After electronically surveying friends and coworkers about whether
JUMANJI would scare the daylights out of my son Jeffrey (soon to be 7),
we finally agreed it was time to give it a try. The voting before we
went was running about two to one that we should take him, but there
was a vocal minority warning us that since Jeffrey can frighten easily,
we should not get anywhere near the show. Since Jeffrey is a big movie
buff like his Daddy, in the end he decided to go, so the whole family
went on President's Day. Five minutes into the movie, Jeffrey was in
my lap declaring, "We should have gone to MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND."
Notwithstanding his periodic fear during the film, we all three loved
it immensely. It is a great mixture of action, humor, special effects,
As JUMANJI starts, it is a dark, foggy, and spooky night in New
Bedford, Massachusetts in the year 1869, and the coyotes are wailing
away. Two children are burying a box. A hundred years later, a boy
named Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd), finds this box and inside is a
board game called Jumanji. He and his friend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy)
decide to play the game. When they throw the dice, the pieces move by
themselves so Sarah figures "it must be magnets".
Soon the game turns out to be pretty terrifying. After each turn,
ferocious jungle animals come out to attack them. After one turn, Alan
gets the message, "In the jungle you must wait until the dice read five
or eight." He is thereupon sucked into the game, and Sarah runs
screaming out of the room since she is now scared out of her wits.
The story skips ahead to 1995. The old abandoned Parrish house is
being occupied by a new set of young children, Peter (Bradley Michael
Pierce) and Judy (Kirsten Dunst), along with their Aunt Nora (Bebe
Neuwirth). The kids find Jumanji, and again, the pieces move by
themselves which causes Judy to comment "it must be microchips." Soon
however, all hell is unleashed on the town, but at least the first
throw of the correct number frees Alan (now played by Robin Williams).
To save the community from the destruction, they have to finish the
game and to do this they must find Sarah (now played by Bonnie Hunt)
and get her to play too.
The logo for this show should have been a whirlwind. Getting
sucked into the game is pictured as a whirlwind, and the frantic and
marvelous pacing by director Joe Johnston sweeps the audience in as
well. A wonderful roller coaster of a good time at the movies to use
another metaphor. And funny. The script by Jonathan Hensleigh, Jim
Strain, and Greg Taylor, which is based on the book by Chris Van
Allsburg, is naturally hilarious with great sight gags. Among my many
favorites were the monkeys driving the police motorcycle and the one of
the flood, but there were many more. The beauty of the story itself is
that it naturally sets an horrific pace. Be sure and take everyone to
the bathroom before entering, you will not be able to miss a minute of
After the story, the director is the one who deserves the most
credit. He had his actors in control and everything set up perfectly.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do and executed precisely. The
cinematography (Thomas Ackerman) with the dark and shadowy interiors
was excellent at evoking a far away jungle. Usually extraordinary
special effects, as these are, dazzle the audience and focuses the
audience's attention on the mechanics of the effects. Here, the
special effects, i.e., all of the animals, were great, but they
complimented the story rather than dominating it.
All of the actors were fine albeit not on par with the story or
the directing. My favorite was Kirsten Dunst's performance of the
little girl who told one tall tale after another. Robin Williams was
well cast as a serious and sad character, and the director keep him in
control so that Williams did slip into his comedic role.
JUMANJI runs a blazing fast 1:40. It is rated PG for violence,
e.g., a stampede of rhinos, but no one gets killed in the show. There
is no sex, nudity, smoking, etc. Except for the violence, and that is
a big except, this would have been a G rated show. There are no swear
words in the show, a minor miracle today. Jeffrey says he would
recommend it for kids 5 or 6 and up, and he enthusiastically gives it
two thumbs up. His dad recommends the movie, but still would caution
parents of kids under 10 that the special effects can be terrifyingly
real. What if you walked into your bedroom now and a real lion roared
at you from your bed? Would you be scared? Finally, I award it ***.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes