Wayback Wednesday: Jumanji (1995)

I’m happy for Alan and Sarah, but I kind of would have loved if Aunt Nora had turned that mansion into a bed and breakfast.

I’ve watched a lot of scary movies in my time. From classics like The Exorcist (1973) and The Shining (1980) to newer releases like Get Out (2017) and Hereditary (2018), the point is that I’ve seen plenty of creepy things onscreen. But let me be 100 per cent honest with you when I say that nothing sends a chill down my spin more than the spiders in Jumanji (1995). It’s true! Granted I’m an arachnophobic, but the huge spiders brought to life by the astounding practical effects of this classic movie are enough to compel me to look away from the screen. When it comes to the rest of Jumanji however, you couldn’t tear me away even if you tried.

Credit: imdb.com / Sony Pictures Releasing

Loosely based on Chris Van Allsburg’s picture book of the same name, Jumanji follows Judy and Peter Shepherd, two siblings who discover a magical board game after moving into a new house. When they begin to play the titular game they not only release Alan Parrish, a man who has been trapped in the jungle for decades, but a host of other horrors that can only be stopped when one of them finishes the game.

I cannot tell you the how many times I watched this movie growing up. I swear, those spooky drumbeats are ingrained in my brain and are never getting out of there. Yes, even though there are multiple times throughout the movie that scared me, I loved the premise, characters and magic of Jumanji so much that I couldn’t stop watching despite my fear. I think that’s part of what makes Jumanji so beloved: This movie checks a LOT of boxes. It’s serving comedy, adventure, family drama and low-key horror. Again, I’m not the only one who was / is afraid of those spiders, right? The premise is one that is not only brilliant for a fun kid’s movie, but also one that sparks enough interest and excitement to get older audiences invested as well. Jumanji transcends the stigma of being a “kid’s movie” and proves itself to be a genuinely thrilling and entertaining movie that the whole family can agree on when it comes to movie night. This is one of those movies that I’m happy to discover that upon rewatching as an adult not only is it still a ton of fun visually, but it also has a lot going on when it comes to the writing and acting as well. Honestly, Jumanji is just as good as I remember. It totally holds up!

Can we talk about how much this town depended on the financial success of the shoe factory? The town completely went to Hell after the closing and as a kid, all of that turmoil and angst went right over my head. Now that I think about it, SO MUCH went over my head as a kid and I’m only realizing it now. Isn’t that always the case when you rewatch things from your childhood? Specifically, a lot of the smart, sassy lines that Bonnie Hunt and Kirsten Dunst get to deliver. Everyone in this cast is so fantastically fun in this movie. From the big stars like Dunst and Robin Williams to character actors like David Alan Grier and Jonathan Hyde, there isn’t an actor I would replace or get tired of. Hmmm, Jumanji, The Mummy (1999), Titanic (1997)…Hyde is such a staple of my childhood and I’m only realizing it now. By the way, check out my review for Titanic, here

Speaking of Dunst, Jumanji is one of those rare movies that focuses a lot of time on its child protagonists and they’re so talented that they come off as not annoying and you actually like spending time with them and care about them. Dunst never misses. As Judy she has a great chemistry with Bradley Pierce who plays her younger brother Peter. Unsurprising because Dunst has been turning in great performances for as long as I can remember. She and Bonnie Hunt. Love them. Oh, and duh, Robin Williams. Williams has a natural charisma and back and forth with any scene partner because hello, he’s a phenomenon, but he has an especially splendid chemistry with the kids in this movie. I think I’ve said it in pretty much every Williams movie I’ve reviewed so far but holy Hell is this man a multi-talented national treasure whom I miss dearly every time I watch one of his movies. Jumanji is a surprisingly varied display of Williams’ awesome talent. He’s called upon to deliver comedy, drama and even a little romance. As if I haven’t stated it enough, I love this man and a lot of his movies, especially the hot streak he had going in the 90s. 

I was OBSESSED with this house as a kid. Sure, it houses a demonic board game, but I would move into this colonial mansion in a heartbeat. The production design of Jumanji is incredible and don’t even get me started on the jaw-dropping practical effects used to bring the plants and animals to life. It’s amazing. Oooohhhh everything about the lion used to / still does creep me out because it’s a practical effect which makes it seem more lifelike and terrifying than if it were done using CGI. I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again, there’s nothing scarier than practical effects! They look great even today. Even the CGI isn’t terrible. Yeah, some of the digital effects look not the best, but they certainly aren’t disgustingly awful. I would say that most of the digital effects hold up probably because the practical effects are handled so well that any shortcomings with the CGI can be forgiven. It’s so cool and inventive how they could make such a horror out of the flora and fauna of the natural world. Granted, they’re supernatural, but the terror is based in reality. It could have been so easy to rebrand this movie and distribute it as a horror movie. There are times when it’s blatantly written and filmed as such.

I’d love to know the origins of Jumanji the game. Who made it and why? Why do they hate children? I’ve seen the game on sale at Indigo and admittedly I’ve been too scared to buy it. Yes, that’s true. Also, if you’re not gonna release real animals into my life than don’t waste my time. Oh! Speaking of, the incomparable Patricia Clarkson is WASTED as Alan’s mom. Wasted I tell you!

Have you seen Jumanji? Are you as much a fan as I am?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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