Starring Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt. Directed by Joe Johnston. Rated mature. Now playing at Granville 7, Oakridge, Park & Tilford, and others
Just two years after Jurassic Park, CGI (computer graphic imaging) has gone from being a near-miracle to acceptance as a standard filmmaking tool, almost as commonplace as wide-angle lenses and Steadicams. Unlike, say, Sensurround, CGI is a gimmick that adds something of noticeable value to movies: the transcendence of practical limitations on set construction and character design.
Eventually, Hollywood's use of CGI will progress beyond the Smell-O-Vision stage, in which the effect is everything. In the meantime, we can continue to anticipate a spate of silly but harmless orgies of computer-graphic overkill, the latest being Jumanji.
Despite the name, Jumanji is not about a kind of kosher sushi but a malevolent board game that creates dreadful hazards for the players; I eagerly await the sequel, Playing Operation in the Bathtub. In Jumanji, each roll of the dice results in the appearance of a cheesy rhyming couplet on the game board and the materialization of angry jungle denizens, from giant mosquitoes to stampeding elephants.
Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt star as two Jumanji players whose lives were ruined by the game when they were kids. One assumes that the marketing of the inevitable tie-in product will not linger on this plot point, so I shall not. Suffice it to say that Williams's character was sucked into an alternative dimension as a young boy and presumed dead, while Hunt's character grew up to become a pathetic neurotic–a board-game fate previously observed only in hard-core aficionados of Dungeons and Dragons. Twenty-six years later, they are forced to roll the dice again when two cute and overly articulate youngsters (Kirsten Dunst and Adam Hann-Byrd) stumble across their never-completed game.
Soon all manner of photo-realistic heck breaks loose, endangering the players and their sleepy little town (played by Vancouver). It's lots of fun watching the cast scamper around under our grey skies, running from evil monkeys, crazed lions, killer vines, floods, and the acting of David Alan Grier. Basically, the stars are your hosts at a computer-generated theme park. Oddly, no matter how bad things seem to get, the Jumanji logo remains right side up.
As he did with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, director Joe Johnston successfully juggles frenetic special-effects action with gentle character moments. Unsophisticated silliness is no excuse for sloppy filmmaking, and Johnston doesn't let up the pace at all. The result is another superior family movie, with one proviso: it's very loud, and occasionally creepy, so leave your toddlers at home with a qualified, Judge Gove?approved baby-sitting resource.