does not aim to reinvent any wheel. In the film’s messaging, teenagers are still difficult, they still need guidance, true love can save everyone, as can common sense, and bad guys must not go unpunished.
Director Jake Kasdan goes for pretty pictures and exotic backdrops, competent set pieces and easy laughs. The chemistry between the four adult leads is crackling and the entire thing is packaged for holiday audiences, and for a potential sequel where the studio can get it. The making of the film may sound just a bit cynical, but the finished product is a thrilling fun ride. Just do not overthink anything you see on screen.