12A – 119mins – 2017 – 3D
… WE’VE GOT FUN AND BOARD GAMES
Based upon a children’s picture book from the 80s by Chris Van Allsburg, 1995’s Joe Johnston-directed adventure-fantasy film is fondly remembered by people of a certain age as being a much-watched childhood favourite. It also starred the late, great Robin Williams, which is perhaps one reason why a return to Jumanji was initially greeted with scepticism from the masses. However, Welcome to the Jungle is NOT a modern day reboot which tries to erase the charm of the first film, but a sequel which respectfully nods to and continues the story, expanding upon the world of the mysterious magical game.
A prologue set in 1996 has the wooden board game found washed up on a beach. However, when the son of the findee dismisses it (“Who plays board games anymore?!”), the game transforms itself into a video game cartridge, suggesting it has the power to appeal to players and tempt them into its world. Twenty years later and four students on detention at Brantford High find a dusty old game console amongst the junk in their school basement. Switching it on, they each select an avatar and find themselves transported to a jungle, in bodies not their own…
There’s a lot of humour to be had from the displacement drama and body horror of the teens finding themselves in a strange world in strange bodies – none more so than beauty queen Bethany (Madison Iseman) finding herself trapped inside the “curvy” form of overweight cartographer Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Bad Bromance Black). Likewise, nerdy gamer Spencer (Alex Wolff) must acclimatise to Dr. Smolder Bravestone’s (Dwayne Fast & Furious 8 Johnson) courage and muscular stature, while jock “Fridge” (Ser’Darius Blain) is horrified to lose two feet from his body as zoologist and sidekick “Mouse” (Johnson’s Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart)! Finally, shy bookworm Martha (Morgan Turner) struggles with her skimpy attire and flirtatiousness as “dance fighter” Ruby Roundhouse (Karen The Circle Gillan).
Gifting the players with unique strengths and weakness, non-player character Nigel (Rhys Darby) sets them on their quest: to return the cursed jewel known as “The Jaguar’s Eye” to its rightful place in the island’s giant jaguar statue, persevering through multiple levels and terrains, all the while outmanuevering vicious game hunter Van Pelt (Bobby Daddy’s Home Cannavale) and his gun-wielding cronies, all with just three lives each. Only then can the four detentionees return home and escape Jumanji, otherwise it’s GAME OVER.
Gamers will get a kick out of all the references to NPCs, cut-scenes, power levels and repeating dialogue, even if not a pixel is out of place in this immersive video game reality. I could nitpick and question why a game which is able to morph would choose to look like a retro Atari-style console to tempt teenagers in 2017 (surely a smart phone or USB stick would be more apt?), or why the formerly trapped player (Colin Hanks) is transported back to where and when he entered the game when Robin William’s Alan Parish was dumped out in the present day in the original, but as a smart and clever evolution of the concept, Welcome to the Jungle is a surprisingly fun and enjoyable adventure. And who doesn’t love a good game for all the family at Christmas?
CR@B’s Claw Score: