By Jonathan Lawrence
CALGARY — If you’re a 20-something, there’s a good chance you watched Jumanji as a child, and for most of us it boiled down to one of two feelings: it either enthralled you or spooked you something awful. Released in 1995, Jumanji was the immediate response to the phenomenal success of Jurassic Park, and its Spielberg-ian influence is obvious. While not quite reaching the lofty standards set by the groundbreaking dinosaur flick, it’s innovative for creating a magical atmosphere where something small as an ancient game can greatly affect the real world. It’s not without its shortcomings, but ask any of those 20-somethings and they’ll likely remember the film fondly. The fact is that Jumanji is undeniably nostalgic.
The film opens in 1869 with two kids frantically burying the titular mysterious board game in the depths of a thick forest, cursing its ominous powers. A sudden (arguably naïve) question comes to mind: were there board games in the 1800s? It turns out that they had a few, such as The Checkered Game of Life, the antiquated predecessor to today’s Life. Jumanji may not be the most fun board game to play, but it certainly sounds more exciting than 1888’s The Game of the Telegraph Boy.
We fast forward to an idyllic New England town (read: Vancouver) in 1969 where we meet Alan Parrish, a lonely, curious boy who is ignored by his parents and is the prime target of the neighbourhood bullies. Every peaceful small town needs a gang of bullies, after all. Things get real when Parrish plays the game with his friend Sarah Whittle, and, after rolling an unlucky hand, mysterious forces pull his body into the board game itself (the scene that likely scarred many a young’un). The game’s tagline suggests that it is there for those who seek to leave their world behind, and Parrish gets just that and then some.
Twenty-six years pass, and two new children discover the game and inadvertently bring back the lost Alan Parrish from the plains of Africa to his old hometown. Bearded and wild, we finally see the main appeal of the film, the late great Robin Williams himself. Williams plays a much calmer character in the film than what he usually does, but is no less likeable. It’s fitting that, like 1991’s Hook, he is playing a child trapped in a man’s body. Though, oddly enough, for a guy stuck in the unforgiving African wilderness for most of his life, he has an acute sense of humour.
Once Parrish returns, the excitement ramps up as he, the two children, and his old friend Sarah (now completely neurotic from witnessing Alan’s disappearance), desperately try to reach the end of the merciless game that forces the gang to endure legions of monkeys, stampeding rhinos, crocodiles and a host of other predicaments before things can go back to normal. Not only that, but since Alan’s disappearance, the once pristine town has turned into an Escape from New York-style dystopia. It’s obvious now that Alan got what he wished for, and there were great consequences to his choice.
Most people saw Jumanji upon its release over 20 years ago and remember it as a classic childhood flick, but most people probably haven’t seen it since. Courtesy of the Fifth Reel, this is a rare and exciting chance for everyone to get together once again and experience one of the definitive ‘90s family films and one of Robin Williams’ many memorable performances.
Catch Jumanji at the Plaza Theatre courtesy of the Fifth Reel on Feb. 19. The pre-show will feature Calgary band Pine Tarts.AB, Alberta, Jumanji, Plaza Theatre, Robin Williams, The Fifth Reel