Jumanji is one of the scariest family films I’ve seen in a while. The opening moments, with the young Alan and Sarah, are actually quite tense and when the bats first emerge from the fireplace, after Alan has been sucked into the board game, you are already gripped and know that this film will be unlike much of anything you’ve seen before.
It doesn’t let up either; when Judy, played by a young Kirsten Dunst, and her brother Peter start playing the game and it gets even scarier, with mosquitos and a lion being the next things out of the board. That is the magic of the movie, it teases you and keeps you in suspense with every roll of the dice. As the contents of the game emerge and wreak havoc across the small town, it’s always the contents of the game that keep you watching.
They don’t disappoint either. Each rhyme teases you before the actual horror emerges, from monsoons to stampedes. To say they can be genuinely scary is no exaggeration either. They are the perfect example of what the 12a (PG13) certificate is for, scary but never so over the top that kids will be screaming from the room. The perfect example is an attack on the heroes while they are in a convertible.
To add to the horror and suspense is a great comedy vein running through the film. All of the carnage has a comedic effect on the town, running riot through the streets, the local shopping mall and for one policeman in particular, played brilliantly by David Alan Grier.
It helps that the comedy is also supplied by a comedic acting legend. The late Robin Williams gets to play a much more action-orientated role and it is one of his less obviously comedic roles. Like anything he does though, there is always some sort of funny edge and you can tell with the odd line or action that he probably improvised the moment.
This is a much more dramatic role though. He plays a man who has been stuck in the jungle since he was a boy. This brings with it a story about loss of parents, living up to expectations and feeling abandoned. As one of the flaws with the film, the drama can sometimes feel forced or solved too easily, with life jarring moments being solved without lasting effect.
As well as the forced drama, there is an unavoidable drop in quality for the special effects. This isn’t any fault of the movie and I’m sure they were decent for 1995, but the monkeys look too CGI and some of the scarier creatures, such as the spiders, lose their edge because the effects look so dated.
Overall, Jumanji is a tense, sometimes scary but never less than exciting family movie. It is also a rare chance to see Robin Williams in a more action-focused role, as opposed to the straight comedy he is known for. That doesn’t mean it isn’t also very funny and if you can get past the dated effects, there is a lot to love about this movie.
Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)