Here’s a dark children’s film from 1995 starring the awesome Robin Williams, plus some fancy CGI (which was still a big deal at the time).
Ah, remember when CGI was one of the top draws for you to go and see a film? This was one such example.
Plus, the allure of Robin Williams at the peak of his powers was difficult to turn down. So, the Wapojif family piled into the cinema in 1995 to see this thing.
Directed by Joe Johnston, it was adapted from the 1981 children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. He would also help with the screenplay.
The plot? Well, we’ve got a supernatural tale about a troublesome board game—Jumanji.
Beginning in 1969, a young Alan Parrish lives with his parents Sam (Johnathan Hyde on brilliant form) and Carol-Anne in New Hampshire.
Sam runs a successful shoe company and, one day, he accidentally destroys a shoe prototype an employee called Carl Bentley (David Alan Grier) has made. It gets jammed in some factory machinery.
Parrish doesn’t take the blame for this and Bentley loses his job.
He’s later chased by some bullies and discovered a board game at a construction site. He plays the game with Sarah Whittle back at his family home.
But, what ho, the board comes to life and zaps him into the game. He’s trapped. Bummer.
This thing is a bloody menace, bringing the jungle to life and forcing chaos all around it!
Cut to 1995 and we catch up with Judy (a young Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd. They move into the Parrish mansion with their fun aunt Nora (Bebe Neuwirth).
And yes, that’s Bebe Neuwirth who played Lilith Sternin so brilliantly in Frasier.
Watching this film again recently our crush on her has only grown somewhat. What an awesome lady.
Anyway, plot! Plot! The kids (whose parents have died in an accident—one of the many reasons Jumanji was criticised for its dark themes) eventually find the board game.
They give it a go and the standard mayhem begins.
But they also bring back Alan Parrish (Robin Williams), now a grown man, after decades battling for survival in the jungle.
He’s alarmed to find his parents have died and attempts to get his life on track.
He has a shave and informs the kids they have to finish the game.
To do this, they need Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt), who’s had various mental health assessments since Parrish was zapped into the game (as in, no one believes her and thinks she’s crazy).
They convince Sarah to get back into the game, as it’s the only way to end the living nightmare.
What follows are a series of escalating disasters, as Jumanji hurls more and more horrors at the intrepid board game players.
This includes the arrival of Van Pelt (also Jonathan Hyde), a very British game hunter who wants to shoot Alan dead.
The stampede the game releases on the community continues to rampage, tearing up local towns in the process.
There’s also a fun little addition to this—a knackered-out old rhino who stragglers behind the rest of the stampede struggling for breath. We also liked that bit.
One of the other running jokes in Jumanji is Carl Bentley’s horrendous bad luck.
Having followed a new career as a police officer, he eventually reunites with Alan Parrish and the former’s woes continue to grow.
His police car becomes increasingly battered. And eventually is taken from him with a scene with fun Aunt Nora.
More mayhem follows, with quicksand, outrageous monkeys, and killer spiders.
Again, the film got criticism for some of these scenes due to the considerable peril the protagonists have to face.
The film eventually winds itself down to provide a more upbeat ending than many were possibly expecting.
After completing the game, Whittle and Parrish return to 1969 and get to live their lives properly.
They marry and, come 1995, catch up with the kids and are able to prevent their parents from heading off on holiday (thusly avoiding their fatal accident).
Robin Williams is on fine form throughout, even if his performance has to move away from his manic comedic best.
Alan Parrish is mentally scarred from his experiences and Williams portrays this in an unusually tense fashion.
Although he did prove very effective as a bad guy in films such as Insomnia (2002) and One Hour Photo (also 2002).
As you’d expect from a man of his talents, he leads Jumanji brilliantly and drives the plot along with his standard energy and verve.
But the supporting cast is also very strong, with the kid actors managing to NOT be irritating as all hell. Kudos to them.
Kudos to Bebe Neuwirth again as well, just for the heck of it.
And, well, there’s your film! It’s a bit disturbing this is heading for 30 years old but, hey ho, that’s the passage of time for you. It waits for no movie.
As for our feelings on Jumanji—we like it a lot.
We suppose nostalgia plays a big part of that, but rewatching it recently we came across a lively film that’s action-packed from start to finish.
It’s also memorable and its use of CGI is pretty impressive. Even if the plot is a little shaky from time to time, the performances carry it along nicely.
Off its $65 million budget it was a hit, raking back $262.8 million.
However, the critical response was a bit mixed. To this day it holds a pretty low score on Rotten Tomatoes—53%. We think it’s a fun film.
Robin William addresses the main, lingering issue in the interview above. That the film is too scary for kids.
Roger Ebert handed over 1.5/4 and criticised its reliance on special effects. He said it was about as appropriate for kids as Jaws.
We saw this at the cinema back in 1995 aged 10. We don’t remember being scared by it, we just found it pretty exhilarating and dramatic.
Jaws was another film we’ve loved since a very young age. So there!
Unlike, say, Return to Oz which freaked the bejeezus out of us. But anyway, the critics didn’t agree and the mixed reviews piled in.
In pre-production, Robin Williams actually turned down the role.
TriStar Pictures said they’d only fund the project if Williams was in it, so hasty screenplay adaptions went ahead to make the actor happy.
He also told the director he was aware the film followed a tightly structured plot, so decided against any improvisation (very evident in other films from the time).
Despite its success, there was no sequel until 2017.
This one features the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan.
Despite fears it would be a total mess, it ended up being a lot of fun. With Black and Johnson playing against type to amusing effect.
There are also some well-researched nods to video game tropes even gamers seemed to like.
It was a big hit, so a follow-up arrived in 2019. The Jumanji legacy continues!