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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Jumanji

Starring: Robin Williams, Bradley Pierce
Director: Joe Johnston
Rated: PG
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: December 1995
Genres: Kids, Family, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Kirsten Dunst, Bonnie Hunt, Bebe Neuwirth, Jonathan Hyde, David Alan Grier, Patricia Clarkson, Adam Hann-Byrd, Laura Bell Bundy

Review by Andrew Hicks
2½ stars out of 4

While I was watching this video, my mom walked into the room to get something. She looked at the screen and asked, "JUMANJI?" I replied, "No thanks, I just ate." I have no idea what that's supposed to mean, of course, but it sounded nice enough. And so did this movie, from the pictures and copy on the back of the box. But when I actually watched JUMANJI, I found out it was far from perfect. Jumanji is some kind of magic board game (not the one where you take turns stacking blocks until they fall over -- that's Jenga, soon to be a major motion picture) that lures children into rolling the dice, by which point the only way to rid yourself of the game's consequences is to finish.

Alan digs up the game outside his dad's shoe factory and plays it one night his friend Sarah. It turns out when you roll the dice a really bad poem comes up on the board. That's torture enough, but after Sarah rolls, a couple hundred bats fly out. Alan rolls and gets sucked into the game. Sarah runs away, screaming, and spends the next twenty-six years of her lvince herself the event never happened.

Then, in 1995, two kids who have just moved into the mansion with their Aunt Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth, who could probably help Sarah with the therapy) discover the magic of Jumanji. Judy (Kirsten Dunst) rolls and three giant mosquitoes attack them. Peter rolls and a bunch of computer-animated monkeys materialize to destroy their kitchen. The kids then find out the rule about having to finish the game and are therefore forced to continue playing.

On the next roll, out comes a lion. Next comes Alan himself (Robin Williams), now a fully-grown savage with a long beard and a bushier mane than the lion. But he isn't homefree yet, he still has to finish the game he started back in 1969, along with psychic friend Sarah (Bonnie Hunt). That's when the real fun begins, as the game spits out an English bounty hunter, a stampede, a monsoon and -- worst of all -- a card reading "Go Directly to Jail; Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200." That Uncle Pennybags is a bastard, ain't he?

JUMANJI is a fairly decent action film weighted down by a few key factors. First of all, Robin Williams shows none of his usual manic charisma, playing with laughable seriousness the role of someone trapped in a board game for over a quarter of a century. Second, the special effects are just so damn fake-looking. In a movie like this, as in JURASSIC PARK or TWISTER, the effects are the main draw. Computer animation hasn't been this obvious since that "Money For Nothing" video.

Finally, the ending is a complete sell-out. They spend at least fifteen minutes trying to establish the happiest possible ending to the game, one which involves time travel and knowledge of the future. If the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy has taught us anything, it's that changing past events screws up the future, and the glaring obviousness of the JUMANJI ending raises hundreds more questions about the outcome of its characters than it answers. I guess it's my fault for actually _thinking_ during the movie.

Copyright 1996 Andrew Hicks

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