Released at Christmas 1995, Jumanji has gone on to become one of the most beloved family films of all times, featuring on many top 100 lists. Starring the beloved Robin Williams, the film is a wacky adventure involving giant jungle plants, rampaging animals, and crazed hunters, which manages to include a more serious story of family drama, loss, and trauma.
Beginning in 1969, the film sees a young boy, Alan Parish (Robin Williams), at odds with his father play a mysterious board game Jumanji with his friend, Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt). When Alan gets sucked into the mystical game the film shifts forward twenty six years as Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd (Bradley Pierce) move into Alan’s old home and discover Jumanji, releasing an adult Peter from the game, along with a host of wild animals.
Despite being filled with stampedes and chase scenes, the trauma of the four central characters is what’s at the core of the film. Alan is haunted by the loss of his family after being trapped within the jungles of Jumanji for half his life, chased by a nightmarish version of his father (Jonathan Hyde). Sarah has lived her life as an outcast, seen as crazy by the people around her because of what happened to Alan. Judy and Peter are freshly orphaned and still coming to terms with the loss of their parents.
During the course of the film the four main characters learn to overcome their fears and their past trauma, especially Alan, who must confront Van Pelt, the hunter from inside Jumanji that shares his face with Alan’s father.
The fact that the film is able to play around with it’s own timeline and undo all the events of the film by the final scenes is actually fairly good, rather than being something of a cop out, with Alan and Sarah able to remember everything that happened, using this knowledge to prevent the deaths of Judy and Peter’s parents. The resolution might seem a little contrite to some, but giving each of the characters a happy ending feels good and well earned.
Williams is great in the role, able to portray both the emotion and the craziness that the film calls for, being incredibly warm towards Peter and Judy and helping them through their trauma, even when having to deal with the fact that he has lost his family himself. The real gem of the film, however is Bonnie Hunt, whose performance as the psychobabbling Sarah is able to steal the scene from Williams almost every single time.
Whilst at the time of release the effects were considered to be very high quality, they have aged in places, particularly with the CGI elements appearing old. The practical effects, however, do hold up a little better, thanks in part to how well the cast are able to interact with them.
Bringing together some great action adventure moments and some of the best actors of the 1990’s, Jumanji is able to entertain and charm more than 20 years after it’s release, even inspiring a sequel all these years later. A great film with a lot of charm.
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