Film - Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

Kraig Taylor-Bryant takes a closer look at the cast and characters in the new Jumanji film, Welcome to the Jungle...

After watching The Greatest Showman, I thought that it would be the best family film of the year quite easily. However, as I sat in the cinema watching Jumanji for the second time, this time with my sister, I realised that this film can appeal to everyone as each character in the story is played, for a time, by an actor that is significant to a certain type of viewer. Even the significantly younger viewers can find the film funny if they don’t recognise the actors, purely because the film is funny in all kinds of ways. I personally haven’t seen the original version of the film from 1995 which starred Robin Williams but, out of sheer curiosity, I’m definitely considering watching it after seeing this version.

Here’s a quick synopsis of the film to give you a general idea of the plot.

In short, the film follows four high school students who are conveniently put in detention together and, from there, through an adventure to Jumanji, a virtual world that they are brought into by playing a video game. Over this time they realise that they must not lose all three of their lives in the game or they could actually die and, in order to escape, they must complete the levels and finish the game. The appearance of the character in the game is determined by the player’s choice and this is why two actors play the role of one character in this film as each are playing either the role of the high school student, or the role of a character that they selected for the game when they started.

Jack Black’s casting in particular is most significant to younger viewers, as he seems to be quite famous for his roles in PG films and G films. Each of these roles has their own particular moment in which you just know that Jack Black was the right choice, Kung Fu Panda being the best example, because in many ways his voice is just perfect for that role. The fact that, in Jumanji, Jack Black is playing the role of a girl trapped in a man’s body (in a way), young kids aren’t likely to recognise him as this guy, which is a good thing as some kids don’t yet understand what its like to hear one voice associated with more than one person. Of course, those who know what he looks like in real life could easily recognise him early on. I personally grew up watching “School of Rock” and seeing him appear in this film brought back to mind the ridiculousness of his acting so it was amazing to relive those funny moments that were appealing to me growing up.

The character of Bethany, who is played by Jack Black in the game and Madison Iseman in the real world, develops greatly throughout the film, from becoming the popular one who doesn’t seem to like anyone else who she is stuck in detention with, to being a more understanding character who listens to people, helps them, and understands that there are more exciting things in the world than what’s trending on Instagram. At the start of the film, (when she is embodied through Jack Black) she keeps asking about her phone, as if it’s all that matters, until she starts to better take in the situation and everything else that is going on that she stops talking about her phone fairly early on, and we see by the end of the film how much more of an open minded person she has become. For example, the fact that she starts to become more interested in wildlife and the jungle after their ordeal shows that she is now more interested in other things, and the fact that she is actually talking to her friend in person rather than over the phone, also shows that she now understands the importance of being around people to better understand them. There are many other moments that Bethany also shows development as a character, but these involve giving out some major spoilers, so I will leave these points out. 

Moving on we find Dwayne Johnson, who many will recognise from the Fast and Furious franchise, or as The Rock from wrestling for those who watch it. The fact that he, in a way, is mocking the typical muscly, good looking guy, which he is, in this film is both a bold and a clever way to make his name more famous. The most notable moment which brought me to this conclusion is when he demonstrates his “intense smoulder” which I think works perfectly with this character, ironically called Dr Smolder Bravestone, because the bad ass character he plays from the Fast and Furious franchise is usually seen as this serious cop who may also have those moments in which it looks like he’s trying to look awesome, and the fact that they clearly show that in this film is what makes it particularly funny, as well as being a great way to bring across fans of the action film to this one. The most ironic thing about his character and himself as an actor with a reputation is the fact that he is playing a nerd in his own body, which is funny, because this nerd is afraid of everything, whilst we wouldn’t usually associate The Rock with being afraid of anything, and that in itself is what makes the film worth watching.

Dwayne Johnson in this film plays the character of Spencer, played outside the game by Alex Wolff. Clearly the lesson that Spencer learns in this film is bravery, and the fact that he can relate to most of the nerds in school, helps those viewers who identify with that to learn the same lesson that he does. To start with we see him as a character that has a clear fear of diseases, talking to girls and pretty much anything that can lead to him dying. As the film progresses we see him overcome these fears, when he’s forced into a situation where his strength is required, he steps up in order to ensure everyone’s survival and this helps him to become a braver person, brave enough to then confess his feelings about Martha, and this would leave him to progress further as a person. And as he does these things, he realises that there are some points in life where you need to not think so much in order to assure that you don’t miss your chance to be with the girl or so that you can ensure that your friends can get out of a situation in a moment where it’s more important to act before you think. There are similar moments when he realises that he needs to rely more on his instincts than his mind, as that’s what will really keep you alive in the jungle, and he takes some of that instinctive behaviour with him when they leave the game and he kisses Martha. We again see him show another sign of fear nearing the end, but when his friend Fridge offers him advice to make the most of his one life, he realises that at many times in life you need to take risks to succeed and therefore, he commits one more act of bravery before truly earning the name of his character Bravestone in the game, which his new found friends begin to call him in school towards the end of the film, showing that he’s proved his bravery and Spencer has become like Doctor Bravestone in real life, not just as some character that he was playing as in the game. 

