Take a look back on the high jinks on the movie's 20th anniversary
By now, the 1995 fantasy movie Jumanji is either beloved or forgotten, a truth I so cruelly learned during a recent conversation when excitement for the film’s 20th anniversary was as negligible as the rules on the side of a board game. “Does it hold up?” persisted through the air, bombarded into the pop culture ether amid other similar cries of “I didn’t get it!” or “The CGI falls short!” But for those who did witness the seismic kid-fantasy flourishes of the Robin Williams action vehicle, Jumanji remains a beloved adventure flick as formative for certain youths as any movie about Tatooine or Middle-earth.
The film starred Robin Williams as Alan Parrish, a man banished to live inside a magical board game until two kids (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) inadvertently release him 26 years later when they inherit Alan’s house and pick up the very same game. Summoned back to the present, Alan and the kids must find Bonnie Hunt and finish the game to undo all of the horrible jungle traps it has unleashed into the world.
As a kid — and even now, since I profess Jumanji holds up incredibly well two decades later — the best part of the movie was every roll of the dice, when each new jungle-themed danger (including Monsoon, Lion, and Big F-ing Spider) would be summoned from the game into the real world, accompanied by a cryptic spooky clue prophesizing something ominous like “Everything is at stake” or “Don’t bite off more than you can chew” or “Here is a zebra.”
Those traps and obstacles are the film’s biggest delight, and it turns out they have a name: “Jumanji” is, apparently, a Zulu word meaning “many effects,” so it stands to reason that each dice roll can be called an individual…Jumanjo? I mean, maybe? Or, if you don’t accept that, then perhaps all of the traps together are Jumanjis (a la the way some people insist the plural of emoji is emojis)?
Either way, Dec. 15 marks the movie’s 20th anniversary, and what better way to celebrate a film than to unnecessarily rank its content? In honor of the double-decade achievement, EW revisited the film and helpfully ordered all of the Jumanjis according to a very scientific system, wherein the judgment criteria has been determined by the following:
- Initial horror of the calamity vs. the actual real danger it posed
- Difficulty in surviving said calamity
- Grossness in whether you have to touch the calamity
- Overall damage dealt to humans, houses, and/or towns at large
- Effectiveness of spooky message predicting it
Beware: Do not begin this list unless you intend to finish.
15. Whatever happened to the kids in 1869
In the first minute of Jumanji, two boys in the late 1860s bury the game and wish mercy on the souls of those poor individuals who dig it up. For the most part, they look considerably unshaken after fighting off its nightmarish effects, especially with primitive antebellum technology. So it stands to reason that Caleb and Benjamin didn’t really have that terrible of a time playing the game; in fact, they were probably better suited to quickly vanquish the game’s wild threats because of their frontier lifestyle than the kids in 1960s/90s New England ever were. I’m willing to assume the biggest challenge either boy faced in Jumanji was some sort of spooky dysentery.
14. Go back a turn
One of the most convenient Jumanjis, at least from a screenwriting standpoint, was this pointless roll from Kirsten Dunst’s Judy.
“His fangs are sharp. He likes your taste. Your party better move poste haste.”
The lion’s arrival is critically important: It brings Alan back into the world and, despite following mosquitoes and monkeys, seems to be the first real danger to the Shepherd kids that made them understand they were really in deep with this game. But all things considered, the lion didn’t really do… anything. Once Alan locked the lion inside a spare bedroom, the king of the jungle largely just chilled, lounging on thousand thread-count Egyptian sheets until someone would check in on him every once in a while, in which case he would roar and then continue his meditation. If the lion was truly a threat, would it have been so hard to break out the bedroom? Olivia Pope has gotten out of worse kidnappings.
“At night they fly, you better run. These winged things are not much fun.”
First, points must be deducted from the overall strength of the bats because of the forced pronunciation of “wing-ed,” and for the unhelpfully lowball description of “not much fun.” Bats are decidedly not at all fun, as we learned in Batman and other such pop culture movies about bats. More than this, they just didn’t seem all that dangerous once they escaped the Parrish and flew off into the night sky. It’s safe to assume that after their attack on Laura Bell Bundy, the bats just kind of went wherever bats go, using echolocation (the Uber of bat travel) to the nearest bat hangout and staying there for the next 26 years. Big kudos to the one bat that stayed in the Parrish attic for two-and-a-half decades and scared Bebe Neuwirth, though.
11. Getting sucked into Jumanji
“In the jungle you must wait, until the dice read five or eight.”
Controversial opinion: Getting sucked into Jumanji is Not! That! Bad! Yes, you have to survive a lot of crazy things, but anyone who has lived in New York City knows that the dangers are bigger and the beards even more so. It’s a concrete Jumanji! Jungle Jumanji was probably more like a vacation, if anything. Still, the only real negative with rolling this unfortunate outcome is what happens when you do get sucked into the game. Observe the photo above. What does Alan FEEL? His screams suggest nothing less than pain. And poor Sarah! The emotional damage of seeing her childhood crush turn into a tornado is enough to ruin her for two decades. Okay, maybe this one should be higher on the list.
“You’re almost there with much at stake. Now the ground begins to quake.”
