'Jumanji': A Losing Game
The story centers on a supernatural board game so perilous that few, if any, who have played it would dare do so again. The picture begins with a prologue in 19th-century New Hampshire. Two frightened boys ride deep into the woods to bury the terrifyingly alive game in a sturdy padlocked trunk. A century later, 12-year-old Alan Parrish recovers the game at a construction site near his father's shoe factory.
That evening, after his parents leave for a glittery business function, Alan invites his classmate Sarah to play the ornately carved jungle-themed game. From the first roll of the dice, the youngsters realize that Jumanji has more in common with Ouija than with Monopoly. The game pieces not only move of their own volition, but cryptic doggerel materializes in Jumanji's emerald centerpiece. -- Rita Kempley
'Jumanji': Close the Gameboard
By Desson Howe
With some of the most extraordinary special effects since "Jurassic Park," there's urgent reason to watch "Jumanji" on the big screen. Children between 5 and 10 are likely to be the best candidates for this kind of gee-whiz viewing.
There are stampeding rhinoceroses, zebras and elephants (thundering through a household hallway, no less!); cannonball-size mosquitoes with lethal, windshield-puncturing proboscises (I'll never use that word again!); and a powerful lion whose sinewy physique and guttural roar will send shivers down youthful spines.
In a New England town in 1969, 12-year-old Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) discovers a board game called Jumanji. Cajoling his friend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy) to play, Alan throws an unfortunate dice combination and finds himself sucked into another dimension. Panicked, Sarah runs away.
Alan is holed up in the mysterious world of Jumanji for 26 years until two other kids (Judy Dunst and Bradley Pierce) take up the game. Emerging, bearded and older, but still mentally a kid, Alan (played now by Robin Williams) realizes he's only comparatively free.
His parents are long gone. The house he lived in has been sold. And the kids have summoned herds of those aforementioned animals into the world. The only way to reverse these calamities, he discovers, is to conclude the 1969 game with Sarah.
Unfortunately (as with "Jurassic Park"), the special-effects animals are far more interesting than the humans. Alan's triple-headed mission—to attain courage, reunite with his parents and save the world—is formulaic, even tedious stuff. Williams is hardly at his comically inventive best. And the script (adapted by Chris Van Allsburg, and a string of others, from his book) pursues the least exciting avenues possible. Never, for instance, do we see what it's like inside the jungle realm of Jumanji; we just see big critters pouring out of it. There's every reason to close up this board game before you've even started.
JUMANJI (PG) — Contains themes of parental loss, as well as occasionally intimidating stampedes by large animals.
'Jumanji': Doesn't Pay Off
By Rita Kempley
A crumbling New England community is beset by a zoo parade of computer-generated beasts in "Jumanji," a harrowing children's adventure squashed by its stampede of special effects. Inspired by Chris Van Allsburg's cautionary tale for kids, the story centers on a supernatural board game so perilous that few, if any, who have played it would dare do so again.
The picture begins with a prologue in 19th-century New Hampshire. On a dark and stormy night, two frightened boys ride deep into the woods to bury the terrifyingly alive game in a sturdy padlocked trunk. A century later, 12-year-old Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) recovers the game at a construction site near his father's shoe factory.
That evening, after his parents leave for a glittery business function, Alan invites his classmate Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy) to play the ornately carved jungle-themed game. From the first roll of the dice, the youngsters realize that Jumanji has more in common with Ouija than with Monopoly. The game pieces not only move of their own volition, but cryptic doggerel materializes in Jumanji's emerald centerpiece.
Two moves later, Alan is sucked into the ivory-inlaid board, while Sarah runs from the Parrishes' estate pursued by a battalion of African bats. If they had continued the game, Alan might have returned at once. But neither he nor Sarah has yet absorbed the moral of the story: Finish what you start—or, at the very least, read the instructions.
When Alan finally is freed 26 years later, he is 38 and played by Robin Williams, up to his usual antics as a feral man-child who has been trapped in a Jumanji game since the Nixon administration. His saviors are Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and her brother, Peter (Bradley Pierce), orphans who move into the now-neglected Parrish place with their aunt. Lured to the attic by mysterious drums, they find the game and begin to play. Three turns later, a troop of monkeys has destroyed the kitchen, a ferocious lion is sleeping in their aunt's bedroom, and a host of giant mosquitoes is terrorizing the town.
The fourth roll of the dice springs Alan from his limbo as a hunter-gatherer, and he gratefully helps Judy and Peter fight off the beasts. The kids, who have read the instructions, realize that the only way to permanently undo the damage is to find the adult Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) and continue the game she and Alan began in 1969. They do and the safari continues in the same surrealistic vein.
Director Joe Johnston ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids") served his apprenticeship as a special-effects wizard on the "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" pictures, so perhaps it's inevitable that the technology both overwhelms the human cast and stalls the narrative drive. Even Williams's manic energy finally flags.
The script boasts more writers than the computerized menagerie's got megabytes, but they haven't come up with much variety or humor in what is essentially a string of catastrophes. They've clearly drawn upon "Indiana Jones," but they haven't duplicated the serial's humor or ingenuity. Most of the budget and screen time is lavished on the special effects. Much as one might root for this movie to work, the special effects do not add up to a real plot, and they are simply too scary for younger children, who are likely to see "Jumanji" not as an adventure, but as a horror movie.
Jumanji is rated PG.