Next up we have Karen Gillan, an actor who we often see as a strong female character, either through the evil Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy, or through her strong female dominance in her role of the Doctor’s companion in Doctor Who. In this film, the fact that she is embodying a schoolgirl who cant talk to guys, is also something different, because she is playing someone who doesn’t have the confidence or the mental strength that her previous characters seem to have had but, at the same time, she is still being conveyed as a strong character, as it should be, in which she can still do some pretty epic fight scenes. With the way her scenes are choreographed in this film, we see her fighting in a different way to Guardians of the Galaxy, and that’s great because we don’t want to see her play the same character, and again there’s the irony in the fact that she is a nervous character who can still be a badass, not only through Karen Gillan too, but also through the actress who plays her at the start, Morgan Jeannette Turner for example when she insults her Phys Ed teacher.

Karen Gillan and Morgan Jeanette Turner bring to life the strong female character of Martha, who starts off as a shy girl, who also has her own pre conceived opinions of people before she really knows them. She adapts immensely as a character as she not only realises that people shouldn’t really be judged by their “group” in school, but she also realises that, in some situations she just needs to believe in herself, which she does by the final act of the film as she believes that they can save Jumanji after already committing several acts of bravery to convince herself of this. When she interacts with Bethany, Martha starts to see her as someone who is trying to help, when she teaches Martha how to flirt (which is done in a hilarious way,) and when Beth gives her credit for the effort that Martha puts into doing so, they start to bond, especially after a certain dance fighting scene in which she demonstrates her character’s abilities, whilst also helping her become a more confident person. This then leads her to admit her feelings to Spencer and helps her grow in confidence as a person, leading her to be a vital role in helping to save Jumanji through believing in herself, which is also a great lesson for kids in school who want to reach their full potential. It’s through Martha that viewers can realise that they just have to have the confidence, as well as influencing them to believe that they can socialise in any group if they have the confidence to do it. 

And then of course there is the actor Kevin Hart, who many older kids and adults will recognise from films such as Ride Along and, more recently, Central Intelligence. The fact that similar humour in Ride Along is used through his character in this film is what makes his casting in Jumani work very well. And the fact that he is embodying a guy who was the big guy in the real world, Kevin Hart does a very good job of portraying a guy who still feels as if he is stronger than his friend Spencer even though he is, in the game, shorter than Spencer and far less muscular. This fits Hart well, as he seems to be very good at playing an overconfident character who just ends up being a bit of an idiot. Adults can feel joy in watching Kevin Hart in these moments, where he will curse at times in this film, because that’s exactly the kind of person that Kevin Hart should be playing, a guy who sees himself as the big man, even when he isn’t big, and since people remember him like that from other films is what makes those Kevin Hart moments memorable for the older viewers. And of course, recently Kevin Hart has started working on a few kids’ films, such as the Captain Underpants movie and The Secret Life of Pets, and I even saw my sister laugh in a few of his scenes in this film.

Kevin Hart’s character Fridge, who is played in the real world by Ser’Darius Blain, starts off as a guy who just wants to get through High School and thinks that the best way to get through it is to focus on sport as this is his strong point. In order to get assignments completed outside of this area, he uses he old friend Spencer to do these for him in order to help him graduate and sees education as more of an obstacle from the start. But, through their adventures in Jumanji, he starts to understand what it’s like to be the “little guy” which clearly Spencer is in reality, as he clearly plays a lot of games and succeeds in school. Fridge doesn’t seem to understand what it’s like until he is forced into this situation in Jumanji, and the fact that he’s so desperate to get out of Jumanji so that he can be himself again makes him realise that Spencer has to deal with being that guy all the time. To start with though, since he still sees himself as stronger and more athletic than Spencer, he doesn’t understand him as much, but as he begins to deal with the kind of things that Spencer does, such as when he can’t run nearly as fast as Spencer and he feels how much it hurts to get pushed around by the “big guy” he starts to better understand Spencer, and the fact that Spencer does not use his strength to hurt Fridge purely for the enjoyment of it, helps Fridge to be a better friend to him out of appreciation for the fact that he doesn’t hurt people in the real world, not because he can’t, but more because he doesn’t want to, and that helps Fridge to respect him. And one of the bigger lessons that Fridge learns is also that he cannot waste his life. He realises this when he gives advice to Spencer that mirrors what their Principal told them, clearly that makes Fridge realise the significance of their Principal’s words and that he needs to succeed in school on his own and not have any regrets in not trying. The fact that in the final sequence, he uses both a methodical and sport incorporated approach shows that he realises that being smart and knowing things apart from how to score points in football can also help in what you want to do, because it helps you better in coming up with tactics. And when everyone starts listening to him in the end, shows that they’ve now formed this connection through their experience.

So overall the combination of these actors and characters creates a very interesting dynamic between them all, due to the characters being from different social groups and the actors being known for different types of roles. This is what makes the film appropriate and fun for everyone, as well as the lessons that it can teach children, and I can tell how much the film made my sister realise thing about the kinds of people in school. To be perfectly honest, at the start of the film, I was annoyed that there were so many loud kids in the cinema room that day, but as I walked out, I was glad that they were there, because all of them can now take something from the film, an understanding of another type of person. So in a way, the characters’ experience in Jumanji has not only helped to make the characters better as people, but the viewers too.

Follow Kraig on Twitter @Kraigandhismac

Images - IMDb

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