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Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Freaky Friday meets Indiana Jones in this surprisingly funny reimagining of a Robin Williams classic.
By Tom Glasson
December 21, 2017
By Tom Glasson
December 21, 2017

"Don't you dare ruin my childhood!"

Such is the inevitable complaint from nostalgic movie fans whenever a beloved film from yesteryear is tapped by studios for a remake. Setting aside what kind of fragile childhood you must have had for a movie to be capable of destroying it, the sentiment is at least a sincere one: please be respectful. Like a thoughtless cover song robbing an original of all its heart and meaning (here's looking at you, Madonna's 'American Pie'), the arbitrary remaking, rebooting and reimagining of successful pop-culture properties threatens to expend a great deal of fan goodwill. Paul Feig's Ghostbusters was the last film to attract this level of ire, though that was as much to do with sexism as anything else (and proved doubly misguided since the female cast ended up being the best thing about it).

Then came the Jumanji announcement and, again, childhoods were imperilled the world over. The beloved Robin Williams vehicle from 1995 (itself an adaptation from a book) was a critical meh at the time, but made bucketloads of cash. More importantly, however, its status as a cult classic grew with each passing day – so much so that the remake's star, Dwayne Johnson, recognised the risk early on and did his best to allay people's fears. "We wanted to do something that was respectful of the work of Robin Williams as well as creating something fresh," he insisted. So was he true to his word? Well, yes and no. 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle certainly isn't fresh, in that it's largely just an appropriation of Tron coupled up with body-swap stories like Freaky Friday and 3rd Rock from the Sun. Nor does it really address the legacy of Robin Williams, since his character scarcely rates a mention, and the story itself in no way resembles the original. But is it a good film? Absolutely.

Updating itself, quite literally, for more modern times, the film sees the original Jumanji board game transform into a mid-90s video game cartridge and promptly suck a hapless teenager into its hidden universe. Fast-forward 20 years and, in a clear nod to The Breakfast Club, the game is discovered in a storeroom by four motley teens during high-school detention. Sure enough they too – the nerd, the jock, the princess and the loner girl – find themselves pulled into Jumanji's perilous jungle. But there's a twist: they're now in the bodies of the game character they chose. So it is that the nerd becomes the muscle-bound Dr Smolder Bravestone (Johnson), the jock becomes pint-sized zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), the loner becomes uber-babe and biologist Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) and – most amusingly – the princess becomes the portly, middle-aged cartographer Shelly Oberon (Jack Black).

From there the film becomes a non-stop action-adventure romp, one in which its stars engage in a retro video game quest to return a glowing green jewel to its rightful home. The laughs are frequent, coming mostly from the body-swap setup, but also from the tongue-in-cheek references to 90s point and click games – like having non-playable characters only speak a limited number of lines that repeat themselves if you fail to progress in time. Each of the main cast members plays impressively against type, with Black in particular soaring in his part as the vacuous it-girl. Together they make an entirely likeable crew, lending the narrative a nice emotional undercurrent even as a "be true to yourself" message is jammed clumsily down our throats. Funny, breezy and full of memorable performances, nervous film buffs can rest easy. Your childhood is going to be just fine.

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