Robin Williams’ best role is the combination fish-out-of-water/boy-trapped-in-man’s-body that worked so well in “Mork and Mindy,” “Hook,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and, now, “Jumanji.”
The story begins in 1969, when young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) - a sixth-grader embarrassed by his family’s wealth - unearths a chest buried a century earlier. Inside the chest is a “Jumanji” game, complete with bone dice and hand-carved playing pieces. Before running away from home, Parrish decides to show the game to best friend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy). He rolls the dice and is sucked into the game until another player rolls a 5 or 8.
Twenty-six years later, orphans Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) move into the abandoned Parrish mansion with their Aunt Nora (Bebe Neuwirth). They find “Jumanji” in the attic and unleash giant mosquitoes, a tribe of mischievous monkeys, a lion and a grown-up, Alan (Williams) - who after 26 years in the jungle, knows all of the game’s tricks and traps.
The jungle animals wreaking havoc on Brantford, N.H., won’t disappear until someone wins the game, and the playing pieces won’t move until the next player - Sarah - rolls the dice. The grown-up Sarah (Bonnie Hunt), having lived alone and undergoing years of therapy since seeing Alan disappear, eventually agrees to play, spelling havoc for Brantford in the form of stampedes, disease and the evil hunter Van Pelt (Jonathan Hyde).
Along the way, Judy and Peter find parent figures in Alan and Sarah, Alan learns to grow up and Sarah regains the friend she lost 26 years earlier. Plus, a nifty time-travel trick wraps up the story with more happy endings.
Williams easily steals the show as the sixth-grader trapped in a man’s body.
The idea of a living game could easily become scattered in an exploration of the possibilities. But “Jumanji” sticks to its rules, and never loses sight of its basic premise. The computerized animals aren’t as three-dimensional or lifelike as those in “Jurassic Park,” but they do work for basic jungle effect.
“Jumanji” may be a little scary for the young audiences it will attract. Although nobody dies, giant spiders attack the players, Van Pelt shoots at them often, and at one point an elephant crushes a car with Peter inside.
Dunst, seen in “Interview with the Vampire” and “Little Women,” is, at 12 years old, quickly becoming one of moviedom’s brightest stars. She has a knack for making you believe she really is an orphan who uses tall tales to keep the memory of her parents alive.
MEMO: Two sidebars appeared with the story: 1. “Jumanji” Location: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Joe Johnston; starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce Running time: 1:40 Rating: PG 2. Other views Here’s what other critics say about “Jumanji:” Rod Dreher/Fort Lauderdale SunSentinel: Like “Jurassic Park,” “Jumanji” is pure pop entertainment, a fab fantasy where the cast and story exist for the sake of the dazzling digital effects. And when a film is as hugely entertaining as “Jumanji,” that’s quite all right. Jay Boyar/Orlando Sentinel: In “Jumanji,” the special effects occasionally overshadow the material’s human side. But if you’re looking for a new movie to see with the children in your life - and if you’ve already seen “Toy Story” a few dozen times - you could do a lot worse than “Jumanji.”