JUMANJI begins with a 19th century expedition to bury a board game of unexplained origin. In 1969, young Alan happens to dig up the game and plays it. The relic materializes multitudes of hostile African animals, and Alan gets sucked into the jungle-world of the game. More than 25 years later two orphans (Bradley Pierce, Kirsten Dunst) move into Alan's old house, find the game, and start playing, unleashing a fresh rampage of vicious beasts and Alan (Robin Williams). Alan is now a full-grown semi-wild man, being tracked by Van Pelt (Jonathan Hyde), a crazed, implacable, old-school safari hunter. The only way to return everything to normal is for the kids to continue playing the game to the end, even though each roll of the dice unleashes more attacking animals, from demonic bats to man-eating plants to a ghastly herd of giant spiders.
There's no sense of wonder, really, just one scare after another, and the fact that the killer Van Pelt is played by the same actor who embodied Alan's snooty father adds another dark note. Young viewers who aren't nightmare-prone might be diverted a little by the computer-generated beasts, which all have a slightly livid, unreal glaze that's fitting for how lurid engravings and drawings of the late 1800s might portray exotic beasts.
But Jumanji's script is weak, and Williams pretty much plays it straight as the time-displaced, long-marooned Alan. The young actors are good, but there's a heavy undercurrent of continual peril, death, and morbidity, with no breathing room. The ending, in which history is rewritten for all the characters even better than It's a Wonderful Life, seems a little forced, to say the least, and doesn't dispel the general unpleasantness.
Parents need to know that Jumanji has lots of thrills and perils but little joy, as monstrous jungle predators pour out of an enchanted board game to overwhelm hapless kids and adults in a depressed New England town. It may be too intense for some kids, although young viewers who aren't nightmare-prone will be diverted by the creatures, computer-generated by the same Hollywood whizzes who brought to life the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.