tek's rating: ¾

Jumanji (PG)
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Caution: spoilers.

This came out in 1995. It was based on a 1981 children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, which I haven't read (and I don't think I had ever heard of before this movie). I'm not sure when I first saw the movie, but it must have been sometime in the mid to late 90s (since it was before I started doing reviews). Anyway, I'm writing this review in 2016, after watching the movie for the second time. All I remembered about it before this viewing was the basic premise of a weird board game that came to life, though I didn't remember any details. And I remembered that Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, and Kirsten Dunst were in it (though I didn't remember anything about their characters). Also, I knew I had liked the movie, but I was pretty sure I had only liked it a little, and had minimal interest in seeing it again. In 2005, there was a "spiritual successor" to the movie, Zathura, which I also kind of liked, but not much. (The book that movie was based on is an actual sequel to the book this movie was based on, but the movies themselves were unrelated, except for similar plots.) But when I watched Jumanji again, I found that this time I kind of loved it, so I should really rewatch Zathura, and see if my opinion of it improves, too. (Also like Zathura, there were various categories into which I could have placed my review of Jumanji, like "fantasy" or "weird," but since I'd put my review of Zathura under "family," I did the same with Jumanji. I probably would have done so anyway, but the desire to keep the reviews in the same section is what clinched it.) Oh, also I should say there was an animated TV series based on the movie, from 1996-99, but I never saw any of that.

The movie begins in 1869, when two boys bury a chest that they hope no one ever digs up. (We hear the sound of drums as they bury it, and it's an ominous sound that we'll hear again throughout the movie. Upon watching it this time around, I couldn't help thinking of a certain plot point from season three of Doctor Who.) Anyway, after the box is buried, the movie flashes forward to 1969. A boy named Alan Parrish is riding his bike, when a group of boys on their own bikes start chasing him. Alan takes refuge at his father's shoe factory, where we see that he's friends with one of the workers there, Carl Bentley (David Alan Grier). Alan and Carl talk for a bit, while Alan waits to see his father, Sam. Sam advises Alan to stand up to his fears instead of hiding from them. Meanwhile, something Alan does will unwittingly get Carl fired. After leaving the factory, Alan gets beat up by the bullies, and we learn it's because he's friends with the girlfriend of one of them. After they leave (taking his bike with them), Alan hears the sound of drums, which leads him to a nearby construction site, where he discovers the chest that had been buried a hundred years ago. He finds that it contains a board game called "Jumanji," which he takes home with him. That night, before his parents go out to some event where his father's giving a speech, Alan has an argument with Sam. He decides to run away, but his plan is interrupted when his friend Sarah Whittle (the aforementioned girlfriend of one of the bullies) shows up at his door, to return his bike. Alan and Sarah end up playing Jumanji, and that's when the weirdness starts. But they don't play for long before Alan gets sucked into the world of the game, there to wait until someone rolls a five or an eight. Of course, seeing her friend get sucked into a game is pretty traumatic for Sarah, who runs screaming out of the house (pursued by CGI bats that had appeared on an earlier turn).

The main part of the movie is set twenty-six years later, in 1995. The Parrish house has been vacant for years, but now a woman named Nora Shepherd (Bebe Neuwirth) moves in, along with her niece Judy (Dunst) and nephew Peter. Judy and Peter's parents had died recently in an accident during a ski trip, so now Nora has become their guardian. Before long, the kids hear the sound of drums coming from the attic, where many of the Parrishes' things are stored. It's there that they find the game, and begin playing it. More scary CGI creatures appear with each roll of the dice, and they begin wreaking havoc in the house. When Peter rolls a five, a lion appears and chases them, but a wild jungle man also appears, and rescues them from it. The man turns out to be Alan Parrish (played as an adult by Williams), whom everyone in town had thought died 26 years ago, when he disappeared. Alan is overjoyed to finally be home, and hopes his long nightmare is finally over. But he's soon distraught to learn his parents are now dead. Still, he wants to pick up his life where he left off. But Judy and Peter want him to help them end the game they started, so that all the crazy stuff that had happened since they started would be undone. It takes awhile, but they finally convince him to play with them, because actually, Alan's game had never been finished. However, it's now Sarah's turn to roll the dice, so first they have to find her and convince her to continue playing, as well.

They do find her (played as an adult by Hunt), but she wants nothing to do with the game, because it had ruined her life. She's spent a lot of time in therapy, trying to convince herself the whole event from 26 years ago had never happened. But all that time, she's basically been alone, because everyone thinks she's crazy. Of course, she finally does rejoin the game, and lots more crazy stuff happens. This includes all sorts of CGI animals who start causing havoc all over town, as well as a safari hunter named Van Pelt, who wants to kill Alan. (All of this is going on while Nora is at work, which I guess is somewhere out of town, so she doesn't find out how crazy things have gotten until she returns, at the end of the work day.) Meanwhile, Alan, Sarah, Judy, and Peter, have frequent run-ins with a cop: Alan's old friend, Carl Bentley. He's a potential hindrance to their attempts to finish the game, until he learns that Alan is... Alan. (Who finally gets to apologize for Carl's having been fired, all those years ago.) Then Carl becomes an ally, sort of. Anyway, lots more bizarre and dangerous things happen as they continue to play the game, and in fact the results of each dice roll (as well as interference from Van Pelt) make it increasingly difficult to continue playing at all. I really don't want to describe it all, because that would spoil some of the fun of watching it. But of course they do eventually finish the game, and there's a happy ending. Although the actual details of the ending, and the aftermath of the game, are a bit complicated, and I'm not going to spoil exactly how it all turns out. But it's great. Really great.

So... it's hard to say how I could have failed to love this movie the first time I saw it. It's the kind of thing I would have thought I've always loved. Lots of chaos, weirdness, humor, and some genuine drama and human emotion. Maybe the first time I watched the movie, I thought the humor was too silly. Or maybe I didn't fully appreciate some of the movie's deeper emotional beats. Whatever the case, I love it all, now.

Oh, and incidentally, watching the movie in 2016, I felt the need to add it to my list of Chaoslike plot points.

Followed by Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

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