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Family Movie Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (PG-13)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal (2.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 119 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. This reboot of the ‘90s film “Jumanji” puts a video game spin on the story, with high school students transported to the jungle world. The villain can control animals and has some creepy scenes with snakes, jaguars, and insects crawling into his ear and out of his mouth; there are some scenes with other slightly scary, CGI animals like hippos and rhinos; a lot of sexually themed and vulgar humor, including an entire scene about male genitalia and how men urinate; some female stereotyping and objectification, including jokes about breasts, erections, and flirting; some bullying; some physical altercations, including pushing, slapping, fighting, punching, and characters killed in hand-to-hand combat; teenagers drink margaritas, and one of them gets drunk; and a few kisses between teenagers.

The ‘90s kids’ classic ‘Jumanji’ gets a franchise reboot with ‘Welcome to the Jungle,’ which pairs constant co-stars Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart and drops them into a cursed video game. There are funny moments throughout, but the sexual humor is constant and the narrative tension is nonexistent.

By Roxana Hadadi

JumanjiWelcometotheJungle ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewThe original “Jumanji,” released in 1995, is very much a cult classic. It had Robin Williams’s epic beard, a young Kirsten Dunst, and for the mid ‘90s, thrilling effects in its story of a board game that both sucked players in and spit elements of its own world out. Williams was a memorable mix of deranged and nostalgic, and the drums that announced the intentions of the game are instantly recognizable. Franchise reboot “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” may recreate some of the original film’s elements, but it’s also packed with things the movie doesn’t need—lots of sexually themed humor, some brutal violence, a corny teen romance—that makes the movie feel less like “Jumanji” and more like an action blockbuster that just so happens to take place in a jungle.

The mix isn’t particularly surprising when you consider the prior work of director Jake Kasdan, who also helmed the gleefully inappropriate “Bad Teacher” and the more aimlessly raunchy “Sex Tape.” But “Welcome to the Jungle” goes right up to the limit of its PG-13 rating with jokes about animal genitalia and male genitalia, including a lengthy scene where a female teenager who inhabits the body of an older man in the Jumanji video game is coached by her peers about how to urinate, and it’s certainly a difference from the vibe of the original film.

“Welcome to the Jungle” leans hard into the sexually themed humor by aging up its characters and focusing on a group of teenagers: nerdy Simon (Alex Wolff, of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2”), athlete Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain, of “Footloose”), smartphone-obsessed Bethany (Madison Iseman), and grades-focused Martha (Morgan Turner, of “Remember Me”). Simon and Fridge used to be friends, but grew apart after middle school, and were recently busted for cheating, while Bethany and Martha both talked back to teachers. They find themselves together in detention, where they dig out a peculiar looking video game—named Jumanji.

After deciding to play, they end up sucked into the game, where they inhabit the bodies of the characters they chose: Simon is now a brawny doctor and explorer with a “smoldering intensity” (Dwayne Johnson, of “The Fate of the Furious”); Fridge loses his height and muscles and ends up as a zoologist who has a fatal weakness for cake (Kevin Hart, of “The Secret Life of Pets”); the somewhat mousy Martha ends up in a skimpy outfit, martial arts skills, and the descriptor “killer of men” (Karen Gillan, of “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2”); and Bethany, blonde and flirty as a teenager, ends up in the body of a chubby, middle-aged, bearded cartographer (Jack Black, of “Kung Fu Panda 3”).

Before they got sucked into the game, their high school principal warned them to “consider who you are in this moment in time, and who you want to be,” and so the foursome—now essentially the physical opposites of their former selves—must grapple with their new identities as they try to save Jumanji. And of course, through these different skills, they grow individually, too: Simon is finally courageous; Fridge has to learn some humility; Martha grows more self-confident; Bethany becomes less self-aware. But will they be trapped in Jumanji forever?

Johnson and Hart have worked together a few times before this, and their contrasting chemistry is leaned on for much of the humor here: Isn’t it funny how little Hart is and how big Johnson is? It’s a dynamic that is still comfortably familiar and not yet totally exhausted, so their competitive antics are still amusing. What doesn’t work as well, though, is the film’s presentation of Martha (whose main development is “becomes pretty,” which is frustratingly and stereotypically sexist), and the film’s villain, whose evil plan is discussed once and then otherwise doesn’t make much sense. Visually, it’s also a mixed bag: There are some jump-scare scenes with violent hippos and jaguars that have an impact, but every animal is so clearly CGI that your fear or your wonder won’t last. (What is definitive, though, is that the movie is absolutely not worth a 3D ticket.)

Ultimately, there just isn’t much to “Welcome to the Jungle,” at least not much that is as memorable as the Williams-led original—too much here is a little mean-spirited or lacking in context. There is a recurring joke about Bethany growing used to her male body, which simultaneously mocks both the character’s vapidity and the actor Black’s body. The gags will get laughs, but they’re a little too vulgar for younger viewers. A big romantic moment references a backstory between two characters that had never previously been discussed. And one of the teens calls another a “badass” because she basically tells a teacher, to her face, that her life is a nightmare—when the teacher was just doing her job. Was that necessary?

It’s that kind of casual callousness that runs through “Welcome to the Jungle,” and which feels in direct contrast to the sentimentality and regret that defined the original film. This “Jumanji” feels like a combination of various blockbuster clichés that don’t make much sense together, but may get some cheap laughs along the way—but it sure isn’t going to be a cult classic.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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