MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Jake Kasdan. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black.
As the old saying goes: “You really don’t understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle four teenagers get to literally walk (and often run) a mile in someone else’s skin. One afternoon in detention (alá The Breakfast Club) they discover an old videogame system and hook it up to a TV set. On the screen appears a role-playing game called “Jumanji” and they each pick characters and avatars to get started. Soon, the game whisks them away to an alternative world where they become their characters. The quiet nerd (Alex Wolff) is transformed into a muscular hunk (Dwayne Johnson), the insecure brainiac (Morgan Turner) finds herself in the body of a super-fit athlete (Karen Gillan), the superstar sports jock (Ser’Darius Blain) becomes a super-short coward (Kevin Hart), and the privileged social climber (Madison Iseman) is transformed into a portly scholar (Jack Black).
I appreciated the way the script took its time to introduce the teenage characters before their journey and transformation. Like The Wizard of Oz, we spend about 20 minutes in the real world of high school before entering the fantasy. Not only do we see the ways in which these kids get into trouble and push against one another, but we begin to accept their characters as real persons (albeit stereotypical types). This raises the bar for the adult actors who will play these characters in the game.
The cast does not disappoint. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is one of the funniest films of the year, but it would fall flat if the ensemble cast was not fully committed to the project. Dwayne Johnson continues to be a welcome presence in films (including last year’s Moana) because he knows how to make fun of his wrestler physique. Kevin Hart always delivers real comic energy and Jack Black is a delight as a mean girl. The real discovery here is Karen Gillan (Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy) who has several major scenes in which her transformed teenager awkwardly tries to enter a dating world in which she is woefully inexperienced.
The adventure is a good one and plays out like a good board game, with real risks and consequences. To win the game, each person will need to get a better sense of how others understand the world while making sacrifices together that will help everyone win.
In this often cynical and selfish world, it’s refreshing to see a family film as hopeful and joyful as this one. Life if full of real adventure, if we take the time to work together for a greater good.
Four halos:An entertaining comedy with positive things to say about teamwork and the value of understanding different kinds of people.
One pitchforks:Mild swearing and jokes about male anatomy, subtle enough to go over the heads of younger children.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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