a critiQal film review Jumanji (1995)

Plot: In 1969, Alan Parrish (Hann-Byrd) discovers a board game buried in the dirt, and sits down to play with his reluctant friend Sarah. On his first roll, however, he's transported into the jungle realm of the game, disappearing before Sarah's startled eyes. 26 years later, two new children, Judy (Dunst) and Peter (Pierce) discover the game in the attic of Alan's childhood home - and release Alan (Williams) from the jungle. If Alan, Judy and Peter can find the now adult Sarah (Hunt), they have a chance to finish the game, or risk their hometown being taken over by the exotic denizens of the seemingly unstoppable force called Jumanji... forever.

483 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 24s)

Chris Van Allsburg. While most people may not recognize the name, they will probably recognize the movies that have been adapted from his illustrated children’s books: Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005), The Polar Express (2004), and Jumanji.

I’d seen Jumanji back around the time it came out, but hadn’t seen it so long I was ready to give it another look when I saw it appear in the NetFlix® instant queue. Would the fun film I remember still be just as entertaining after all these years, or has time been unkind to yet another fave from the past?

Robin Williams leads the cast of Jumanji, and it seems a perfect fit for him. He’s always good at playing the kid in a man’s body role (see Jack, Hook (1991), etc.), and is able to really make the fantasy situations he finds himself in come to life for the viewers with a childlike wonder that’s contagious.

After being trapped in the jungle for 26 years, he also gets to play the big fish-out-of-water shtick for a little bit, parading around in leaves and makeshift clothing, giving everyone a good laugh before he settles down, cleans up, and does a bit more participating and less hamming.

Kirsten Dunst, as a very young girl, is also solid as young Judy, although her performance (at an even younger age) in Interview With A Vampire puts most of her other performances – including this one – to shame. Still, she’s more along for the ride than leading the show, and does a good job with her character anyway.

Bonnie Hunt, who has fallen into that pit that is daytime TV talk shows as of late, is surprisingly refreshing as the grown Sarah Whittle, and does have a certain chemistry with Robin Williams, making their relationship work easily. Jonathan Hyde is mostly all posturing and a bit cheesy as the big game hunter / Alan’s dad, but he fits right into the wacky world pouring out of the game.

The story itself is downright fun, with viewers not knowing what to expect with each role of the dice, and watching in a sort of mock horror as the once-clean and spotless mansion is destroyed piece by piece. With the slightly cheesy but still fun interactions between the players and their surroundings (including David Alan Grier as a policeman who gets mixed up in the madness), the game – and the film – continue to bring surprises to the viewers as the movie progresses, right up to the very end.

The special effects, on the other hand, haven’t withstood the test of time as well as the story has, and the animals look a bit fake by today’s CGI standards.

With the fun storyline, a man-child role that fits Robin Williams to a T, and some entertaining supporting characters including Dunst and Hunt, Jumanji, despite it’s dated special effects, is still an enjoyable trip for the family.

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