Nostalgiaville: Jumanji

39

November 17, 2011 by abbyo

If I can sum up my memories about movies in the 90s in two words, it would be special effects. This decade was an industrial revolution for computer graphics in film. Not only were movies making  new advances left and right, there was all kinds of media attention devoted to what was being developed, and how it worked. Museum exhibits, TV specials, massive magazine articles—you name it. And studios were eager to find ways to showcase their new tricks, too. Movies like Armageddon, Jurassic Park and today’s pick, “Jumanji,” got fanfare that was unlike the blockbusters we get now, like “The Day After Tomorrow” or “Transformers,” because the things being done were so novel. Green Screens, animatronic/CGI creature hybrids…It literally felt like you could do anything. And goodness knows that folks tried.

“Jumanji” is actually a nice little capsule of 90s cinema culture in a variety of ways. Not only was it a hulking example of then-cutting-edge computer work—and not to mention based on a well-regarded children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg— it also utilized the talents of a lot of “it” actors of the time, including Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst and (of course) Robin Williams. I’ve been trying to come to terms with Williams’ place in the culture lately, given that his popularity is nowhere near what it used to be. He’s the kind of comic/actor whose wild, frenetic antics appeal very much to small children who aren’t yet familiar with the term “annoying” and what kind of behavior the term includes. The man’s presence can make a bad film worse (see: any of Nathan Rabin’s “My Year of Flops” entries involving Williams—there are many), but it can also take a mediocre movie to higher standing simply based on his entertaining performance (see: Mrs. Doubtfire). It’s a fine line; one I really hoped wouldn’t mess up my fond memories of this particular entry into the nostalgia canon.

Fortunately, it’s not all that bad here, and not even my retrospective irritation with the lead actor could make me hate this movie. It’s just too much fun. Sure, part of me wants to get on my critical high horse and decry the movie’s total disregard for Van Allsburg’s spare, brilliant book, but really, what kind of movie would that have made? Not one that 7-year-old Abby would have wanted to see (or 7-year-old anyone, for that matter). That being said, I recall that upon first viewing, this movie freaked the heck out of second grade me, and it actually took a couple of years before I was able to settle into “Jumanji” and enjoy it for what it was. Once I did, it was automatically cemented in my pantheon. It could not be moved.

There’s plenty here to trouble young minds. For example:

-Dangerous animals

-Life-threatening situations (including a really strange one where the floor becomes quicksand)

-This fella’s facial hair:

Yikes.

“Jumanji” is a jungle-themed board game from hell, in which the players roll dice, move pieces, and are given various situations on each turn with which they must cope. But, unlike your average board game, this game brings the creatures/natural forces it describes to startling life. This proves to be a problem for young Alan Parrish in 1969, when he’s stuck in the Jungle on his turn (the game’s equivalent of “Candy Land’s” Molasses Swamp). He’s sucked into the game, much to the fright of his playing companion, Sarah, who doesn’t roll the dice and help her friend, but instead is attacked by a flock of bats and runs screaming from the house. Years later, in 1995, two precocious orphan siblings (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) move into the old Parrish place and discover the game in their attic. They unwittingly resume the game Alan and Sarah started, freeing the now adult Alan (Williams) from his tropical forest purgatory, and tracking down the grown Sarah (Hunt) to aid in their quest to fix the hell the game has unleashed on their lives.

While there are plenty of neat things about the movie and its scads of creature effects (man-eating vines for one, a giant lion for another), what I loved the most was how Alan looks when he first emerges from the jungle:

Take a gander. The movie wants us to believe that’s 25 years of facial hair on Williams’ noggin. Obviously, the filmmakers had never actually seen Robin Williams before. The man is a fur-bearing creature. I’m pretty sure this is what he’d look like after No-Shave November, never mind 25 years without a shaving implement.

And speaking of those special effects: They’re pretty dated, but that’s a given when you’re working with a movie that was made in 1995. Not to mention that the lion the filmmakers were so proud of did not look much like a real lion. But you know what? “Jumanji” goes the whole hog with it, which I kind of appreciate. And while a stampede of CGI wild animals may not look terribly convincing, the idea is really fun.

