January 4, 2018

Smarty Movie Review: ‘Jumanji’

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Directed by: Jake Kasdan
Run time: 1 hour 59 minutes
Rated: PG-13

Do you remember the wild 1995 Robin Williams movie about a magical board game? Well a lot can change in 20 years and this Jumanji film is speaking to a whole new generation of kids. This time around, Jumanji isn’t a creaky old board game—it’s an Atari style video game. The game is discovered by four teenagers who are serving detention after school. Before you can say The Breakfast Club, your characters are neatly labeled: Spencer the wimpy nerd, Fridge the big jock, Bethany the princess and Martha the shy outcast. Guess they forgot to include a Judd Nelson rebel type! Instead of doing their detention assignment, the four decide to play the game and each person chooses an avatar. Suddenly the foursome is sucked into the game and they wind up in the middle of the jungle. If this isn’t bizarre enough, the teens are now living in the bodies of their avatars. Nerdy Spencer is now hero archaeologist Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), the jock Fridge is now short zoologist sidekick Moose Finbar (Kevin Hart) selfish beauty Bethany becomes rotund cartographer Professor Shelly Oberon (Jack Black) and meek Martha is now scantily clad Ruby Roundhouse, a killer of men (Karen Gillan).

The foursome quickly learn that a curse was placed on the island many years ago and that in order to return home they must end the curse and “win” the game. Just like in the old video games, each character has various strengths and weaknesses and only three lives. They must work together to outplay the game and save the day.

The whole point of this silly plot is to see each character adjust to their new body and new skills and the actors do a great job of embodying their awkward teen selves. Dwayne Johnson’s Spencer struggles with being the huge and strong hero while still being scared and anxious. Kevin Hart’s Fridge hates being so short and helpless and not the star of the game like he normally is. Bethany is horrified to be not only a man, but a portly middle aged one at that. She even needs an assist when she has to use the bathroom for the first time. Poor Martha gets stuck with the sexy stereotype and spends the whole movie in a crop top and short shorts. Even when it’s pointed out as ridiculous, she still doesn’t get a wardrobe upgrade…go figure.

As the group progresses through the levels of the game, they meet up with pilot Alex (Nick Jonas) who has been stuck in the game for almost 20 years. Alex is down to his last life and scared to try to progress any further in the game. The foursome help Alex to realize that with their combined strengths, they might just be able to defeat the curse and make it back home together.

While I was not terribly excited to see this film, my teenage son really wanted to go and I have to admit that we shared a lot of laughs together. On the plus side, the teens in the film grow and mature as a result of their adventure. Spencer becomes braver, Fridge becomes a team player and Bethany’s selfie-obsessed character learns to care for others. Still, I really struggled with the character of Martha as she learned how to own her sexuality. It was just cringe-worthy seeing her get lessons in how to be sexy from Jack Black in order to distract some guards from their posts. Couldn’t Martha have gotten a better story line and a better set of skills than “dance fighting?”

Still, all feminist commentary aside, if you decide to head to the Jungle with your teens this weekend, I’m sure you’ll have a fun trip.

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