Ink & Pixel: Jumanji

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Ink & Pixel is a source of pride and joy for me as a writer and as such, I'm always striving to take this column further for those who read and enjoy it. In an effort to widen the reach of our continuously growing fan-base, Ink & Pixel has broadened its horizons with the inclusion of films from the Horror, Sci-Fi, Action-Adventure, and Fantasy genres. Additionally, if you yourself, or anyone you know, helped to make any of the amazing feature films found within this column, I would love to talk to you to further my knowledge. Please contact me at [email protected] so we can discuss it further.

I don't know about you, but I love myself a good board game! Back in the day, I used to sit around the dinner table with my family, and play things like Monopoly, The Game of Life, Trivial Pursuit, Topple, Sorry, Aggravation, and Candyland. It was a time when shoots and ladders determined your fate, a patient's nose glowed red if you'd made a mistake, and whoever purchased all the utility properties was sure to bleed you of all your Canadian-looking play money in due time.

Today, I'm still a bit of a table top gaming enthusiast. Every now and again, my friends and I gather for a round of Eldritch Horror, Legendary: Aliens vs. Predator, or Takenoko. Hell, we even dabble in some dice and card-related titles like The Oatmeal's Exploding Kittens, Dicemasters, and Ascension: Dreamscape. The reason I'm getting all nostalgic like this is because this week's article features a very mysterious board game indeed. It's a game for those who wish to leave their world behind. Where you roll the dice to move your token, doubles get another turn, and the first one to reach the end wins. However, the rules warn players not to start a game unless you intend to finish it. After all, the exciting consequences will only vanish once a player has reached the final space, and calls out … JUMANJI!

Unleashed into theaters on December 15th, 1995, JUMANJI was directed by Joe Johnston (HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS, THE PAGEMASTER, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER) and written by Greg Taylor, Jonathan Hensleigh, and Jim Strain. Inspired by the 1981 fantasy picture book of the same name, Johnston's rambunctious family film adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's novel stars Robin Williams, Jonathan Hyde, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, and Bonnie Hunt. Both the novel and the film tell the tale of what happens when the rules of a dangerous and mystical board game are ignored, leaving its players to sort out and survive the consequences.

In the film, a young boy by the name of Alan Parrish discovers an intriguing board game that he and his friend, Sarah Whittle (Laura Bell Bundy), decide to play on one very fateful night. After a roll of the dice, Alan (Adam Hann-Byrd) is magically transported into the center of the board, where he is then forced to survive the beast-ridden jungles of Jumanji. 26 years later, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepard (Bradley Pierce) move in to the old Parrish estate, and discover the dangerous game for themselves. It doesn't take long before things get out of control, or for Peter to throw the magic number that permits Alan to escape from his woodland incarceration.

Bewildered by the circumstances of his return, Alan finds that he has little choice but to help his new friends finish the game, once and for all. Together with an older (and rather traumatized) Sarah Whittle (Bonnie Hunt), Alan, Judy, and Peter embark on a madcap adventure to banish the beasts they've set loose upon the world. Oh yeah, did I mention that in addition to the mischievous monkeys, bothersome birds, and poisonous plants that there's also a blood-thirsty hunter who won't rest until Alan's head is mounted on his wall? I hope you've got your running shoes on, because things are sure to get worse before they get even remotely better.

Oh … well this is interesting, did you know that JURASSIC PARK was released in theaters during the same week that JUMANJI went into production? It's true. In fact, the effects and grandeur of Speilberg's dinosaur disaster flick served as a major inspiration for Team Jumanji. Often looked upon as a benchmark in the art of special effects film making, it's without a doubt that JURASSIC PARK raised the bar of excellence for both practical and digital effects in film. So, when the opportunity to bring Allsburg's novel to life on the big screen came about, the men and women of the film's production staff wanted to pull out all ths stops. 

To create the film's particular brand of pandemonium, a combination of CGI, puppetry, and animatronics were used to bring chaos to the streets of Keene, New Hampshire (where a portion of the action was filmed). Working together to create the effects for JUMANJI, were engineers from both studios, Amalgamated Dynamics and Industrial Light and Magic . In some cases, animal characters featured in the film were built in both practical and CGI model form to permit a full range of motion from each creature. For me, I always prefer when studios use animatronics or puppetry to bring their beasts to life, but I understand that in the interests of time and practicality that my preference might not always be the most sound.

That said, let's make a short list of which effects were created using practical applications. First, we've got the giant spiders, the hungry pod plant, the ferocious crocodile, the board game-snatching pelican, the indigenous plant life that invades the Parrish homestead, and a whole lot more! Now, I know what you're thinking, “Hey man, what about that bad ass lion that appears in the film, what's his deal?” Well, I'm glad you asked. The lion was one of several creatures that received both the animatronic and CGI effects treatment. In fact, an engineer was first outfitted with a portion of the jungle cat's body, and was then suspended from a miniature crane (Superman style) as he prowled the set. In order to see what was happening around him, a video monitor headset was strapped to the puppeteer's head, while a live feed was pumped directly – think of it like a dollar store version of the Oculus Rift.

After the lions, crocodiles, and monkeys were returned to the enigmatic ether from whence they came, JUMANJI had earned a worldwide total of $262,797,249 in box office returns! I gotta be honest with you, I was not expecting a number like this when I started researching this film – especially when you consider that the budget allowed for the production of this wacky adventure was just $65 million. It kind of makes me think twice about rolling my eyes when I hear rumors about a Monopoly movie being made, or even the prospect of a Tetris-related trilogy. Alright, so maybe garbage fires like OUIJA and BATTLESHIP have left a bad taste in people's mouths, but then I remind myself of the 1985 Jonathan Lynn classic, CLUE. I guess what I'm trying to say here, is, that it's not impossible for a movie based on a board game to be something worth getting excited about. If the right property, story, and people come together, anything is possible.

As for me, I like JUMANJI. Call it a “guilty pleasure” film if you'd like, but I'm not the type of person to feel any guilt for the things that I enjoy. I grew up with a fondness for Chris Van Allsburg's picture book, and have treasured the antics of the late Robin Williams ever since my Dad took me to see GOOD MORNING VIETNAM. I mean, it goes without saying that by today's standards the effects are hella dated, but for the time I think they looked pretty damn good. Alright, so maybe that statement isn't entirely true. I will forever stand by the opinion that monkeys have always and will always look terrible. Seriously, I still question as to how the design and animation for their part in the film was able to pass muster.

However, if I set all of the hilarious slapstick aside, I think the gradual destruction of Alan Parrish's childhood home is my favorite part of the film – particularly the relentless overgrowth and crocodiles in the foyer. For me, JUMANJI is a harmless hour and forty minutes of ridiculousness that takes me back to a year when immature comedy was all the rage. Think about it, in 1995 alone we had: BILLY MADISON, ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, TANK GIRL, and MORTAL KOMBAT. Yeah, suddenly JUMANJI ain't looking too shabby, eh? Until next time folks, and remember … if there's a of rhythmic drumming emanating from the box of a mysterious-looking board game you've purchased, I highly recommend that you hold on to your receipt.


About the Author

Born and raised in New York, then immigrated to Canada, Steve Seigh has been a editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. He started with Ink & Pixel, a column celebrating the magic and evolution of animation, before launching the companion YouTube series Animation Movies Revisited. He's also the host of the Talking Comics Podcast, a personality-driven audio show focusing on comic books, film, music, and more. You'll rarely catch him without headphones on his head and pancakes on his breath.