"A game for those who seek to find/A way to leave their world behind." These words, etched into a sinister, magical board game called "Jumanji," promise escapist adventure, which is exactly what Joe Johnston's energetic family film Jumanji delivers. Johnston's roster of pulp-pop entertainment is surprisingly solid: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, October Sky, Jurassic Park III, and Hidalgo (I'm discounting his co-direction of 1994's ill-conceived live-action/animation hybrid The Pagemaster). Like the rest of Johnston's oeuvre, Jumanji puts vivid characters through paces that will quicken any child's pulse.
In 1869 New Hampshire, two kids bury the accursed, jungle-themed board game, which protests by thumping native drums. One hundred years later, bullied teen Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) discovers the game and brings it to his richly appointed family home. After an argument with his stuffy, hard-to-please father (Jonathan Hyde) and sympathetic mother (Patricia Clarkson), Alan invites pretty pal Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy) give the game a whirl. Before you can say "Jumanji," Alan has been sucked into the game board and Sarah chased off by bats the game has conjured.
Another twenty-six years pass to find two new kids moving into the scary old Parrish house, from whence a kid once disappeared. Judy and Peter Shepherd (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) are a pathological liar and a willful mute, respectively—acting out and in after the tragic auto crash that claimed their parents. Under the not-so-watchful eye of their aunt (Bebe Neuwirth), Judy and Peter discover the dusty game and reawaken its dangers. They're terrified to discover they've invited into their home poisonous mosquitoes, a mob of monkeys, a lion, and a wild man who answers to the name of Alan Parrish (Robin Williams).
Soon enough, it's evident that the game Alan and Sarah started in 1969 will have to be finished to rid the town of the multiplying African terrors. This daunting plan requires recruiting the adult Sarah (now played by Bonnie Hunt) and burying the hatchet with Alan's old friend Carl (David Alan Grier), now a cop troubleshooting the worst day of his career. Grier amuses in his usual yapping vein, and skilled riffer Hunt perfectly matches Williams, who's likewise well suited to these literally hairy theatrics.
Like a kiddie Robert Bly fable, Jumanji uses imagination to deal with masculine issues. Alan and his young charges must face their fears, and boy-man Alan's worst fear is that he's not man enough. The spectre of his father reappears in the guise of a big-game hunter named Van Pelt, also played by Hyde. An emasculating, demanding jerk, Van Pelt wields a blunderbuss in Alan's direction and bellows, "Come back and face me like a man!"
Like the carefully heightened film they inhabit, the (once) state-of-the-art special effects are convincing on a child's terms. James Horner's pleasingly bombastic score completes the effect. Parents should think twice about exposing their youngest children to the furiously frantic Jumanji, but most school-age kids will thrill happily to this newly fangled take on old-fashioned adventure.
Sony's new two-disc set of Jumanji represents the film well with a hi-def anamorphic transfer and 5.1 sound. Primarily this "Deluxe Edition" recycles the previous one-disc "Collector's Series" edition, with a few notable exceptions.
On the bright side, Sony includes a free ticket ("Movie Cash") to see the new Jumanji sort-of sequel Zathura, and adds three "Bonus Features for Kids": "Secrets & Riddles" (a trivia game lined with film clips), "The Extreme Book of Nature" (nifty—sorry, extreme—facts about jungle life), and "Ancient Diversions," a very cool guide to creeping out friends with magic tricks (there's also special board-game packaging so kids can play "Jumanji" on road trips). On the not-so-bright side, Sony has eliminated the isolated music score feature from the initial edition.
The remaining complement of extras includes a feature-length "Special Effects Crew Commentary," with visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston, Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis (animatronic and special make-up effects), effects supervisor Jim Mitchell, CG supervisors Carl Frederick and Ellen Poon, and sequence supervisor Doug Smythe (naturally, the team explains the effects, but they also remember their late colleague Stephen L. Price, who labored on the film's design)."Making Jumanji: The Realm of Imagination" (20:02), a standard-issue blend of promotional interviews, "B-roll" behind-the-scenes footage, clips, and a look behind the special effects.
"Lions and Monkeys and Pods...Oh My!: The Special Effects of Jumanji"(14:32) offers further details from the SFX wizards. In "Bringing Down the House (3:04), production designer Jim Brissell explains the film's design and use of sets and models to deconstruct the Parrish homestead. Three storyboard comparisons demonstrate the planning behind the bat attack, rhino stampede, and earthquake sequences. Sony also includes numerous photo galleries, comprised of conceptual art and production stills. (Previews include Zathura—natch—Stuart Little 3, and Open Season.)
If you haven't already added Jumanji to your collection, this is the version to get (while you can still convert the "Movie Cash"...); kids will get plenty of play out of Joe Johnston's imaginative adventure.
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