That’s the joy of “Jumanji.” It’s not that it’s a great movie (it’s not) or that there’s anything particularly remarkable about it (there isn’t). It’s that it’s a movie that manages to embody just about every imaginative game of pretend I played as a child. It’s like a game my friends and I would have made up, come to exciting, high-stakes life. Even if it is pure goofy cinema cheese, it’s pure goofy cinema cheese that exemplified all of the best parts of my childhood. I can’t fault it for that.

Random Observations:

I don’t know how I never noticed this before, but seeing David Alan Grier in this movie  finally made me realize how annoying I find him.

One bit of dated political incorrectness: at one point Van Pelt, the movie’s nasty hunter, re-ups his ammo at a gun shop. Because his gun is outdated, he’s got to buy a new one. Obtaining the new firearm is ridiculously easy. The store owner gives him background check forms to fill out, but recants when Van Pelt presents him with a handful of gold coins. In 1995, stuff like this was played for laughs. After 1999, no way. What a difference four years makes.

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39 thoughts on “Nostalgiaville: Jumanji

  1. Look at how YOUNG Kristen Dunst is … I had totally forgotten she was even IN this movie!

    Great trip back in time…love it!

    🙂

  2. Cathy says:

    Oh my. Childhood memories! :>

  3. Lauren says:

    Freakin’ love this movie, have since I was six and it my parents recorded it on our DVR. Haven’t seen it in a couple of years, but I’ve got nothing but fond memories of it. One of my first sci-fi/fantasy movies, and also the very first movie that got me into special effects (even at 6 I could tell that those animals weren’t REALLY there — so how did the movie-makers make it LOOK like they were). It also made board games that much more interesting for me, and was the first genuinely creepy movie I ever dared watch (that thump-thump drumming that comes from inside the game freaked me and my sister out so bad — now I giggle when I remember how scared we were). Anyway, maybe my fondness for this movie really is purely out of nostalgia, but I don’t really care. It’s better than re-watching a nostalgic movie from your childhood and finding that this movie is really freaking bad — and “Jumanji” is certainly NOT really freaking bad, it’s actually pretty good. 🙂 Thanks for this article, it succeeded in making me very VERY happy. Also, congrats on getting Freshly Pressed!

  4. Nice retrospective review. I can remember Jumanji fairly well and concur that it is a fairly representative movie covering the technical explosion of the mid-90’s. I think it may have featured the heaviest use of CGI in any movie upto that point. You also make a superb point about Williams managing to wreak havoc on otherwise good movies (One Hour Photo, Good Will Hunting), whilst raising the bar considerably on mediocre efforts such as Mrs. Doubtfire, Dead Poet’s Society). I’ve not seen RW in anything since The Night Listener from a few years back (very much another one for the latter camp). Will be looking on your reviews from now on. Thanks.

  5. I watched this movie over and over and over with my siblings. “goofy cinema cheese” is something we need to bring back. I can’t remember the last time I had a good laugh in a theater.

  6. Maureen says:

    The giant spiders in “Jumanji” scare the bat guano out of me as a kid. On that note, cheesy ’90s movies rock. The 1990s was a great time for fun, entertaining cinema–especially if as a kid. 🙂

    And I love your opening remarks on the difference between special effects of the ’90s and now. Very astute.

  7. Loved this movie as a kid! Kinda like “Night at the Museum” for kids in the 2000’s. Great post.

  8. getnuts says:

    Jumanji always reminds me good times.
    Great post, served as a reminder, thank you.

  9. hackmark says:

    This was before Williams started his weird psycho movies that no one watched. Good times … not the psycho movies, Jumanji.

  10. Rae says:

    I remember seeing Jurassic Park in the theater when I was a kid and I can still recall my amazement – there had never been anything quite like it before. Jumanji was also a fun movie.

  11. abichica says:

    blast from the past.. really cool post.. 😀

  12. Dee says:

    I love this movie, and Robin Williams is awesome!

  13. DAG is a funny guy in improv or in person, but not in movies. I know this because he’s my housekeeper.

  14. Posky says:

    Even when I was younger, I remember hating this movie. Not a single person gets gored by a bull or eaten by a shark. It’s all buildup and no violent payoff. I also have to stop and think “I never realized Williams had such a long dart of a nose.”

    The best part of the whole movie is when the kid starts turning into a monkey and they have to rip his pants to pull out his tail and he gets ashamed. Also this movie should have had Sinbad in it.

