Jumanji is a beloved film, and I have warm memories of the first time I saw it with my young son during its original 1995 theatrical release. I faced a re-watch with minor trepidation and angst. What if it doesn’t hold up? What of the dreaded “Goonies Derivation?” Jumanji’s then-groundbreaking use of CGI is now twenty years old; what if it now looks quaint and creaky? I have never been the biggest fan of Robin Williams; what if this is another of his “chicken-in-a-blender performances?
I need not have worried.
Twenty-six years later, Nora Shephard (Bebe Neuwirth) purchases the Parrish house and moves in, accompanied by her recently orphaned niece and nephew, Judy and Peter (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce). Judy and Peter find the “Jumanji” game in the attic and start to play. Almost immediately, the now adult Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) is freed from the game. The game also unleashes a swarm of giant mosquitos, a ferocious lion, and ten crazed monkeys. Can Alan and the children finish the game and make all of its terrible consequences go away? Can finishing the game get any more complicated?
Jumanji holds up wonderfully well. I was engaged. I laughed. I was moved by all of the father/son material. While the CGI does look a bit dated, it did not bother me because the CGI was highly stylized to begin with—all of the CGI creatures look like illustrations from a children’s book brought to life. Plus, the film features many impressive practical effects, from the monsoon that overtakes the dining room to the creepy spiders set loose in the attic. I enjoyed the mix of special effects methods, and I wished more films would use this production model.
Dead Poets Society, Patch Adams, and Good Morning, Vietnam. Here, he undersells everything, but never becomes the uber-sincere low talker we find in films like Good Will Hunting and Awakenings. (Another of my top Williams performances: his turn as Dr. Cozy Carlisle in Dead Again.)
Indeed, all of the performances in Jumanji are wonderful and spot-on: David Alan Grier is very funny as a frustrated cop; and Bonnie Hunt has never been better than as her grown-up, mixed-up Sarah. Kirsten Dunst gives a terrific child performance, and Bradley Pierce, as her brother, grows a tail. The filmmakers also had the inspired idea of having Jonathan Hyde play a dual role: Alan’s distant father and the psychopathic big-game hunter, Van Pelt.
TANGENT: Last week I attended a theatrical screening of It’s A Wonderful Life. (It’s a wonderful film.) I’m guessing it was because that film is rated G that the audience was treated to endless trailers for upcoming children’s films, each one worse than the last. Every single trailer featured flatulence gags because I guess cartoony farts are an easy laugh among the 4-8 year old demographic. There is a scene in the upcoming Sherlock Gnomes film (I’m not making this up) where a little garden gnome falls into a bucket of water and farts and farts and farts. It made me sad. Don’t we owe more to our children than this? Shouldn’t we demand our best artists be tasked with crafting children’s entertainment? We want our children to be challenged and delighted, not snickering at toot-toots.
Official Jumanji Thrill-O-Meter Reading: 93%
(The film is full of exciting adventures: man-eating plants, ferocious lions, monsoons, and crazed NRA advocates)
(Giant, stinging insects, spiders the size of pigs, and Alan’s terrifying monologue about what the jungle is really like…)
(Practical effects, a laundry list of stunt men in the end credits, a baby rhino who just can’t keep up with his stampede, and a police car that is eaten by a bush)
On a completely unrelated note, this marks my 300th weekly column. Though our Grand Poo-Bah Patrick Bromley constantly exhorts me to “stop counting,” I count. Not including “one offs,” contributions to group columns, eulogies etc., I have now been writing one column or another for F This Movie! for more than six years. Although I am no fan of the weekly grind, I can honestly say I love writing about movies for the audience that Patrick and Company have assembled here. I would also like to thank my lovely wife Jan who, by my count, has now devoted a full 12 days of her life to copy-editing these winsome screeds. It is my wish to continue writing in this capacity for a very long time. You will remove me from the theater only when you pry my cold, dead hands from the sticky armrests.