Way back in 1869, two young boys buried a box in the New Hamsphire woods, hoping that it would never be found, but it was - exactly one hundred years later. It was just another day for Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd), son of the richest man around, the owner of the shoe factory in town, as he cycled home from school but then was chased by the bullies who made his life hell. He arrived at the factory seeking refuge with his father but didn't receive much solace when he told the boy to get back out there and face them. He did, was beaten up, and... what's that noise? Do you hear drums?
Jumanji was drawn from the pages of Chris Van Allsburg's picture book, a writer who had become one of the most respected around thanks to his carefully crafted children's literature. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling, and after Jumanji the likes of The Polar Express and Zathura: A Space Adventure were made, but just as Van Allsburg's imagery was a big part of the selling point of his work, it was the visuals which were the big attraction with the movie. Soon after the release of Jurassic Park which had really demonstrated what could be done with computer graphics, here was a film that wanted to go one better, although even at the time the reaction was mixed.
While the Steven Spielberg film's special effects are impressive to this day, the ones in Jumanji probably were more accurate as to how the medium would look over the coming years, with visuals which looked less completely realistic, and more artificial. Oh yes, very exactingly created, obviously a lot of money, care and attention going into them, but unlikely to convince many that what you were seeing was authentic, and more like seeing some animated characters or sequences. This was fine if you were watching a Pixar movie, but not so good if they were meant to be viewing a live action one, and while there were some excellent puppets on display in Jumanji, much of the time it was those computery animals which were depicted.
Why was there the need to show computery animals? It's all to do with the board game of the title, which Alan finds in a construction site and takes home. Once he begins to play, with his almost-girlfriend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy) as the other participant, it becomes clear this is no ordinary game, and on his second move Alan is sucked into the jungle environment that it contains until someone throws the right number on the dice and can set him free. Because Sarah scarpers in a cloud of tropical bats, Alan is stuck there... and now we are in the present day of 1995, where the game is found again by the two new residents of his old house. They are orphans Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce), looked after by their aunt (Bebe Neuwirth), and they set the game in motion once again.
The theme of consequences and how they can last well into your future was well to the fore, although with the board game's origins never explained it was more fantastical than anything especially relatable. The grown-up Alan was played by Robin Williams at the height of his box office potential, and thankfully here he dialled down the schmaltz and comedy riffs to offer a more rounded character than usual, or as rounded as a man who's spent the last twenty-six years surviving in a jungle can be. Though much of this was embellished from the book, the central idea of rolling the dice and enduring the latest affliction was retained, and this was what made Jumanji as enjoyable as it turned out to be: director Joe Johnston was well aware of the strong novelty value inherent in the story, which could have been repetitive but each fresh calamity, be they rampaging monkeys, a monsoon or a stampede of epic proportions, kept things bright and entertaining. If it was in the service of its effects, and those effects were questionable, it didn't harm the dedication to anarchic drama too much. Music by James Horner.