Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle

JUMANJI WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE. Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, and Rhys Darby. Also starring in the game, Nick Jonas, and Bobby Cannavale. Directed by Jake Kasdan. Rated PG (Mild fantasy violence, sexual references and coarse language). 111 min.

This American action adventure movie is a sequel to the 1995 film, “Jumangi” and is dedicated to the memory of Robin Williams who starred in the original film, and who died in 2014. The word “Jumangi” owes allegiance to the children’s book of the same name written in 1981 by author, Chris Van Allsburg.

Twenty tears following the board game that was the focus of the 1995 Jamangi movie, this film shows us four teenagers - Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, and Martha - being put on detention at their high school for behaving badly. Their punishment is to clean out a basement at the school where they find a video console which has a vintage version of Jumangi. The teenagers start to play the video, and are immediately drawn into the game’s setting. They literally become incorporated into the video events, and after they press the “play” button, they are pulled bodily into a jungle world.

Absorbed within the game, Spencer, Fridge, Bethany, and Martha, become Avatars in the forms  that they have chosen, and they learn quickly that anyone who plays “Jumangi” cannot escape unless the game is completed.

The Avatar-forms they choose are very different. Spencer becomes a brawny adventurer (Dwayne Johnson); Fridge becomes a diminutive, cake-loving adventurer (Kevin Hart); Bethany becomes a middle-aged, male Professor (Jack Black); and Martha becomes a kick-boxing warrior (Karen Gillan). A non-playable character, Nigel (Rhys Darby) is a mystery adventurer within the game, who helps the teenagers survive in their Avatar form. He instructs them on what they must do to return from whence they came. As victims of Jumangi, the Avatars have to solve the game’s riddles, and in doing so they change the way they think about themselves. If they don’t succeed, they will be stuck inside Jumangi forever.

Different actors play the same characters in the “game” and “real”world. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan are Avatars in the “game” world. Alex Wolff is Spencer, Madison Iseman is Bethany, Ser’Darius Blaine is Fridge, and Morgan Turner is Martha in the “real” world.

The original Jumangi film developed a dedicated following, and this film’s plot line continues the central idea of the 1995 movie, but the game has changed - echoing the film’s marketing byline: “the game has evolved”. The notion of being trapped in a video game is an idea that many authors and film-makers have imagined and written about. This action-comedy elaborates the same theme in a sophisticated way. It is a clever adventure movie, where the action parallels  what happens in a typical adventure-video game, but the action is photographed as if it is real.

There are a multitude of movies showing in Christmas season, 2018, that are vying for attention by young people for one reason or another. This one is unashamedly adventurous, and geared intentionally to supplying teenage thrills through adventure-action.

The film shows minor character development, good role acting, and some philosophical musings to ponder further. However, it is essentially geared for the teenage market and will appeal best to those who know what “Jumangi” means. Its teasing message is that  something unfortunate might happen if you play a video game like “Jumangi”, and press the wrong button.

The main intent of this movie is to take viewers in an escapist way from one comic adventure to another, through a range of escapades that spans fantasy-video domains. Adventures are complicated by the technology Avatars routinely bring to contemporary plot-lines, and this Jumangi movie uses the Avatar format to involve viewers entertainingly in a novel way.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Sony Pictures

Released December 26th., 2017

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