Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Movie Review: Jumanji (1995)


A fantasy adventure comedy aimed at the pre-teen market, Jumanji stays true to its simple objective of providing basic thrills and some laughs packaged into a straightforward life lesson.

In 1869 two frightened boys bury a mysterious board game deep into the ground in rural New England. One hundred years later the local town has expanded, the Parrish shoe company is the major employer, and at a construction site 12 year old Alan Parrish digs up the board game, called Jumanji, and takes it home. Alan gets into an argument with his stern dad Sam (Jonathan Hyde) about boarding school, before unpacking the game to play with his friend Sarah. The game has magical powers and in each round unleashes dangerous, jungle-themed challenges including rampaging animals. After an early dice throw Alan is consumed by the game and disappears into the virtual jungle world. Sarah is horrified and runs away, abandoning the game and leaving Alan to his unknown fate.

26 years later, orphans Judy and Peter Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) move into the abandoned Parrish house with their Aunt Nora (Bebe Neuwirth). They soon learn of the legend of the missing Alan Parrish, now rumoured to have been killed by his father. Judy and Peter find the Jumanji board and start to play, not knowing that they are actually continuing the game started by Alan and Sarah. Soon a dice throw frees Alan (Robin Williams) from the jungle. Realizing that the game needs to be played to its conclusion to roll back the chaos being unleashed, Alan goes looking for the grown up Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) to join him, Judy and Peter and finish the game.

Jumanji does not stray far from the simple message that life's journey is full of challenges to be confronted, quitting is not a good idea, and while some things are scary all can be overcome with dedication and persistence. It's an old-fashioned film which avoids irony and sarcasm, and instead offers up an engaging enough multi-generational story.

Director Joe Johnston, adapting the Chris Van Allsburg book, keeps the jungle-themed action and thrills on just the right side of not-too-scary for the intended audience, and although the wild animals and wilder plants unleashed by the game are menacing, no one ever seems to get seriously hurt. Humour is deployed in measured doses to regularly lighten the mood. David Alan Grier, as a former employee at the old Parrish shoe factory who has become a veteran police officer by the time Alan is freed from the game, is a main source of levity.

While the premise is fresh, as an adventure the film loses momentum rather quickly. It is soon predictably apparent that every throw of the dice will result in another calamity and another round of running around, until the dice is thrown again and the process is repeated. The special effects are from the early CGI era and have not aged particularly well. The images of rampaging animals are clunkily superimposed onto the live action, and to all but the youngest eyes, the rather inept outcome is a distraction.

Robin Williams is restrained by his standards but still offers plenty of dynamism. In one her earliest prominent roles, Kirsten Dunst as Judy offers the unruffled assurance of a young teen beginning to gain the sometimes useful courage of youth.

Jumanji is a safari-lite, a harmless romp with the wild animals to gain wisdom in suburbia.






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