Jumanji (1995)
Jumanji (1995)

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: December 15th, 1995 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Joe Johnston Actors: Robin Williams, Jonathan Hyde, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt, Bebe Neuwirth, David Alan Grier, Patricia Clarkson, Adam Hann-Byrd, Laura Bell Bundy

 


 

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n 1869, two youths, Benjamin and Caleb, journey deep into the woods to bury a wooden crate containing a pulsing entity. 100 years later, in Brantford, New Hampshire, little Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) flees on his bike from the neighborhood bullies, all the way to his family’s shoe factory, where the other boys dare not follow. “If you’re afraid of something, you’ve got to stand and face it,” insists Alan’s father (Jonathan Hyde), prompting the boy to wander back outside, where he’s treated to a bloody lip.

The surrounding area happens to be a site of construction, where an excavation crew has all but unearthed the very same crate from a century before, which contains what appears to be a board game – entitled “Jumanji.” Returning home, Alan gives the game a shot, joined by his friend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy), who insists that she doesn’t play board games anymore. While Sarah’s unintentional roll of the dice finds her chased by a swarm of magical bats, Alan is sucked into the game itself – cursed to remain in the jungles of Jumanji until another player rolls a five or an eight.

Twenty-six years later, Nora Shepherd (Bebe Neuwirth) purchases the Parrish’s deserted home, bringing with her two children, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce), whose parents recently died in a car crash. The spacious mansion was a bargain, partly because it’s been rumored that Alan was killed by his parents and buried in the walls. Either way, the boy has been missing since 1969. Before school the next day, Judy and Peter hear the sound of drums coming from the attic, where they discover the Jumanji game, unwittingly setting in motion a terrifying series of events that will force them to keep playing until one of them finishes – or they’re all dead.

The introduction is dark and serious – a surprising tone for a children’s film. But director Joe Johnston (“Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,” “The Rocketeer”) excels in presenting a side of adolescence that isn’t all fun and games. An undeniable creepiness exists in his pictures, and “Jumanji” is no different. But this preference for morbidity is what gives the film its edge; it’s exhibited through the perspective of kids, but the thrills are foreboding enough to amuse adults. It’s mischievous yet witty, frightening yet funny, along the lines of “Gremlins” or “Hook” or “Arachnophobia.”

Amidst the troublemaking, talk of murder, kidnapping, deception, and the potentially deadly trials of Jumanji are the more grounded notions of childhood angst, such as rebellion against severe parenting and the related expression of acting out, habitual lying, and cheating. There’s also a very convincing brother/sister bond at its heart. Perfectly contrasting the occult tribulations of Jumanji, which pits the children against oversized mosquitoes, impish monkeys, and a man-eating lion, is Robin Williams as the adult Alan Parrish, who returns from his preternatural exile in the jungle. Instead of brushing past the trauma of decades of maturation and isolation in a foreign land, the film addresses this potent concept, showing how his life – and his parents’ lives – have been destroyed by his absence. In a twist, Alan must also be the brave leader of the bunch – despite having the mentality and experiences of an abandoned child. Additionally, thousands of hours of therapy were necessary for his partner, Sarah (as an adult, played by Bonnie Hunt). Williams gets to crack a few of his signature jokes, but he’s far more restrained here than in “Mrs. Doubtfire” or “Toys.”

An abundance of CG creatures is a bit unfortunate, as these creations aren’t convincing (and age poorly), but the use of practical effects, even in brief moments, is exceptional. The lion’s paws and tail tromping on a piano, or a flesh-eating plant emerging from a fireplace, look impressive, despite their artificiality, in a fitting, almost playful way. Dual roles (or aged personas) for several of the actors gives the movie a bit of a “The Wizard of Oz” vibe, as if reality and fantasy have been blended, which is exactly what “Jumanji” does so well – its believable setting nicely contradicts the outrageousness of exotic, wild animals wreaking havoc on a New England town. With plenty of laughs, action-packed excitement (it’s even swashbuckling at times), great music (by James Horner), spectacular sets, and inspirational themes, “Jumanji” is an absolutely winning adventure.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10