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Growing up, if asked who my favorite illustrator was, I’d always reply with Chris Van Allsburg. My elementary school years in Florida saw our librarian reading us many of his lusciously detailed books and I fell in love with the paintings as well as the stories. So when I saw that Jumanji had been made into a film, I was very excited. Watching it back in 1995, I think I really had fun, and revisiting it now keeps a lot of that childish enjoyment intact, even if the special effects may not have aged well. Going through the first little bit, a prologue if you will, I was completely in the dark, not remembering any of those moments. It’s been even longer since I last read the book, but I want to say that backstory was added for cinematic effect, although I could be totally wrong there. Either way, it is a nice set-up, starting in the 1800’s as two young kids bury the game in hopes to rid the world of it, only to be found again by Alan Parrish in 1969, transporting him into the jungle world for 26 years until two new children stumble upon its drumming.

Special effects are a very interesting thing. Whenever you get groundbreaking, never been better graphics, they will never hold up with time … well maybe not never. I recall films from my childhood that were so vividly magical, yet when I revisit them now I can hardly understand what I could have been thinking. Stop-motion animation or blue-screen work that is a different tint or animatronic creatures feeling plastic, if it’s fake it will look fake when you become accustomed to newer technology. This is true with Jumanji, but being a children’s fantasy it doesn’t hurt the replay value. Sure the backgrounds start to look flat, telestrating that an effect will be coming because you know there is a blue-screen behind the actor, and interaction with computer elements becomes forced as the humans don’t quite match up when touching the objects not really there, but it still works. The lion is quite effective, the set-piece water and quick growing vines portray some realism, and really the only things that may be a touch off are the monkeys, (very cartoon-like), the stampeding animals, (definitely not in the same color scheme of environment with what they run through), the jelly-like plastic spiders, and the quicksand floors. Otherwise, you kind of give it the benefit of the doubt because I truly believe the story holds up strong and you will be engrossed in the plot progression, hiding the inadequacies of effects.

The film is an inventive tale about a game that affects the real world. You role the dice and bring creatures from Jumanji into your own living room. It’s a dark magic that rears its ugly head first by entrapping a young boy until the next player rolls a five or eight. His disappearance so frightens his friend, however, that she runs off and seeks psychiatric help over the next three decades to prove to her that it never happened. As a result, young Alan Parrish grows up in the jungle world of violence and fantasy, only to be brought back as a grown man when the new inhabitants of his now-deceased parent’s house roll the dice themselves. Judy and Peter start to understand what is happening, and unlike Alan and Sarah, they read the second half of the instructions which state that only when the game is won and the word Jumanji spoken do the fantastical elements entered into their world go away. While it might not be “real”, it is all very much alive and solid until the game takes it back again at the end.

The cast resides in the tale very nicely, containing many familiar faces and effective turns. Alan, the boy trapped and returned, is played as an adult by the always fun Robin Williams. It’s a somewhat more subdued role for him, yet the knowledge of all these creatures and having first-hand lived in Jumanji, allows for a little of his manic mannerisms to show up. But I think his relationship with the adult Sarah, played by Bonnie Hunt, works best. The two of them are very much still children—one had been trapped in a fictional world and the other in her own head. Only now, so many years later, do they finally have a chance to grow up—and with a very intriguing and somewhat surprising ending, they get to do so in more ways than you may think.

There are also some nice small supporting roles, including Bebe Neuwirth as the present-day children’s, (Judy and Peter), aunt; Jonathan Hyde as Alan’s father and fictional villain Van Pelt, who is very much an embodiment of the father; and David Alan Grier as “Soulman” Carl Bentley. Grier is a lot of fun playing someone from Alan’s past that becomes a policeman, with his new job putting him right in the mix of things in the present. The two roles that really make the film work, however, are the new game players played by Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce. Both are great as two youngsters who are battling their own fears about what is happening while also trying to be the “adult” figures to Alan and Sarah, keeping them on task to finish the game they started and hopefully bring their world back to normal.

Jumanji 6/10

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