Jumanji was one of my favorite family films while growing up. Based on Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book with a much simpler story, it succeeds in summoning the same magic that highlights Van Allsburg’s books, namely the “what if” quality of fantasy. What if a giant locomotive stops in the middle of the street outside one’s door on Christmas Eve? What if one’s house were transported into outer space? What if monkeys and stampedes were to suddenly appear in one’s home? Yet Jumanji also boasts an entertaining story to accompany the images, with much more enjoyable characters than its science fiction follow-up Zathura.
Of course, in light of his recent death, all Robin Williams films now hold a touch of sadness, but Jumanji allowed him a (mostly) serious role that was still accessible to the child audience. Though the idea of being sucked into a board game has a silly quality that is touched on, Williams depicts the realistic loss and loneliness which someone in that position would necessarily endure. Bonnie Hunt is also endearing as his traumatized friend Sarah, while a young Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce play Judy and Peter, the only players from the original book. Just as Hans Conried voiced both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan, Jonathan Hyde plays both Alan’s father and his confrontational hunter Van Pelt, with a much more obvious parental parallel between the two. David Alan Grier is also hilarious as Officer Carl, whose reactions to the ever-increasing damage to his car are priceless.
The computer-generated imagery was still cutting-edge for 1995 but sadly hasn’t completely aged well. Though the jungle mayhem is still impressive and entertaining, it’s all clearly effects, particularly the monkeys and the giant spider puppets. Even so, children are more forgiving of such things; as a kid and adult, I still enjoyed every minute of this film (except that spider part—ugghhh).
Offering excitement, humor, and a bearded Robin Williams for all ages, Jumanji is a rollicking good time. As the chaos piles up, so does the danger, as well as the fun for those of us not experiencing it. And aside from the endorsement of child/parent harmony, the film also teaches an important moral: never play with strange items found buried and locked in an ancient chest. Lesson learned.
Best line: (gun store owner, when the pith-helmeted Van Pelt is eagerly purchasing a replacement weapon) “You’re not a postal worker, are you?”Rank: 55 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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