When you visit rottentomatoes.com, they only give Jumanji a score of 50%. Ouch. Roger Ebert called it “gloomy” and Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it only a C+ implying that the story did not live up to the special effects. Double Ouch.
Yes, Jumanji is not a perfect film. There are moments that make me squirm, like when Robin Williams is attacking some wild vines with a sword and shouts “Harvest time!” That is not the only embarrassing shout in the film, later Judy (played by a young Kirsten Dunst) holds a checkout lane gun up at a person’s eyes and shouts “Price check!” To help emphasize the bad joke, the camera cuts to the cash register where it declares “no sale.”
Not to be a grinch, but many of the classics we love aren’t perfect. I’ll even give you a cherished example. In The Wizard of Oz, when the witch orders out her monkey army to get Dorothy she references a scene that was edited from the film. She explains to her monkeys that she had sent out bugs to tire them out first. Of course, we don’t see the fabled “jitterbug” scene happen (and probably for very good reason, it sounds incredibly cheesy). But, unless you know the history of the film, this really doesn’t make any sense at all. What bugs? What did the bugs do to them? How does a bug bother a scarecrow and a man made of tin?
Now in saying all that, I’m not comparing The Wizard of Oz to Jumanji, even though they both have many similar themes (returning to a home, forging a new family, friendship, etc.) and buy into the great myth that underlines most children stories (a normal child swept away into an adventure to find they are special). The Wizard of Oz is a classic and will never disappear. I can’t say the same for Jumanji in the future, and that makes me a little sad. There is a good chance that over time it might become nothing more than another chapter in all those future biographies of Robin Williams that are certainly being planned right now.
I love the film Jumanji. It is comfort food on the screen for me. And since the tragic death of Robin Williams (our hero Alan Parrish) I have watched it three times… and there is a good chance I might be watching it again soon.