As Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle stampedes the box office, let’s look back on the 1995 original, in which typically obnoxious Robin Williams character Alan Parrish (Robin Williams) discovers the worst board game ever made.
Jumanji is a game where something terrible happens every time you roll the dice, a bit like Monopoly, where every time you roll you’re still playing Monopoly. They never explain the point of this violent board game but this soon becomes obvious: it’s a mindless excuse to showcase a string of loud CGI set pieces. Taking its cues from video games (and Snakes and Ladders), the film has a grindingly repetitive, episodic structure as our heroes face level by level of wobbly CGI nuisance.
It’s explained that reaching the end will make all the animals disappear back into the game, though it’s not clear why they can’t be rounded up and put in a zoo or Universal’s Jumanji: The Wild 4D Experience. Regardless, Alan is so singularly obsessed with completing the game for no reason that he’s prepared to abuse his old friends in the process. He’s supposedly been trapped in the jungle for 26 years but nothing about his behaviour suggests that’s true. It’s more likely that he was hiding in the wardrobe waiting for some children to torment.
Eldest child Judy is played by a young Kirsten Dunst, impressive here as she was in the previous year’s Interview with the Vampire. Judy’s younger brother Peter (Bradley Pierce) is unceremoniously turned into a monkey at one point which seems unnecessarily harsh given that he doesn’t even learn anything from it, thanks to the movie’s weird ending.
In fact the whole film is bizarrely grim and depressing considering it’s supposed to be for children. Not that there’s anything wrong with scaring children; Roald Dahl made a career out of it. But the ugliness here seems less a creative decision and more a general lack of warmth and humanity. It actually tries to ape human emotion but swings and misses wildly, by means of the mawkish daddy issues that plagued so many films in the ’90s.
All this makes for a thoroughly unlikeable family film, as noisy and pointless as the game itself. Although it spawned sequels Zathura and Welcome to the Jungle, Jumanji‘s most conspicuous successor is surely the Night at the Museum trilogy; annoying, soulless and obnoxious fantasy-comedies (featuring Robin Williams) that prioritise CGI over humour and volume over coherence. As long as there are loads of things running around it doesn’t matter how against humanity or trivial the pursuit.