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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a new take on 1995's Jumanji. This time, instead of entering a board game, the players enter a video game. The popular stars, including Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan, are likely to appeal to audiences of all ages. Expect some swearing (mostly "s--t" and "ass"), as well as action violence -- the main characters each die multiple times within the game (but they're regenerated quickly) -- and a couple of jump scares. Characters kiss and flirt awkwardly, and there are several references to dating, experience, and the humor of having a penis (one of the female teens is in a male avatar for most of the movie). There are also references to how girls/women can "distract men" with their attention and body, which doesn't send a great message to girls. That said, The Rock's character's body is also objectified. Still, there are positive themes here related to teamwork, empathy, selflessness, and communication, making this an easy pick for families who enjoy action adventures -- especially if they saw the original movie or read the Chris Van Allsburg book on which both films are based.
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What's the story?
JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE is an updated adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's picture book, this time turning the life-changing board game into a video game. The movie opens in 1996, when a teenager's father gives him the Jumanji board game. When he bemoans aloud that nobody plays with board games anymore, it magically transforms into a video game, which he gets sucked into. Fast-forward to the present, and four high schoolers are sent to detention on the same day: self-absorbed "hot popular girl" Bethany (Madison Iseman), bookish Martha (Morgan Turner), nerdy Spencer (Alex Wolff), and his childhood friend turned football star Fridge (Ser'Darius Blain). While serving detention, Fridge and Spencer find the Jumanji game in an old donation box and convince the girls to play. After they each choose an avatar, they're immediately pulled into the game, where Spencer is transformed into superhero-sized archeologist Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Fridge is Bravestone's diminutive sidekick zoologist Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart), Martha is "killer of men" vixen Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), and Bethany is cartographer Professor Shelly Overton (Jack Black). To get out of the game, the foursome must work together to save Jumanji from the control of the evil Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale) -- before any of them lose all of their three assigned lives.
Is it any good?
This crowd-pleasing reboot may not be earth-shatteringly good, but it benefits from its stars' irresistible comedic and action charm. At this point, there's not a movie that The Rock doesn't make better by his presence. Because of his size, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has a lot of wink-wink nods to his smoldering looks and seemingly invincible body -- which are even funnier because he has to play being amazed by his own strength, considering he's actually the lanky, nerdy Spencer inside. All of the adult actors do a fine job portraying the insecure, horrified, or awed teens controlling their avatar bodies. And the young actors who bookend the movie are believable as two nerds and two popular kids thrown together for an intense, unexpected adventure.
Hart's and Black's characters will naturally get the biggest laughs -- mostly joking at their own expense. Considering that the 5-foot-4 Hart is literally a foot shorter than Blain, prepare for an onslaught of height jokes. Women may cringe at Bethany's (as played by Black) "flirting class" to teach the Hermione-esque Martha how to manipulate men by sparkling like an anime character, but watching Black give this lesson in a falsetto is admittedly quite funny. At least Martha voices her indignation at her crop top and short-shorts, which she astutely points out make no sense as an explorer's outfit. Director Jake Kasdan definitely isn't creating anything new here, and the male leads are all playing to their established strengths, but the character-within-a-character setup is entertaining enough to make audiences cheer, jump out of their seats, and even laugh aloud in this mashup of Jumanji, The Breakfast Club, and Avatar.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how each of the characters becomes a role model in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and which character strengths they exhibit throughout the movie.
What did you think of the talk regarding how girls/women can use their bodies and attention to "distract" men? What message does that send? Is it OK because a male body is also objectified? Why or why not?
What's the value of knowing how to play video games? What do multiplayer role-playing games teach you? What are your favorite games?
- In theaters: December 20, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: March 20, 2018
- Cast: Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black
- Director: Jake Kasdan
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures
- Character strengths: Communication, Teamwork
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: adventure action, suggestive content and some language
- Last updated: April 7, 2020
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