THE INITIAL RELEASE (1995)
Jumanji was originally a story book for children. It was an illustrated book that told the tale from the perspective of the characters Judy and Peter. The adult characters of the movie were only briefly present in the original script, and its believed the character of Alan Parrish was made the main focus with the kids due to the involvement of Robin Williams with the project. The intended audience was families and the adult element was beefed up with the idea of implementing values to children whilst also having the relate-able kid characters of the original still present. The rights for a film adaptation were picked up when famous Hollywood producer Peter Guber asked the book’s author Chris Van Allsberg to write up a rough draft of a screenplay. The vibe he wanted to go for with the adaptation was one that imbued the qualities of mystery and surrealism into the mix. Three writers ended up having a hand in the finished screenplay; Jim Strain, Jonathan Hensleigh and Greg Taylor. The excellent score of the film was tackled by James Horner of Aliens fame and the directorial chair was occupied by family friendly film extraordinaire, Mr. Joe Johnston.
MY FULL EXPERIENCE (1995 – 2014)
“In the jungle you must wait, till the dice reads five or eight” The words that ensnared the frequently pestered young boy, Alan Parrish. “A game for those who wish to find/A way to leave your world behind” a proposition that seemed harmless in the context of it being written on a board game. The promise of an escape enticed him into the board game known as Jumanji; although he did not foresee how literally the game meant those words. The life he knew from what we were shown was one of feeling lonely. His parents were intent on planning a future he wasn’t too interested in and additionally he found himself on the end of a beating from local kids. He had two friends. Sarah Whittle and “The Soleman” Carl Bentley. The latter he accidentally caused to lose his job. The former was the girl who took pity on him and got roped into playing the mysterious board game with him. The game with the tribal drums. The bongo beat that is so ingrained into my head even now.
Its very easy to see from the set-up how this could be twisted into a film of the horror variety in the right hands. In actuality, Jumanji is a fun, action adventure romp starring the late Robin Williams. The story woven here is one of the aforementioned boy Alan Parrish who becomes a man deep in the jungles of Jumanji. For 15 years Alan is trapped within the mystical board game only to be released by two young kids, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce). These two stumble upon Jumanji when they move into the residence formerly owned by the Parishes. They discover quickly the dangers of the game when each turn they take unleashes another peril from the depths of the jungle into their house. Its only by Peter rolling an eight that a jungle hardened adult Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) emerges to give them, reluctantly, some much needed aid. Their aim is to finish the game entirely to undo all that has been done. In order to continue they seek out and recruit the slightly transmutated older Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt) who also reluctantly gets on board their adventure.
The plot truly kicks off from this point as we see the wonderful chemistry from Williams and Hunt shine on screen as they play up their parts of two childhood friends reunited once again. The overall main cast we have here is solid for an entertaining family film of this variety. Notable nod to a young Kirsten Dunst, who seems logically the best choice of the two young child actors to go on to do big things. A second nod to comic relief, David Alan Grier playing the unfortunate Carl Bentley who goes from losing a job at a shoe factory to being the worlds unluckiest cop as he constantly gets involved in the jungle antics of Jumanji. Its not a particularly funny film, although it does have its moments. Williams surprisingly plays this one largely serious albeit with a few improvisational parts thrown in the mix. Given the nature of the wacky premise i would have expected more bang for my buck within the realms of humor. Its not a major deterrent though as we can still have a good laugh about some of the decidedly dated computer graphics throughout.
The visuals themselves are a real mixed bag in this one. Its tough to say, but in some regards it feels like there was two different teams working on the same film. Certain effects like the CGI pelican, the vines that grow from the walls and in general the aesthetic of the stampede look like they could have been done in the last five to ten years. On the flip-side we have ridiculous looking monkeys and dodgy flying mosquitoes that certainly feel like a product of the times. I won’t rag too hard on the effects as it would have been early enough days developing the capability of computer technology. However, they haven’t aged quite as well as I would have hoped. There are animatronic creatures featured alongside the computer generated ones and they vastly exceed any effects that are in the film. The scenes that do look quite well produced just make me feel irritated that there is not a consistent level of visual appeal throughout.
This being said, Jumanji is not a movie that you could ever be bored by. Its a simple popcorn flick that may look sketchy in parts, but really pulls through by virtue of its neat concept and its well cast actors. The highlights for me are not visual scenes; they are little moments of interaction between the characters. Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt’s characters evolve to become mother and father figures throughout the film and the subtlety in this transition builds great investment in all involved. A choice point for frame of reference would be Alan realizing that when he is telling Peter that it isn’t okay to cry, he realizes that he sounds exactly like his father and backpedals from his statement. This motif follows throughout, of Alan living in the shadow of his father. It is heightened by the hunter character Van Pelt who comes out of the game specifically to kill Alan. The symbolism here coming from the fact that Van Pelt is played by the same actor who plays Alan’s dad in the opening scenes is powerful and still hits home.
This is a relate-able message for a lot of us with a good resolution on the matter near the climax. It was a message that I didn’t pick up on as a child as I was still too enamored by the idea that a board game could be real. The initial viewing led to me wondering when exactly stingy Mr. Monopoly would come out of his box and finally give me the 200 pounds and the hotel on Talbot street that I’d been craving for. Alas, it is 19 years on and pounds aren’t the currency anymore, so I’m fairly okay with the fact that I didn’t have a creepy board game mascot in my home.
I’m fairly okay with Jumanji. If you leave the poor CGI and the occasional plot hole gripes aside, you’ve got a solid flick with good messages, light entertainment and predominantly strong performances. Its likable and worth a revisit — even if just to see Van Pelts silly mustache.
THE INITIAL RELEASE (1995)