Rating 3¾

Directed by Joe Johnston

Written by Jonathan Hensleigh, Greg Taylor and Jim Strain, based on the book by Chris Van Allsburg

Starring Robin Williams (Alan Parrish), Kirsten Dunst (Judy Shepherd), Bradley Pierce (Peter Shepherd), Bonnie Hunt (Sarah Whittle), Bebe Neuwirth (Nora Shepherd), David Alan Grier (Carl Bentley), Jonathan Hyde (Van Pelt / Sam Parrish), Patricia Clarkson (Carol-Anne Parrish), Adam Hann-Byrd (Young Alan) and Laura Bell Bundy (Young Sarah)

12-year-old Alan Parrish is bullied by other boys because of his friendship with Sarah Whittle. His father is a cold and distant figure in his life who plans to send him away to boarding school. Alan finds a strange board game that had been buried a hundred years previously and is literally sucked into the game when he and Sarah start to play it. She flees from the house in terror, pursued by African bats, but nobody believes her story of what happened and Alan
’s disappearance remains a mystery from that day on. Twenty-six years later Nora Shepherd moves into the house once occupied by the Parrish family with her young niece and nephew Judy and Peter. Their parents were killed in an automobile accident. The children find the board game in the attic and when they start to play it they release Alan, now a fully-grown man, but (with the help of Alan and Sarah) they must complete the game to save the local community from the chaos and destruction they have unwittingly unleashed.

‘Jumanji’ is a 1995 family film based on a 1981 illustrated children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg, who also wrote ‘The Polar Express’. The film employed what were then state-of-the-art special affects and had a production budget of $65 million. It grossed just under $263 million at the box office. Reviews were mixed. 26 reviews are collected at Rotten Tomatoes and result in a 50% rating. At Metacritic the rating is 39% from 18 reviews. At Amazon the brief write-up by Jeff Shannon describes the films as, “A chaotic and misguided attempt at family entertainment, the movies does offer a few good laughs, and the effects are frequently impressive, if not entirely convincing to the eye.”

I certainly agree about the special effects, which are at once impressive (although slightly ragged looking fifteen years on) and yet strangely unconvincing. However, this is a film I like very much. I did not see the film at the cinema and I have never owned a copy on video or DVD, but I have now watched it about half-a-dozen times when it has been shown on television and I have enjoyed it immensely each time.

It’s a spirited romp with a touch of invention in the story and a perfect vehicle for the feverish mugging that is the stock-in-trade of Robin Williams. He is on good form here, but his over-the-top antics do not overwhelm the film and his odd combination of frenetic over-acting and mawkish sentimentality (a kind of mixture of the Three Stooges and Charlie Chaplin) works impeccably. The film has a strong cast generally, including 13-year-old Kirsten Dunst, a year after ‘Interview with the Vampire’, and a blink and you might miss her appearance by Patricia Clarkson.

‘Jumanji’ is a contender for my all-time favourite family/children’s film. Great stuff.

Review posted 22 March 2010

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