Twenty-two years is a long time, but not long enough to simply remake a film. Credit where credit’s due: this winter’s new “Jumanji” — given the subtitle “Welcome to the Jungle” — doesn’t look a lot like 1995’s “Jumanji,” which itself didn’t play a whole lot like the classic children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. That film found Robin Williams and young Kirsten Dunst inadvertently summoning stampeding rhinos and outsized mosquitos and swarms of monkeys to suburbia. This one has kids becoming Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan.
Of course, that means this “Jumanji” really, really has little to do with the book. Instead of a board game — wait, do kids not play board games anymore? — the game-within-the-movie is a video game. Four kids find an old model in a basement — it looks like Sega Genesis era, or maybe a Dreamcast — but when they pick their characters for a jungle jaunt, they get swooped into the game itself. Suddenly these kids are embodied by our four main stars, which means our four main stars are basically acting like kids in grown-up bodies. So it’s a bit of a “Big” knockoff? Only starring The Rock? Now that we think about it, we’d love a “Big” remake starring The Rock. This is close enough.
The movie is due on December 22 — enough time to let the dust settle over Johnson’s failed “Baywatch” reboot. Or has the dust settled already? The Rock is one of our last true movie stars, mighty enough to withstand an unfunny summer movie that deserved to tank, and not just because critics didn’t like it. We disliked “Baywatch,” too, but it did nothing to lessen our love for its hulking star.
While we’re talking “Jumanji,” how about some love for its superior sequel. It was called “Zathura,” and it came out in 2005, and it was helmed by Jon Favreau shortly before he jumped on the “Iron Man” ship and launched the deathless Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has a handmade quality to it, complete with dudes in giant lizard suits, as well as a charming turn from a pre-“Idiocracy” Dax Shepard. All that and Kristen Stewart — who spends most of the movie asleep — too.