People sometimes say that in Hollywood the real art form is the deal, and movies like this make it believable. You can just see a group of people in expensive suits sitting around a table dreaming this up — “Let’s take a brilliant children’s book (with about one paragraph of text) and add some really neat new computerized special effects. And, I know! Let’s get Robin Williams! It doesn’t matter that there are no adults in the book. He’s great at the box office.” The problem is that each of those parts is fine, but all together the movie is inconsistent and disjointed, sometimes disturbingly so.
In 1969, Alan Parrish, the child of a wealthy family, finds a mysterious board game, buried centuries before. He is sucked inside, to emerge 26 years later (as Robin Williams, who is wasted in this role), when the game is found again by two other children. These two children have moved into the old Parrish estate with their aunt, who plans to turn it into a Bed and Breakfast. They live with their aunt, because their parents have been killed.
Alan finds the girl he played with (now grown up, as he is, and played by the terrific Bonnie Hunt), and the game begins again. As each player rolls, some huge and destructive jungle curse descends, a lion, monkeys, bats, a monsoon, poisonous plants, a British hunter (who behaves more like the Terminator), a stampede of rhinos and zebras. But they must complete the game in order to get everything back to normal.
The “Jurassic Park” style computerized special effects are very good, director Joe Johnston (of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) keeps things moving, and everyone lives happily ever after in a final scene that clears everything up a bit too hastily (leaving the children I was with asking a lot of questions).
“Jumanji” can be fun for kids who won’t be scared by the chaos and animals or bothered by plot elements like a little boy lost in the jungle for 26 years, a father who seems harsh and unloving, or orphaned children. But expect to talk with them about it afterward.