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What Have They Done to ‘Jumanji’?

The first trailer for the Rock’s latest remake previews a Frankenmovie that looks more like a buddy comedy than it does a reboot

(Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

Let me tell you a story about two very different movies. In the first, a group of archetypal high school students — the nerd, the football star, the popular girl, the female nerd who is definitely not obviously set up to be the male nerd’s love interest — are sentenced to clean out their school’s basement together. On the journey to discovering that they’re not so different after all, they find a magical video game, start to play, and are sucked inside of it. In the second movie, Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan run around a jungle, bickering about one another’s physical traits and dodging fleets of apparently malevolent motorcyclists.

I would see the first movie. The second … not so much. And the reason I would see the first is because it sounds not only like an exciting new entry in the Teens In Detention Gettin’ Up To Shenanigans genre, but also like a clever, modern reinvention of 1995’s still-delightful Jumanji. The second movie, on the other hand, sounds like a mediocre buddy comedy whose funniest joke very well might be "Gosh, Kevin Hart sure is short."

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news: These two movies of disparate comedic and dramatic promise have been stitched together, and their noncommittal Frankenmovie is being pitched to us as this December’s coming Jumanji reboot. (The full title is Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle; shout-out Guns N’ Roses.) We already knew that the Jumanji reboot was barely going to be a Jumanji story at all; now, with the debut of the film’s first trailer, we know the extent to which the reboot has done away with nearly everything that made the original great.

The maddening thing about this complete revamp is that theoretically, this movie had the tools to work as a faithful reboot. The best version of Jumanji 2.0, which was teased for years to the great excitement/fear of sentimental former children like me, might very well star the Rock. It’s not difficult to imagine him in an iteration of Robin Williams’s role: the semi-unhinged, heart-of-gold veteran of the game’s terrors, who is the only one with the knowledge (and, in this case, probably biceps) to save the day. Jack Black has already played a hunter (sort of); slot Hart and Gillan into some sort of grown-up love interest/Sane Adult roles, and boom: We have a movie. Sign me up; it sounds great. But — oh yeah — one thing is key: You have to keep the damn kids. The damn kids are the heart of the movie. There is no Jumanji without a bunch of damn kids.

As you might have gleaned, Jumanji 2.0 does not keep the damn kids: Once they’re sucked into the game, they turn into their adult counterparts, and it appears that most of the humor is going to come from the teens’ horror and fascination at their new forms. ("I like can’t even with this place," says popular girl–as–Jack Black.)

And look: I get it. If you’re going to go to the trouble of rebooting a beloved, 21-year-old classic, you don’t just want to make a carbon copy of it. But this is an entirely different movie, and that particular remake strategy has not been working out recently. There’s been a rash of reboots lately that are reboots in name only: Baywatch and CHIPS pulled pretty much the same trick; audiences didn’t take kindly to it. On the other side, another redux of cherished ’90s IP, this spring’s Power Rangers, stuck closely to the original story and left many fans — new and old — delighted. It seems that what people loved most about these stories was — gasp — the stories themselves.

It appears that the people remaking Jumanji have not paid this much heed. But hey — at least maybe in December we’ll find out where in the world they’ve hidden their costar Nick Jonas.