  15. 48colorrainbow says:

    I remember this being a “must see” movie when I was in fifth grade. I liked it then, but I have not seen it since.

  16. spock1013 says:

    Oh my goodness I haven’t watched this movie in a while. Now I want to pop it in a reminisce about the good ol’ 90’s. I have to say when I watched this as a kid I really wanted to play the game. Guess child me was quite a risk taker. Heh.

  17. Eva McCane says:

    Jumanji is amazing in any form. Book, movie, or actual game. When i was young i was totally into adventure…the goonies, monster squad, and of course, jumanji. i would have killed to actually participate in a game like that…maybe minus the guns and hungry lions. thanks for sharing!
    http://www.icouldntmakethisshitup.wordpress.com

  18. We rented a REALLY old movie: one of Alfred Hitchcock’s from 1932, called Notorious. It starred Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Sounded good with an impressive cast . BUT the script was do dated and the language so stilted that we stopped watching it and returned it post haste.

    Don’t remember any special effects, but can imagine how dreadful they would have been. The movies have come a long way, baby!

    Ronnie

  19. rastelly says:

    The Magic Hat is a tool of story telling
    I never tire of, what still makes the movie
    so exciteing for me is that the plot creates
    a portal out of which almost anything can
    emerge.

    The series Warehouse Thirteen, Eureeka
    and Haven are attractive to me dispite any
    shortcommings they may present, because
    of the Magic Hat situations that drive the
    plot – litterally anything can happen, and
    you will buy it enough to keep watching.
    It may not be the most crittically acclaimed
    experience, but it is the most fun.

  20. basangsisiw says:

    A nice walk down memory lane… Thanks for reminding how I went gaga over Jumanji before… 😉

    Maricel

  21. Ramu Nair says:

    Nostalgiaville… really true

  22. kat says:

    Wait . . . you saw it in the second grade? I saw it when I was nineteen . . . on VHS . . . Sigh . . .

    Feel kinda old now. But thanks for the trip down memory lane! I forgot about Mrs. Doubtfire, maybe I’ll check that out again.

  23. Audrey says:

    Entertaining – I love movies, and watch my favourites over and over again, so I really do appreciate the memories and all the little bits and pieces that stay in my mind years later. Congrats on being FP’d!

  24. I’m fairly certain there is no American who doesn’t like this movie. One time at a party Jumanji was on tv and every person who saw it said “oh great jumanji!” and sat and watched it.

  25. Nanda says:

    Such good memories with this movie! I love the cartoon as well! 🙂

  26. Dev says:

    After watching Jumanji, I knew Kristen Dunst would be a star one day.
    I felt the same for Emma Watson too. It seems I have become a pro at identifying future stars 😉

  27. Cass says:

    Jumanji iss a brutal badass movie!

    i loved when i was a kid.

  28. This movie actually terrified me when I was little (I think it was the giant mosquitoes), but it’s pretty hilarious to watch now. Nice review!

    ~Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One

  29. PocketSafari says:

    Jumanji is one of my favourite childhood movies. I’m hit by the nostalgia bug whenever I watch it. Kirsten Dunst had huge star quality, even then! I miss films like this 😦

  30. Ammon says:

    Wow, Jumanji…

    My kid brother wore that tape out in the VCR. He would go on a cycle of playing one movie over and over and over until the tape busted and then he’d move on to the next one.

    Thanks for the stroll down memory lane 🙂

  31. Yeah, a decent movie, one which recalls the classic adventures of the 80s- The Goonies, Gremlins etc. I found the cartton series superior to the movie though, one of those rare cartoons which is clever, inventive, and doesn’t patronise the viewer- it also had an overall arc which for once was seen through to the end. Good review!

  32. Karl Drobnic says:

    This movie helped propel the “attention deficit disorder” genre of movies in which storyline becomes secondary to getting to the next special effect. I try to avoid the whole genre.

  33. I used to love this movie as a kid! Ok, let’s face it, I still love it.

  34. A Frog at Large says:

    I loved that film, and I wasn’t ‘that’ young when it came out! And was then mortified to find out it got pretty rubbish reviews, I fancied myself quite the savvy critic…

  35. artur6mets says:

    this movie will never get old!!

  36. Cathy says:

    Love movie I already see it and is asome

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