Directed by: Joe Johnston Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hr. 44 mins.
Studio: TriStar Pictures Based on: Book by Chris Van Allsburg
Screenwriter: Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, Jim Strain
Cast: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, David Alan Grier, Bebe Neuwirth, Jonathan Hyde
Jumanji. “For those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind.” This ominous inscription on a magical wooden board game is the introduction to a wonderfully twisted story concept. This isn’t like accidentally finding ones way into a magical wardrobe with another land on the other side while playing hide-and-seek. No, no. Jumanji calls to you, a potential player. With a sound that is as intense as it is ominous. The beating of drums beckons its would-be player into opening it. A sound only the young can hear.
The movie starts in 1869 with two boys frantically trying to bury “it,” some item in a bag with inexplicable drum beats. Move forward a century to 1969, to a dig site outside a shoe factory, the drumming is heard again by young Alan Parrish, son of the shoe factory owner. He takes his find home with him. After a schoolmate comes over, he convinces her to play with him.
While they play, the dark and twisted magical tones of the game emerge as they play on. The special effects of 1995 make this part of the film look freaky, still, after all these years. While the results didn’t age well for this film with time, it almost helps it, despite that fact. It instills this disturbing quality that is quintessential to “Jumanji’s” lore. Nevertheless, it causes Alan’s friend, Sarah, to turn tail and run, screaming from the house.
Fast-forward 26-years later.
Peter (Pierce) and Judy (Dunst) move into Alan’s old house after their aunt (Neuwirth) buys it, intending to turn it into a bed and breakfast. The drums call to them intensely. After they locate the game, they decide to play. Only it’s not their game. It’s the one that was started decades ago. To be plagued by the things from this game for years, or a lifetime, just because you couldn’t find the other player anymore… that’s messed up!
Some of the jungle creatures that emerge while they play are creepy. It’s hard to figure if the filmmakers were using what they had available at the time for such film components or if they wanted it all to look evil-like. There’s a lion that looks like a poorly CGI’ed taxidermy head in a few shots. The vines with man-eating flower pods use and appearance makeup for it. It’s pretty cool.
Then comes a plot twist that introduces ‘the jungle man’ (Williams). With his help, Judy and Peter can stay alive and outwit the hurdles the game is literally throwing out at them. Ideally, to finish the game and be free of it.
The performances by the actors are well done for a family film that involves lots of running and screaming. Because of the excellent material, the story’s pace moves flawlessly from one part to the next. The tone of imminent danger and being hunted is counterbalanced wonderfully by the jokes, quips, and Home Alone-like sequences that fit right in. Kids and adults will enjoy it.
Jumanji is an exciting, well-told adventure story crafted (originally) by someone with a dark sense of humor. It’s an excellent film to add to your watchlist for movie night or on a lazy weekend.
Would you play Jumanji?
—a pen lady