As a kid, I watched Jumanji more than almost any other movie. Perhaps become numb to the adventure that lies underneath the grandeur effects and habit-forming experience. But it slowly came back to me upon watching it now, all these years later. It was like uncovering the mystery all over again.
Jumanji has become sort of a pop culture mainstay. It’s one of few films that adequately goes hand-and-hand with the ’90s. At least as far as kids movies go. There are very few that stand above it as representing the decade for children who grew up in it. Aladdin, Toy Story, Space Jam, Jurassic Park, maybe a couple others. So, watching it now, you wonder if it holds up well (like some), or feels dated (like most).
It starts off with a brief opening scene set in 1869 with two boys burying a chest, talking about how they hope no one ever finds it. One hundred years later in 1969, a boy, Alan discovers the box, opens it, and finds an old-looking board game called Jumanji.
We get some good character background in the few minutes we see Alan as a child. His relationship with his father is an important theme throughout the film.
Soon Alan realizes the game has a mind of its own. He takes his turn and the game gives him a command that traps him inside of it until the next player (his friend, Sarah) rolls a five or an eight. Sarah gets freaked out and leaves, trapping Alan indefinitely.
Then we get another time lapse to modern day 1995 where kids Judy and Peter get sent to live with their aunt after their parents die. They move to the same house Alan lived in 26 years prior when he “went missing”. They discover the game in an old abandoned room and start to play. Weird things start happening, including a roll of the dice that brings Alan back out of the game as an adult.
That’s just the first 20 minutes or so. The premise is really great, and just keeps building on itself from there.
For a kids movie it’s pretty mature. The gimmicks are even really funny, holding up very well to this day. Even the minute details are clever, like the cop (David Alan Grier) who keeps getting his car inadvertently messed up from the effects of the game, yet continues to drive it anyhow.
Jumanji is like a twisted Wizard of Oz–a fact that it even alludes to at one brief moment.
I love this film. Watching it now after a long drought, I was possibly even more entertained than I was as a kid. Even finding myself laughing out loud. Other than the special effects, Jumanji is anything but dated. It’s fresher than any kids movie coming out today, reminding us, yet again, how much live action family films are missed nowadays.