Jumanji (1995)

(Second viewing, On Cable TV, June 2016) I recall seeing Jumanji on TV in the mid-nineties, but another visit twenty years later only highlights the film’s issues. It’s not simply that the film’s special effects haven’t aged well (and they haven’t—the CGI material looks noticeably disconnected from the live action), it’s the film’s structure, its casual disregard for causality, its refusal to engage in the consequences of its more audacious ideas. Robin Williams is fine in the lead role (although one sense that he’s being restrained with the requirements of the special-effect production) and the script does show some intriguing ideas along the way, but they’re not explored in any details beyond the surface appeal of compelling visuals (monkeys jumping around the kitchen, wild beasts stampeding on the city square). Meanwhile, these are a few horrific ideas dealing with lengthy exiles, the game-as-monster and parallel timelines that are barely and lazily addressed. Of course, exploring those issues further would take Jumanji far away from the romp-for-children that it aims to be… Still, there are missed opportunities in making weighty themes stand too close to an adventure film for kids: I can imagine younger audiences cheering and clapping along while their parents stand there with a queasy grin informed by far too many reasonable fears. If you can let go of this weighty baggage of implications, the film itself works intermittently: Director Joe Johnston can certainly handle special effects set pieces (it’s not his fault if the technology wasn’t quite there yet at the time). For once, the announcement of an impending remake doesn’t bother me too much: Jumanji has a lot of potential, but a lot of it was mishandled by this version. Here’s hoping the 2017 remake does better.

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