Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle opens in 1996, with the  discovery of the old board game on a sandy beach. When the box is opened, a video game cartridge is inside which just happens to fit the Sony Play Station the teen-aged son has in his bedroom. We then flash forward 20 years, where (echoing the plot points of the The Breakfast Club), four teens end up in detention for various reasons: Spencer, the Wimp (Alex Wolf) is called into the principal’s office for writing a history paper for  Fridge, the Jock (Ser’Darius Blain); Bethany, the Babe (Madison Iseman) is busted for using her cell phone during a test;  and Martha, the Brain (Morgan Turner), talks back to her PE teacher. The foursome discover the Jumanji video game in the school basement, and are magically transformed into the game avatars they select. The wimp becomes  Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), a muscular, self-effacing “expert” with a “smoldering look.”  The brain develops sex appeal, long, shapely legs, and deadly martial arts skills as Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan) who is clad in a ridiculous,  midriff-baring jungle outfit.  The Jock becomes the wise-cracking, short-statured zoologist named Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), and when the babe selected “the curvy genius cartographer” named Dr. Shelly Oberon, she did not envision Jack Black’s body. It takes awhile for the teens to learn to utilize their avatar’s skill sets, but fortunately, the game gives them two extra lives.
The McGuffin everyone is searching for is the gigantic emerald eye missing from a jaguar statue stolen (and lost) by the arch villain, Van Pelt (Bobby Cannavale), a big-game hunter whose body is infested with poisonous insects. He “controls” every living being in Jumanji, and vows to eliminate the fear-filled four. For despite their new exteriors, the teens arrive with all their fears intact. Bravestone immediately frets about being in a jungle without his allergy medicine, Roundhouse is sure no one likes her, Finbar knows the others don’t respect him, and Oberon misses his/her phone. Much of the gentle humor that infuses the movie involves each of the teens adopting the attributes (and fatal flaws) of their avatars. 
I must take a moment to say that the main reason that Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle works so well is the ensemble of comic actors. Johnson is perfectly cast as the hunky action-hero, but when The Rock instantly displays the physical and emotional traits of Spencer’s wimpy perspective, he shows the audience he is a great actor as well. Another example of perfection is Jack Black (as the Babe in the overweight professor’s body) teaching Karen Gillan (the Brain in the Lara Croft outfit), how to flirt like a girl. “Your hair is your best weapon,” he explains with a shake of his head. “And your expression…bite your lip…place your tongue against the roof of your mouth.” Then there’s the all important walk. “What’s she doing?” the others ask as Ruby Roundhouse sashays towards two machine-gun toting men guarding the transportation hut. “I think she’s trying to be sexy,” Dr. Bravestone replies.
Like every video game, the explorers must travel from one “level” to the next, and although a map drawn in disappearing ink provides some direction, the term “Defenders” doesn’t come close to describing the fierce jaguars that suddenly appear on all sides. As a zoologist, Finbar provides the descriptive commentary for each beast they encounter. “The Jumanji Hippo is particularly fierce and eats humans,” he thoughtfully explains after Dr. Oberon is swallowed by one of the beasts. Other creatures include a black mamba, rogue elephant, stampeding white rhinos, a den of cobras, poisonous centipedes, scorpions and tarantulas, and a mosquito whose bite brings instant death.
Add in the moral lessons learned by each teen, and you have a perfect, family-friendly, popcorn-munching, Saturday matinee serial-style adventure.
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