Jumanji is a children’s fantasy adventure film that consists mainly of horror, chaos and Robin Williams at his most unctuously endearing.
The elaborate (though less than airtight) plot is centred on a Victorian board game with magical powers, called “Jumanji” (a name probably meant to suggest “Parcheesi” though it sounds more like a lost martial art).
When 12-year-old Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) opens an elegantly-carved wooden box, he’s startled by the way the carved ivory playing pieces jump automatically into position on the board. His best (and, in fact, only) friend, Sarah (Laura Bell-Bundy), rolls the dice and a flock of snapping, digitally engineered bats invades Alan’s luxurious home.
After Alan takes his turn, a mysterious message appears on the game’s surface, banishing the boy to a sinister jungle land in another dimension until the next player in the game rolls a magic number.
That doesn’t happen for another 26 years when another pair of lonely children – orphaned Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Price) – move into the now run-down Parrish mansion and find the game hidden in the attic.
Peter’s first roll liberates the now 38-year-old Alan (Robin Williams), who – dressed in a Robinson Crusoe outfit of palm leaves and tortoise shells – runs through the house calling plaintively for his long-deceased mother and father.
Further rolls of the dice produce more eruptions of wildlife into the house – huge, poisonous mosquitos, a horde of blindly destructive monkeys, a roaring lion that takes up residence in the bedroom of the children’s guardian aunt (Bebe Neuwirth).
Only when the game is completed will its effects be reversed, which means that Alan and the kids must recruit the severely traumatised, now-adult Sarah (Bonnie Hunt), who has become a quivering neurotic and – inexplicably – a professional fortune-teller.
There’s very little humour to balance the many vividly realistic horrors produced by the game board, and – though the film is pumped up with moralistic sermons and psycho-babble of dubious value – its basic message seems to be that massive destruction is fun.
A 40-episode TV cartoon series of the same name was produced in 1996, featuring Judy and Peter Shepherd (voiced by Debi Derryberry and Ashley Johnson) and Aunt Nora (Melanie Chartoff). She was a psychologist trying to raise the two kids, but whenever Jumanji craziness broke out of the board into the real world, Aunt Nora passed it off as a hallucination.
Van Pelt/Sam Parrish
David Alan Grier
Gary Joseph Thorup