Freaky Friday meets Indiana Jones in this surprisingly funny reimagining of a Robin Williams classic.
“Don’t you dare ruin my childhood!”
Such is the now frequently yelled (ie: YouTube posted) hyperbolic threat from moviegoers whenever a beloved movie 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/reimagining of a successful movie 'just because it worked before' threatens to expend a great deal of fan-based goodwill towards whomever's responsible. Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters was the last film to attract this level of sibylline ire, though that was as much to do with the ‘boy’ part of ‘fanboy’ as anything else (and proved wildly misguided since the women ended up being the best thing it).
Then came the Jumanji announcement and, again, childhoods were imperilled the world over. Robin Williams’s beloved 1995 film (itself an adaptation from a book) was a critical ‘meh’ at the time, but commercially told a different story, becoming the 10th highest-grossing film of the year. More importantly, though, its status as a cult classic grew with each passing day, so much so that this remake’s star Dwayne Johnson recognised the risk early on and took to social medial to allay fears, saying: “We wanted to do something that was respectful of the work of Robin Williams as well as creating something fresh”. And was he true to his word? Yes and no.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle isn’t ‘fresh' in that it’s largely just an appropriation of Tron coupled up with body-swap stories like Freaky Friday, 3rd Rock from the Sun and The Change-Up. Nor is it respectful (or disrespectful) to Robin Williams since his character scarcely rates a mention either way, and the story in no way resembles the original. But is it a good film? Absolutely.
Updating itself, quite literally, for the times, the original Jumanji boardgame transforms into a mid-90s video game cartridge, which promptly sucks a hapless teenager into its hidden universe. Fast-forward twenty years and, in a clear grab from 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 with a twist: they’re now in the bodies of the avatars 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) whilst in the film’s funniest swap, the princess Bethany becomes the portly, middle-aged cartographer Shelly Oberon (Jack Black).
From then on the film becomes a non-stop action-adventure romp in which its stars engage in a 90s video game style quest to return a jewel to its rightful home. The laughs are frequent, coming mostly from the body-swap setup (Bethany learning how to pee like a guy is the standout), but also from the tongue-in-cheek references to 90s ‘point and click' games themselves, like having characters only speak a limited number of lines that often repeat themselves if you fail to progress in time. All the leads' performances are impressive in their ability to play against type, most notably Black as the vacuous it-girl, whose turn quickly soars above cliche into something more akin to total embodiment. Together they make an entirely likeable crew, and whilst their ‘be true to yourself' mantra is clumsily jammed down our throats, it lends the film a nice emotional undercurrent. Funny, easy viewing and with memorable performances abounding, you can rest assured - your childhood is going to be just fine.