The original Jumanji, released in 1995 is still one of my favorite movies. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times. Watching an old board game wreak unprecedented havoc on a family home and a small town still leaves me shook sometimes. My mother would have killed me way before the wild animals did had she seen our apartment in that state when she got home from work. When I heard that it was being rebooted this year, I was actually pretty excited because the film’s premise — that the game envelops you in a jungle world that you have to conquer in order to win and escape — is easy to extend across eras and generations. I was surprised that more '90s kids weren't at the theater on opening night to jump headfirst back into magical chaos of it all. Instead, families seem to be drawn to the idea of an action film for both adults and kids. And despite how corny the execution was, the 2017 updates in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, were well-done.
Welcome to the Jungle begins with a flashback scene to 1996, a year after the events of the original film went down. A teenaged Alex Vreeke (Mason Guccione) gets his hands on the original Jumanji board game after his father finds it on a beach. But he has zero interest in it because it’s the ‘90s, and video games are all the rage, duh. So the board game, hungry to be played, transforms itself into a Nintendo-like cartridge, and into the game he goes, never to be seen again.
Fast forward 20 years. Four high school students find themselves having to clean out their school’s basement for detention and come across the old dusty video game. They pick characters and get sucked in, unaware that they’d be inhabiting the body and skillsets of those characters while maintaining their own personalities.
It’s a reboot that is hyper-aware of the future it has stepped into. Spencer Gilman (Alex Wolff) is a next-level gamer who is socially awkward. Martha Kaply (Morgan Turner) is a no-nonsense, anti-social feminist. The star football player, Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain) is hoping that he can parlay his skills on the field into a college scholarship. And the only thing that Bethany Walker (Madison Iseman) is more obsessed with than boys and her cell phone is herself. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it super progressive — Fridge is the token Black guy of the group as a high school jock and as the short and fearful zoologist Franklin "Moose" Finbar (Kevin Hart) — but the movie makes an effort to avoid a sea of white faces, something that can’t be said for the original. But I would be remiss not to say that it kind of felt like the melting pot multiculturalism that Hallmark movies are made of.
And racial inclusion wasn’t the only thing that was delightfully clichéd. Welcome to the Jungle relied on tropes to poke fun at millennials, feminists, and the body issues that come with the Instagram-curated world that we live in. Bethany, the prettiest girl in school, mistook what curvy cartographer meant as a descriptor for the person she became inside Jumanji. She lost her slim figure and big boobs and became a middle-aged man, Professor Sheldon "Shelly" Oberonmade (Jack Black). Toeing the line of transphobia and homophobia, some of the best moments of humor came as she navigated the world as a less attractive person with a penis and without a cell phone. On the contrary, the implication that Martha’s feminism was only a cover for her social awkwardness and insecurities was put to the test when she became Rudy Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), a sexy “killer of men.” Martha was well-equipped to call out the ridiculousness of her skimpy outfit given the circumstances, and it wasn't her hotness but her ability to fight that helped out in the long run. God forbid a woman embrace both her looks and her skills.
But for all of its cringeworthiness, my biggest disappointment was that in 2017 Jumanji is a jungle separate from the world, not part of it like in the original film. All of the cheesiness I could deal with.