Jumanji (1995)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in All Play and No Work | 0 comments

Jumanji1

Disclaimer: It’s hard to say whether young viewers will be afraid of board games after seeing this, or if they’ll find all of them boring in comparison.

I always look forward to heading off to the closet for a rousing board game. As I mull over the titles, I always stop and glance at the covers. Often, they portray the perfect nuclear family as father and son sport matching cornflower blue polo shirts and perfectly parted brunette hair, while mother and daughter boast similar floral sun dresses and dishwater blonde hair. How I long to be the father figure on the cover of a board game. If only to write that on resumés and business cards.

As much fun as I have playing board games, I can’t say I ever expected to see a movie about one and, as it so happens, this one has a cast you’d expect to see on the cover. Jumanji concerns a magical yet mysterious board game that pits players against jungle obstacles such as predatory animals, lethal insects and plants, a man hunter, earthquakes, monsoons, and quicksand.

As the film unfolds, the year is 1869jumanji2 and two young men are burying a large wooden box. A century later, we meet young Alan Parrish in the quiet New Hampshire town of Brantford. Because of his well-to-do family (his father owns a shoe factory), we hear that bullies continually beat up young Alan. After one such brawl, Alan conveniently runs into a construction site and guess what he finds? Shortly after, Alan and a female classmate named Sarah sit down to play the game only to find its dangerous catch as the game transfers Alan to the jungle (until a player rolls a five or eight) and bats chase Sarah down the street. Once again, the film fast-forwards, only this time 26 years later when a new family moves into Alan’s home. The two children are Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy (Kirsten Dunst), whose parents died in a car crash, leaving them in the care of Aunt Nora (Bebe Neuwirth). Peter hasn’t spoken since the accident and Judy is a hilarious compulsive liar. After one day at the new house – and hearing rumors that Alan’s father murdered him and hid pieces of his body in the walls – the kids find Jumanji and begin to play themselves.

“Adventurers beware,” the game warns. “Do not begin unless you intend to finish. The exciting consequences of the game disappear only when a player has reached Jumanji and called out its name.”

After reading this, the kids set out jumanji3to finish the game and erase the damages. However, they need two other players to do so – Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) and Alan (Robin Williams). After returning from the jungle, Alan is an emotional wreck and, after returning from several therapy sessions, Sarah is a psychological wreck. “Everyone in this town has called me crazy since I told the cops you were sucked into a board game,” she tells Alan. Together, the foursome must fend off predators and finish the game.

The movie, like the board game itself, is an exhilarating adventure adapted from a book penned by Chris Van Allsburg (Zathura: A Space Adventure and The Polar Express). Though Williams is at the heart of this film, don’t expect comedy from his straight-laced character. Instead, Hunt and Police Officer Carl Bentley (David Alan Grier) provide the most comedic moments, from her cynical one-liners to his ballistic freak-outs. But my personal favorite is Van Pelt (Jonathan Hyde, who also plays Alan’s father, similar to stage productions of Peter Pan). Van Pelt is a sadistic hunter straight out of The Most Dangerous Game (as an arms dealer asks him, “You’re not a postal worker are you?”).

The CGI sequences, puppets, and animatronics look a little dated and director Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer and Honey I Shrunk the Kids) uses them far too often. Still, the fun story and fast pace keep you on the edge of your seat and interested to find out what will happen with the next perilous roll of the dice.

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