Plot summary: It’s 1969 in a small New England town, and twelve-year-old Alan Parrish discovers a mysterious board game in a construction site near the shoe factor owned by his wealthy father. After learning that his parents plan to send him to a boarding school, Alan decides to run away, taking the game with him. As he is leaving the house, however, he is stopped by his friend, Sarah Whittle, and the two decide to play the game. The game begins to act very strangely, with the pieces moving on their own and messages appearing in smoke in the middle of the board. On Alan’s first move, he is told he must wait in the jungle until another player rolls a five or an eight. He is then sucked into the center of the game, and Sarah, terrified, flees the house. Twenty-six years later, orphans Judy and Peter Shepherd move into the mansion where Alan lived with their aunt Nora. The siblings are having a difficult time coping with the death of their parents, but discover the mysterious board game in the attic. After unleashing a swarm of giant mosquitos and a pack of crazy monkeys, Peter rolls a five, releasing a now middle-aged Alan. Alan is overjoyed to be free from the terrifying jungle, but is sad to learn that his parents are dead and the town is now in shambles. Things get even worse when Judy, Peter and Alan realize that they will have to locate Sarah, who is now also an adult, in order to finish the game they began in 1969 and put a stop to the crazy jungle creatures wreaking havoc on the town.
Review: This exciting and clever movie adaptation of a classic picture book incorporates a lot of humor, danger and mystery into one entertaining film. The opening of Jumanji is very engaging, with Alan being sucked into the game and it cutting to the now decrepit mansion twenty-six years in the future. Siblings Judy (played by a young Kirsten Dunst) and Peter have an interesting storyline on their own in regards to their parents death and how they are coping. It is clear that they are close and this bond is enhanced throughout the film. Robin Williams, of course, brings his own element of fun to his role as the adult Alan, as does Bonnie Hunt as the adult Sarah. Jonathan Hyde is also very entertaining playing a dual role of Alan’s father and a vicious hunter released from the board game. The conclusion of the film is very satisfying, and it is likely that tweens will want to view this movie again and again.
Interest level: Grades 3-8
Similar titles: Zathura (2005).
Personal thoughts: I was in sixth grade when Jumanji was released in theaters and I absolutely adored it. In speaking with tweens who come into my library, they love the film as much as I did. It is very exciting, entertaining and clever. I think the balance of humor, danger, mystery and romance is perfect for a relatively wholesome tween film. I often recommend this title to families looking for something that everyone can enjoy, even tweens or teens.
Themes: Adventure, board games, jungle.
Awards/Reviews: Performed very well at the box office.
Series Information: The film Zathura (2005) is also based on a book by Van Allsburg and is sometimes viewed as a sequel to Jumanji.
Alan Parrish – Begins the film as a twelve-year-old who is dissatisfied with his privileged life. After beginning a game of Jumanji, he is trapped in the jungle for twenty-six years. When he emerges, he is, understandably, a little quirky.
Judy Shepherd – A tween girl who was recently orphaned and now lives with her brother and her aunt Nora. She is obviously angry at the death of her parents and often acts out by lying and creating wild stories. In the adventures that follow as a result of Jumanji, Judy proves to be very courageous and caring.
Peter Shepherd – Judy’s younger brother. He is not coping well with the loss of his parents and hasn’t spoken since they died. Peter begins to talk once the Jumanji game begins, and proves to be very brave.
Sarah Whittle – Alan’s childhood friend who was outcast by the town after she was the last one to see Alan alive. She considers herself a psychic, but is under the care of a psychiatrist.
Annotation: Most board games require that you use your imagination, but when you play Jumanji the things in the game come to life.