With the seasonal release of the new Jumanji movie, which will update the board game into a Tron-like role playing game starring Dwayne Johnson, what better time to revisit the original Robin Williams version.
A major part of the outpouring of grief after Robin Williams suicide was the fact that he captured an entire generation of fans hearts in the mid 90s with films like Mrs Doubtfire and especially Jumanji. Sandwiched in between his uproarious, but layered performances in films like The Fisher King, and Good Morning Vietnam, to his Oscar-worthy changes of character in films like Good Will Hunting, and One Hour Photo, is the sweet spot of these family films. As a child I watched Jumanji close to 50 or 60 times before the allure of more adult (meaning violent action movies) films grabbed my attention.
Looking back on Jumanji it does strike me as a flawed film. That’s not to say that it is necessarily bad, far from it, but the magic of the film doesn’t come from the titular board games monkeys, carnivorous vines, and big game hunters. The magic comes from Williams himself, playing another man-child after his character Alan is trapped in the game for 26 years. While Williams is predictably hilarious, and the animal related gags prove that 90s comedies work a lot harder for laughs than the present equivalent, it’s the deep anger and sadness in Williams performance that makes Jumanji so compelling after the childhood shine which I associated it with faded away.
It’s this emotional core, anchored by Williams, that I think is the reason why the film is still so beloved. The new film, entitled Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle, looks fun enough, but if the trailers are anything to go by it won’t tackle its themes as deeply as the original.