Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, David Alan Grier, Jonathan Hyde, Bebe Neuwirth, Patricia Clarkson, Malcolm Stewart, Annabel Kershaw, Gary Joseph Thorup, James Handy, Laura Bell Bundy, Adam Hann-Byrd
Written by: Greg Taylor, Jonathan Hensleigh, Jim Strain, based on a novel by Chris Van Allsburg
Directed by: Joe Johnston
MPAA Rating: PG for menacing fantasy action and some mild language
Running Time: 104
Date: 12/15/1995

Jumanji (1995)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Flare Game

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I missed Jumanji (1995) when it was first released, but caught up with it in the summer of 2018 at the Alamo Drafthouse with my son. I can see how reviewers might have responded with agitation back then, but time has softened it, especially given the passing of star Robin Williams, and it's an enjoyable watch. The main character, Alan Parrish, might have been cast as an action hero, and certainly he has his share of stunts (wrestling a crocodile, etc.), but director Joe Johnston gets credit for considering the psychology of the character. Alan has grown up inside the jungles of the game, aging 26 years, and would surely not act like any normal grownup. More than any other actor, Williams was able to capture that unique quality.

The rest of the story is rather intense, with a penchant for putting kids in danger (it starts with the young Alan being beat up by bullies), and with heavy, noisy visual effects. But the combination of practical effects and early CGI today seems rather charming, and James Horner's score balances blaring excitement with moments of delight. Based on a novel by Chris Van Allsburg (whose Zathura was made into a satisfying and underrated 2005 movie), the story involves an enchanted board game that requires viewers to complete a game they have started, but puts them in mortal peril with each roll of the dice. Wild animals appear, or monsoons, or poisonous plants, etc.

Twenty-six years after young Alan and young Sarah started, they must finish with with two new players, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce). Bonnie Hunt plays the grown Sarah, having been in continuous therapy after seeing Alan disappear and being chased by bats. David Alan Grier plays a comical police officer, whose car is systematically destroyed. Bebe Neuwirth plays Judy and Peter's aunt, who inherited them after the deaths of their parents, and Patricia Clarkson appears in flashback as Alan's mother. In a very clever touch, Jonathan Hyde plays both Alan's stern father and the big game hunter that torments him inside the game. Jumanji winds up with a delightful Christmas sequence, so it counts as a worthy holiday title.

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