The film takes considerable liberties with the book the two lead characters played by Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt do not even appear in the book, for instance. The results emerge as something akin to Hellraiser (1987) albeit without the Cenobites and a jungle theme. Indeed, Jumanji taps into the secret wish-fulfillment fantasy that runs through many childrens stories a desire to see the adult world of rules and orders overthrown by chaos and anarchy. The film takes extraordinary delight in the smashing up a huge house, of letting jungle creatures loose through the main street of a small town, of unleashing a great deal of mayhem in a department store and the progressive comedic trashing of David Alan Griers cop car. The film is one giant orgy of gleeful destruction. To such extent, Joe Johnston arranges an impressive array of CGI and animatronic effects. Ultimately, Jumanji fails to satisfy. It is a cute idea but there is never anything more to the film than a gleeful spree of vandalism.
What is unique about Jumanji is the ultimate safeness of its fantasy. Most childrens stories that allow anarchy loose wrap it up with a restoration of the adult status quo ie. the anarchy is never allowed to supersede the reinstatement of law and order. However, Jumanji goes way beyond even that kind of conservative retraction not only is all the anarchy safely wrapped up again and the chaos repaired but the ending even winds the clock back to 1969, giving Robin Williams his childhood back, allowing him to get his cold and authoritarian father to discover his feelings and for him to win the girl he always loved, plus a coda in the present day where Williams and Bonnie Hunt are now married, have managed to save the mill from closing and his father from a premature death of heartbreak and where Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierces parents are prevented from being killed in a skiing accident. A safer fantasy of ameliorating hurt one would have to go some length to find.
Robin Williams is reasonably restrained. Once the comic wild man of the entertainment industry, capable of a machine-gun barrage of off-the-cuff one-liners, Williams started to soften as he entered middle-age. Most of his work in the 1990s/2000s was childrens films Hook (1991), Aladdin (1992), Ferngully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Flubber (1997), Robots (2005), Happy Feet (2006), Night at the Museum (2006) middlebrow comedy Mrs Doubtfire (1993), Nine Months (1995), RV (2006) and shameless schmaltz Patch Adams (1998), Jakob the Liar (1999) and the appalling Bicentennial Man (1999). Here Williams seems restrained to the point that one wonders why they cast him at all almost any actor could have done the job. Apart from some uninhibited moments when he emerges as the wild man, he remains passively restrained throughout.
The idea was later spun out as an animated tv series, Jumanji (1996), even though this is not a concept that easily lend itself to a tv series. A live-action sequel was promised for several years. This finally merged into the film Zathura: A Space Adventure (2005), which is not a sequel, but is based on another Chris Van Allsburg book and concerns a different boardgame that transports two children into a space opera setting.
(Nominee for Best Special Effects at this sites Best of 1995 Awards).