Release Date:December 15, 1995
Director: Joe Johnston
Production Company: Interscope Communications
I watched this for the first time with my son although the story felt very familiar due to cultural osmosis. The basic plot begins in 1969 when a boy named Alan discovers the board game and begins playing with his friend Sarah, ending up sucked into the jungle within the game. 26 years later, the siblings Judy and Peter (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) discover the game in Alan’s former house and begin playing, releasing Alan from the jungle. Alan (Robin Williams) is an adult now with experience in jungle survival but still emotionally a child.
Together they find Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) to finish the game and reverse the damaging effects, releasing on each roll of the dice wild animals, choking vines, an a sadistic Edwardian hunter, Van Pelt (perhaps the most draw-dropping moment of satire is how easily he acquires a semi-automatic weapon at a New Hampshire gun store). A subplot of the film focuses on the police officer Carl (David Alan Grier) who attempts to reign in the chaos engulfing the town while his new police cruiser is gradually demolished by the fauna and flora unleashed by the game.
I feel like the filmmakers could’ve have gone for an enjoyable, over-the-top spectacle, or they could’ve used the game to delve into deeper issues and development of the characters. What they made instead is an uncomfortable hybrid that feels very episodic. They do focus on Alan’s struggles to connect with his father and Judy and Peter grieving their parents’ death, but those scenes don’t integrate well with the more madcap Jumanji adventure scenes. I think it’s those problems that have made the movie merely memorable instead of the classic it could’ve been.