After being trapped in a jungle board game for 26 years, a Man-Child wins his release from the game. But, no sooner has he arrived that he is forced to play again, and this time sets the creatures of the jungle loose on the city. Now it is up to him to stop them. Written by
Joshua Davis <email@example.com>
In 1969, in a small town in New Hampshire, a twelve-year-old boy named Alan Parrish finds a Victorian-era board game called "Jumanji", and starts to play it with his friend Sarah. What the children do not realise, however, is that the game has strange, mysterious powers, and when Alan's token lands on a particular square he is suddenly sucked into the game. Unsurprisingly traumatised by the disappearance of her friend, Sarah runs out of the house shrieking, leaving the game unfinished.
Twenty-six years later two more children, Peter and Judy, orphaned by the death of their parents in a car crash, move into the former Parrish family home with their Aunt Nora. They find the old Jumanji set and start playing the game; when Peter rolls a five Alan suddenly reappears, now a grown man. He explains to them that he has been trapped inside the game for the last twenty-six years and that they must now finish the game which he and Sarah started. This, however, is easier said than done. Not only must the children find Sarah and persuade her to take part, they must also cope with the magical effects of the game. Each roll of the dice results in strange happenings in keeping with the game's jungle adventure theme; animals such as lions, monkeys, elephants and rhinoceroses suddenly materialise and proceed to wreak havoc in the town. Just as deadly is a white hunter named Van Pelt who will take pot-shots at anything that moves, animal or human.
The big-name star in this film is Robin Williams, although it also features a young Kirsten Dunst, later to become a big name herself. This isn't Williams' best role- I generally prefer him in his more serious films like "Dead Poet's Society" or "Good Morning, Vietnam"- but it's a lot better than many of his comedies, which can descend into either silliness or sentimentality.
This is the sort of family film that offers something to entertain the adults as well as the children, and has some underlying serious themes. The main theme is that of courage and of confronting one's fears; the horrors unleashed by the game can (if one is in a particularly serious, analytic frame of mind) be seen as symbolic of the problems that the characters need to overcome. Although (or perhaps because) he is from a wealthy, privileged family, the young Alan is a shy, lonely boy who finds it difficult to make friends and who is neglected by his cold, distant parents. Nevertheless, he does win his father's approval when he finds the courage to stand up to a gang of bullies who have been tormenting him. There is doubtless some Freudian significance in the fact that Alan's father and the murderous Van Pelt are played by the same actor.
Children, of course, could not care less about Freudian symbolism and are generally allergic to underlying serious themes. When I was a child the one thing that would kill a book or a film stone dead for me was the suspicion that it was being used by the adult world to preach some morally improving message to me. (C.S. Lewis was a particular bête noire of mine after an intellectually precocious classmate, who even at the age of nine cherished the long-term ambition to become Archbishop of Canterbury, pointed out to me the Christian allegory behind the "Narnia" stories).
Fortunately, any moralising in "Jumanji" is fairly light, and I suspect that children will simply see it as an exciting adventure story, even if the final twist in the tale involves the intellectually difficult concept of "alternative timelines". The special effects used to create the scenes of the rampaging animals seem to have aroused some excitement when the film first came out, although thirteen years on they have a rather retro, nineties feel to them. (And from the point of view of today's techno-literate youngsters the 1990s probably seem only slightly less technologically backward than the 1890s). 7/10
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