We all love Jumanji. That’s a given. Jumanji is one of those movies that is the perfect cinematic experience.
And by Jumanji I mean the Robin Williams film from 1995. I don’t mean the recent 21st century films with Dwayne Johnson. Don’t get me wrong, I have no quarrel with those Jumanji movies, but they’re definitely not the same as the 1995 film.
Jumanji, a movie about a haunted board game that brings violent jungle-themed monsters from its own dimension over to our world, is the perfect Father’s Day film. No, seriously. Jumanji doesn’t exactly hit the viewer over the head with its message about fathers and sons but the emotional core is there. In fact, for a movie full of rampaging stampedes of animals trampling a mid-90s New England town, Jumanji can be surprisingly complex in some of its themes on family. Child psychiatrists would have a field day with the character of Russel Van Pelt, a murderous British hunter in a pith helmet who is devoted to killing the Robin Williams character Alan Parrish. Van Pelt is played by Jonathan Hyde, the same actor who plays Alan’s emotionally distant father Sam Parrish.
One thing that has struck me rewatching Jumanji with my son is how well the special effects have held up. Jumanji is almost 30 years old and watching Alan Parrish get sucked into a haunted board game is still kind of horrifying. It’s a huge contrast to Twister, which was made a year after Jumanji. Twister, unlike Jumanji, has not aged well in its visual effects.
Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) did the effects for both Twister and Jumanji.
The beginning of Jumanji, where two children named Alan and Sarah start playing the board game, is absolutely freaky. We see Alan roll the dice. The board game shows the words “In the jungle you must wait/ ’Til the dice read five or eight.” We then see Alan watch with curiosity and then horror as his finger tips stretch out thinner than a sheet of paper. Alan Parrish’s arms follow his fingertips. They stretch out like long snakes and finally his whole body squeezes out in a torturous way and whirls above the game as Alan screams in terror. “Roll the dice!!!” we hear him shriek at Sarah before he disappears. He already knows that the dice must be rolled to five or eight or he is doomed.
That scene is scary. And it’s still scary watching it almost 30 years later. Jumanji is a testament to how well-crafted effects which are imbued with the correct emotion can stand the test of time. Even the massive lion that Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) unleash from Jumanji still impresses. I also love the running gag of the disintegrating cop car belonging to long-suffering police officer Carl Bentley (a hilarious David Alan Grier). Bentley’s car becomes more and more damaged by the Jumanji game’s shenanigans throughout the movie until it’s finally eaten by a large carnivorous plant. Other effects have aged less gracefully (the less said about the fuzzy digital monkeys the better) but overall Jumanji’s CGI has held up surprisingly well.
The practical effects of Jumanji are a bit more hit-and-miss. I loved the large elegant Parrish mansion festooned with jungle plants and flooded with monsoons. Less convincing were the large plastic spiders that attacked Alan (Robin Williams) and Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) towards the end of the film. And we can still see the rubber flexing around Robin Williams’ face when he is stuck in the wooden floor.
Another problem I have with Jumanji is the ending. It’s a kids movie so obviously it’s going to have a happy ending. The problem I have is that the ending to Jumanji is a little *too* happy.
After Alan wins Jumanji, he and Sarah are immediately transported back to 1969 when they both started the board game. He and Sarah are children again. Alan’s parents are still alive. Alan and Sarah get to re-do on their childhoods without any of the Jumanji-induced trauma that spoiled their first childhoods.
It’s just a bizarre message to send to kids. Hey kids, as long as you play by the rules all the bad things will totally go away! Your trauma will disappear. Your dead parents will come back to life. You’ll get a do-over on all the parts of your life that damaged you during the first time around. It’s all good!
But of course that’s not true. Trauma is often permanent. Time does not reverse and give you a second chance. Dead parents do not come back to life. You don’t get do-overs. A lot of bad things that happen are permanent and you just have to manage them or work to persevere despite the past.
The lesson that sometimes bad things happen and there’s nothing you can do about them is a hard lesson for children to learn. And Jumanji kind of whiffs on that.
Plus at the end we see Alan and Sarah as adults again. This time however they are on the second timeline and are happily married with a baby on the way. Which made me wonder a bit. Alan had been stuck in Jumanji from 1969–1995 in the first timeline, but Sarah had been in the real world. She would have known about stuff like the Challenger explosion and the Loma Prieta earthquake and Jeffrey Dahmer and all of that. Did she warn anyone while growing up again during the second timeline?
Or maybe she did warn people about other disasters and since we’re all living in the second timeline, we don’t know about those disasters because she prevented them. And the disasters we do know about Sarah couldn’t warn us about because they didn’t happen in the first timeline.
Whatever. I don’t know. It’s just a movie. And a good movie. I love Jumanji.
Even if it still freaks me out.