By the time the earthquake arrives, it actually helps our heroes. Alan and Sarah, frozen in quicksand, are freed from the ground, and the spiders (see: No. 7) are quickly frightened away. Not bad, right? Despite the irreparable damage to the mansion’s bedrock, the earthquake actually ended up being a big help, which is certainly a nice bit of public redemption for typically maligned natural disasters.
9. The hunter Van Pelt
“A hunter from the darkest wild makes you feel just like a child.”
Good thing America has evolved since 1995 and found a way to stop people from getting unrestricted access to hunting rifles!
“Beware the ground on which you stand, the floor is quicker than the sand.”
I’m not trying to lessen the inconvenience of quicksand, but I always wondered why Alan didn’t just keep sinking through the ceiling? I mean, he had to know his legs were just dangling into the air and he was fortunate enough to be in an attic.
“Need a hand? Why you just wait. We’ll help you out, we each have eight.”
At this point in the movie, the madness is beyond outrageous: houses are cracking, elephants and rhinoceroses are running wild, and giant mosquitoes have basically wiped out more than half the town. Thus, the arrival of these Tyra Banks-in-Life-Size-sized arachnids is entirely inopportune for everyone involved. Look at this picture and try to pretend you’re not entirely disgusted and/or already checking the area around your feet to make sure nothing’s coming to nip your ankles. The earthquake managed to scare the spiders off, sure, so they never really did much damage, but over the years I’ve realized that people always understate how bad the spider situation could have really gotten had the quake not happened. They showed absolutely no sign of backing down! If not scared off, things would have turned incredibly grotesque for Bonnie Hunt, which is a visual I’m just going to let you ruminate on for a while.
6. The monkeys
“This will not be an easy mission, monkeys slow the expedition.”
Regular monkeys would have been fine. If this clue summoned 100 Marcels from Friends, great! Delightful! But instead, Jumanji conjured up a dozen apes of terrifying mid-‘90s CGI to wreak havoc throughout the city: stealing motorcycles, blowing shotguns through cop cars, lighting themselves on fire with gas stoves. Their loot-encouraging misbehavior has probably the most indirectly destructive effect on the town (stampede notwithstanding) and their ability to wield loaded firearms made them far more than just pains in the ass. Most outrageous of all? A big LOL to the board game’s ominous tease reducing the monkeys’ inconvenience as “slows the expedition.” Why not say the same thing about the iceberg that sank the Titanic?
5. Becoming a monkey because you cheated
“A law of Jumanji has been broken. You will set back even more than your token.”
Evolution is super harsh, but devolution is even worse. When poor little Peter decides to cheat, his biological clock is reversed a few thousand years until he’s nothing more than a chimp in a hoodie. Could any Jumanjo be more emotionally damaging than the one affecting humankind’s own aesthetic!? Twitter should start doing this to people who subtweet.
4. The monsoon
“Every month at the quarter moon, there’ll be a monsoon.”
The monsoon was quite literally the least creative clue in the entire movie, yet its survival sequence is easily the best part of the film and its most dangerous. Right there, in the middle of the mansion, a flash flood forces Alan, Sarah, and the kids to survive alligators, drowning, and internalized thunder (my drag name). It brings a horrifying amount of peril to the forefront and, after a series of zany and annoying efforts to track down the wholly uninteresting Van Pelt, the monsoon relocates the action back to the main mansion, even using Alan’s valiant alligator tussle (my other drag name) to inspire the film’s romantic leads to come together.
3. The mosquitoes
“A tiny bite can make you itch, make you sneeze, make you twitch.”
I get it. You think you can handle mosquitoes because you’ve been in woods before. Great, aren’t you just so proud of yourself. But Jumanji’s mosquitoes are burrito-sized, and unlike the spiders, these mosquitoes aren’t floor-bound. They’re not even satisfied being relegated to the outdoors! They break through glass and rip through car roofs in their quest for blood. In one of the film’s most horrifying throwaway moments, a dead woman crashes her car after being bitten by a mosquito; as she’s being loaded into the ambulance, a medic says that the insects have already attacked MORE THAN 50 PEOPLE in town. And yet you don’t remember anything after Kirsten Dunst hits one with a tennis racket, do you?
2. Vines and/or the flowers with the poison barbs
“They grow much faster than bamboo, take care or they’ll come after you.”
As a general rule, plant life has always disturbed me, especially when a plant’s sentience is highlighted by time-lapse on YouTube, so when Jumanji summons up vines to entangle the house, the sheer speed at which the greenery grows is enough to land the penultimate spot on this list of horrors. But it doesn’t stop at speed. The vines have the strength to crush cars, and they occasionally produce a series of gargantuan poisonous buds, which, more than their gross aesthetic, look like something out of a porno version of Little Shop of Horrors. Audrey would blush.
1. The stampede
“Don’t be fooled, it isn’t thunder. Staying put would be a blunder.”
The clue is the most unhelpful and vague. The damage is easily the most thoroughly destructive and outright problematic. And the CGI is the stuff that made EW call the movie a revolution in fantasy moviemaking. The stampede, with its oversize rhinos and self-confident elephants and copious zebras and birds, is the piece de resistance of Jumanjis. The charging animals never even seem to express desire to live lives outside the stampede. They bypass food, water, and other such temptations to keep stampeding, because all they’ve known is a life of running and who are they to question that? Board game or not, their willingness to buy into the rat race of life is, perhaps, the most frighteningly real Jumanjo of all.