Grade: B
Entire family: No (not for small children)
2017, 119 min., Color
Action-Adventure Comedy
Rated PG-13 for adventure action, suggestive content, and some language
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+/B (includes Digital Copy)
Amazon link

The original 1995 Jumanji starring Robin Williams was underwhelming, which is perhaps why the title of the sequel released 21 years later was changed from Jumanji 2 to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Instead of having the adventure fantastically spill out into the world of the game players, the sequel picks up more interest and steam by having the players sucked into an old video game and transported to a lush jungle world. So it’s not only updated for a video gamer generation, but also presents more visual and special effects and “levels” opportunities that young gamers can identify with.

But what makes this action-comedy cute as heck and broadens its appeal so that older viewers can also enjoy it is that the four writers decided to create a high-concept film—a guaranteed-to-make-money Hollywood project that can be summarized in 25 words or less, usually via comparison. I can picture them pitching this to the studio and backers: “It’s Jumanji meets The Breakfast Club.” And it works!

In the early going we see a teen sucked into a game way back in 1969 and then fast-forward to present day, where we’re introduced to a nerdy guy named Spencer (Alex Wolff), who has been conned into doing homework and writing papers for a star football player nicknamed Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain). We also meet a vain, self-centered young popular girl named Bethany (Madison Iseman) and an awkward marginalized girl named Martha (Morgan Turner). Somehow they all end up in detention and find themselves in a storage room crammed with all sorts of things, including an old video game they decide to plug in and play.

In short order, after they’ve chosen avatars (some thoughtfully, others not) and begin to play, something happens and the game starts to scare them. They scramble to unplug it, but no matter: One by one they’re sucked into the game and realize that they’ve become the avatars that they selected. That, of course, is half the fun.

The wimpy, nerdy Spencer becomes the ripped and heroic Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the lead character in this game. And the former benign bully Fridge turns into Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (he thought it was “Moose”), a character (Kevin Hart) who can be killed by eating cake and whose only function is to carry Bravestone’s weapons in his backpack. Meanwhile, Bethany gets her comeuppance when she is transported into the body of an overweight middle-aged cartography nerd (Jack Black) named Prof. Shelly Oberon (she thought Shelley was a female), and gawky unsure Martha gets a bad-ass body and bad-ass fighting skills as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillian). In other words, it’s a Freaky Friday world where the popular and unpopular kids swap places.

The effects are top-notch, but the game itself isn’t all that surprising if you’ve seen the Indiana Jones movies or played more than a few video games. The backstory has Dr. Bravestone’s former explorer-partner, Prof. Russel Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), going rogue and stealing a gem from the jaguar rock formation and turning this world chaotic. To get out of the game, the “kids” learn, they have to recover the gem and return it to the eye of the Jaguar. But to do so, they have to work as a team, as each of them has different skills and weaknesses. The catch, as with so many video games, is that they have three lives to work with. If they lose their last life, there’s a good chance they could really, seriously die inside the video game.

The concept and execution are strong enough to make this comedy-adventure fun, especially for families with children who’ve experienced the high-pressure world of junior-high and high school cliques.

Language: “Penis” is mentioned but in reference to a girl’s discovery of her new body, and the rest are several handfuls of milder profanities like “jackass” and “bitch” and “bad ass” and “shit”—language they’ve already heard at school
Sex: Also relatively mild; just a few kisses and some innuendo, but no nudity and nothing more than some funnily awkward “sexual” flirting
Violence: Everything is comedic, since characters die in the game but come flying back into the game again for another chance; anything severe like being eaten by jaguars is not shown up close
Adult situations: The teens drink alcohol for the first time, with only one of them enjoying it and getting drunk; three out of four swear off of it
Takeaway: You’ll want to rewatch The Breakfast Club after this one