Jumanji (1995) / Adventure-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some violence, language, and brief crude humor
Running Time: 108 min.

Cast: Robin Williams, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Bonnie Hunt, Bebe Neuwirth, Jonathan Hyde, David Alan Grier, Patricia Clarkson, Adam Hann-Byrd
Director: Joe Johnston
Screenplay: Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor, Jim Strain (based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg)
Review published December 28, 2007

Based on Chris Van Allsburg's 1981 children's book of the same name, Jumanji, the film, fleshes out the short book to include a story about Alan Parrish (Hann-Byrd, Little Man Tate), who, as a young boy struggling with isolation and abandonment in 1969, winds up finding a strange board game.  He and his only friend, Sarah, play the game, only to come to discover that playing it may cost their lives.  You see, the game reveals a riddle with every turn, and each riddle brings forth new, real-life dangers that occur right in the world around them.   Deadly bugs, bats, crazy monkeys, stampedes of rhinos and elephants, quicksand and more are the perils of the game, and in one fateful turn, young Alan disappears into the depths of the jungle -- at least until another player rolls a 5 or 8.

Flash forward to 1995, and we have a new set of kids -- siblings Judy (Dunst, Little Women) and Peter (Pierce, Beauty and the Beast), who have just moved into the old Parrish house.  They stumble upon the game and start to play, causing similar results, except when one rolls a 5, a strange man dressed in jungle garb appears, revealing himself to be Alan Parrish, (Williams, Nine Months), all grown up, having spent the last 26 years in the jungle waiting for his release.  Alan helps the kids out of their predicaments, but he is still bound to play, as well as Sarah (Hunt, Jerry Maguire), who is still in town.  Together, they must play until someone finishes the game -- that is, unless the game finishes them first.

Jumanji is a special effects-laden family film that has a simple premise, and delivers enough escapist entertainment to probably keep young and old alike modestly entertained.  It has a fairly thin plot, but the various situations that deliver a new peril come frequent enough to keep the momentum going, constantly changing with each new roll, and it does maintain a substantial amount of intrigue as to how the game might eventually end.  In short, it's not nearly a knockout, but it does entertain while it's on.

Those looking for a Robin Williams comedy should take note that he plays his part mostly straight, sparingly cracking jokes (upon sight of the modern bathroom, he quips, quite relieved, "Oh, thank you.  No more banana leaves.")  The kids are cast well, with a very young Kirsten Dunst appealing as the bright and resourceful Judy.  Jonathan Hyde (Richie Rich, Anaconda) has a dual role of Alan's father in the beginning of the film, as well as Alan's would-be killer, as the world-renown hunter, Van Pelt, who Alan rolls to life on one of his turns in the board game.  David Alan Grier (Blankman, Boomerang) provides most of the comic relief as the cop who is overwhelmed at trying to keep the peace of the town (and his spiffy cop car pristine) as the jungle environs threaten to take over.

Of course, though Robin Williams plays a substantial part, the real attraction to Jumanji is the special effects quotient.  Some of the creature models may not be particularly convincing (the monkeys, for instance, look cartoonish and very CGI),  but the effects team do a wonderful job in mixing the special effects with the live action in a very realistic way.  When animals break through walls or trample cars, it looks quite believable.  

Even with the somewhat sad story of Alan losing his childhood and family for 26 years, Jumanji isn't particularly deep or profound, crafted strictly to deliver a fast-paced good time that never dallies long enough for us to see how gimmicky and insubstantial the main story truly is.  Kids will probably watch with rapt attention (though younger ones may find it a bit scary at times), while adults may be moderately entertained by the look and sound, even if the story itself is left wanting.  It's certainly not great cinema, and even fails somewhat in the "troubled youth finding acceptance" theme, but, for what people would be attracted to the film for (an imaginative adventure filled with mayhem), it delivers what you expect, no more, no less.

-- An animated television series followed from 1996-1999, with the same characters, but not exactly faithful to the movie.  A spin-off was made in 2005, Zathura

Qwipster's rating

©2007 Vince Leo