When the audiences and the critics happen to have different opinion on certain film, it is usually the latter that have the last laugh. Many immensely popular and critically panned films are often utterly forgotten after few years, thus validating the claims of the critics. Jumanji, 1995 children adventure directed by Joe Johnston, is one of the rare examples where the opposite happened - public liked the film while critics attacked it, only to re-appraise it for the better in years to come.
The plot of Jumanji, based on the popular children's book by Kevin Allsburg, is set in small New England town. In 1969 Alan Parrish (played by Adam Hann-Byrd), 12-year old son of local tycoon Samuel Alan Parrish (played by Jonathan Hyde), discovers strange case containing "Jumanji", bizarre board game. He calls his best friend Sarah Whittle (played by Laura Bundy) to play it, not knowing that each move in the game has serious consequences. That occurs when Alan gets literally sucked into the game. Twenty six years later, another two children, Judy Shepherd (played by Kirsten Dunst) and her brother Peter (played by Bradley Pierce) discover "Jumanji" and make mistake of playing it. This time the effects are different - Alan comes back from the game in the real world, but in the shape of an adult man (played by Robin Williams). His joy from being liberated doesn't last long, because the town is invaded by hordes of African animals. It soon becomes apparent that the only way to prevent further disaster is to finish the original game. The only one who could do it is Sarah, adult woman (played by Bonnie Hunt) who spent decades trying to forget nightmarish events from her past.
Critics have originally attacked Jumanji for having images too disturbing for little children - the film's intended audience. They also complained about poor quality of CGI effects, which was rather embarrassing for film's director Joe Johnston, veteran special effects expert. On the other hand, presence of darker tones in the film (character who literally had his childhood stolen) is refreshing compared with high levels of saccharine that plague Hollywood family-oriented films in recent memory. Jonathan Hensleigh's script is also very good, and in many ways it resembles Frank Capra's classic It's a Wonderful Life by showing how absence of one person could affect whole community. The acting is also more than satisfying, with Robin Williams surprisingly constrained and realistic portrayal of character who is in many ways a boy in man's body. Bonnie Hunt is also good in her role, while young Kirsten Dunst eats her role for breakfast (hardly surprising, considering the skill she has displayed in handling much more complex character in Interview with the Vampire). Results of all those efforts are mostly satisfying and Jumanji is one of those rare films that could be recommended to children and adults alike.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on April 9th 2003)
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