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Jumanji (20th Anniversary Edition)
My nine-year-old self thought Jumanji was pretty great when I saw it in theaters. The film has a lot to offer: an interesting story, Robin Williams' distinct brand of humor, and extensive special effects. The movie has aged well, and will entertain a whole new generation of children. The prologue sees a young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd/Robin Williams) fight with his father before literally falling into the jungles of the Jumanji board game. Years later, two orphans, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd (Bradley Pierce), and their Aunt Nora (Bebe Neuwirth) take up residence in the same house. The kids begin playing the game and notice repercussions off of the board. The weather changes and animals appear out of nowhere. They also find an older, dirty Parrish, who is trailed out of the game by a lion and a hunter (Jonathan Hyde). Jumanji is entertaining and quickly paced, with enough character drama to satisfy adults. This movie is imagination personified, and it benefits from strong performances across the board.
I still remember the green-bordered cover jacket of the 1981 book by Chris Van Allsburg upon which this movie is based. Two monkeys sit atop a breakfast table as a young girl looks on with wonder/horror on her face. The book was one of my favorites as a child, and the movie does a pretty good job translating those words to the silver screen. There are monkeys in Jumanji, too, but they are mostly used as a humorous McGuffin and allusion to that book art. There is some heady familial melodrama to start the film, with young Alan lashing out at his father (also Hyde) for being cold and selfish. He soon disappears into Jumanji and his young friend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy/Bonnie Hunt) runs away in terror. The prospect of spending a lifetime stuck in a realistic game is some pretty serious stuff for a kids movie.
Young Dunst and Pierce recover the game from the house's attic and begin to play. This unleashes some dangerous magic, and only jungle-man Alan can save them. Twinkly eyed Williams is expectedly enjoyable here, and the now-grown Sarah is in awe when Alan knocks on her door. The game has real, dangerous consequences, and its escaped beasts start ransacking the town. Nora frantically searches for her keeps with the help of an exasperated local cop (David Alan Grier), and Jumanji keeps the obstacles rolling at a breakneck pace. There are a number of solid effects, particularly the lion. Some of the minor animals look a bit dodgy, but it's important to note that Jumanji is now twenty years old. Effects and wardrobe aside, Jumanji feels like it was made yesterday, and succeeds because it never panders to its young audience.
It is hard to fault a movie with such gumption. Jumanji revels in adventure and mystery, and, despite a few pacing hiccups, keeps a steady forward clip. There is plenty of heart and heartbreak: Alan and his dad. Judy and Peter mourn the loss of their parents. Sarah lost her first love for decades. This depth buoys the film and makes it something special. I hate that Williams is no longer with us. His uncanny ability to make the silly meaningful is missed, and he brings this charm to Jumanji. Director Joe Johnston stocks the cast with solid character actors, and Hunt, Hyde and Grier are particularly good. In a time of crass cash-in entertainment for families and kids, Jumanji is a welcome throwback to better times.
Although this review is for the newly released 20th Anniversary Edition of Jumanji, it appears this 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is recycled from the 2011 Blu-ray edition. It is fine but nowhere near reference quality. The whole image has that processed feel of early DVDs and Blu-rays. I noticed some moderate edge halos and digital noise reduction on faces and in fabrics. Highlights are often blown out, and skin tones had a pink tint. Fine-object detail varies from excellent to unimpressive, with the latter coming when digital tinkering causes blocky details. Colors are appropriately saturated, and black levels are generally stable. There is some minor print damage. With all the 4k reissues of late, I'm not sure why Sony skipped this title.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is better. This is rollicking adventure film, and the surround mix is immersive and quite boisterous. Dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout, and is appropriately layered with effects and score. There is plenty of ambient foot traffic and jungle noise in the surrounds, and action sequences benefit from subwoofer support, strong sound pans and excellent fidelity. 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs are available in French, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai, and there are a ton of subtitle options.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release is packed in a Vortex case with double-sided artwork. A slipcover replicates the busy key artwork. Sony includes a code to redeem an UltraViolet HD digital copy. You get a number of older bonus features, including Jungle Adventure: Virtual Board Game, a trivia challenge; a Special Effects Crew Commentary; Making Jumanji: The Realm of Imagination (20:04/SD); Lions and Monkeys and Pods … Oh My! (14:34/SD), about the visual effects; Production Design: Bringing Down the House (3:05/SD); and Storyboard Comparisons (3:41/SD). Newly produced features include Jumanji Motion Storybook as Read by Author Chris Van Allsburg (8:59/HD). You also get two episodes from Jumanji: The Animated Series (23:36 and 21:43/SD). Things wrap up with The Cast of Goosebumps Reflects on Jumanji (5:19/HD) and a Goosebumps Sneak Peek (3:01/HD), both of which obviously advertise the upcoming film. This Blu-ray does include the Theatrical Trailer (2:46/HD), the International Teaser (1:45/HD) and the International Trailer (0:32/HD).
An excellent, timeless adventure with a memorable performance from the late Robin Williams, Jumanji does not feel like it is twenty years old. There is real drama and high-stakes action, and Jumanji never panders to its young audience, making it a treat for adults, too. This new Blu-ray includes a few new bonus features, but recycles the dated transfer from a previous release. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.