Most kids movies these days tend to lack either creativity or a certain refreshing simplicity. Occasionally, a movie comes out and makes the most of a clever concept, like Zootopia or even Wreck-It Ralph, but many fail to grab kids' attention by being too adult or talking down to them like they're idiots.
Jumanji is one that most definitely worked.
The concept of this movie alone captured my imagination as a kid: a board game that not only comes to life but which you can literally enter and is packed full of messed-up stuff? No wonder we all flocked to the cinema back in the day like a stampeding bunch of CGI rhinos. The film opens with a couple of kids in the late 1800's trying to get rid of the titular drumming board game before we cut to the 1960's where young Alan Parrish uncovers the game and, after having a heated argument with his father, invites his friend Sarah to play only for his turn to go horribly wrong leaving him stranded for 26 years inside the game's "jungle". In 1995, a couple of kids (one of them played by a young Kirsten Dunst) finally find the game and start their own turns as they unleash a whole bunch of craziness and release Alan, who somehow became Robin Williams after all these years.
Aside from the film's genius premise, it also does a lot of other things brilliantly well. The tension and suspense it builds throughout, whether it's waiting for some unknown creature to appear or whether it's just delaying our characters' next turns, it's always keeping you on edge, leaving you no room to really guess what's about to happen next. That the film came out only two years after Jurassic Park isn't too surprising as it definitely has that same kind of manipulative (in a good way) kid-friendly blockbuster feel where characters are put in a potentially awesome, really fun situation but it's one that turns out to be way more dangerous than expected. Jumanji is hugely entertaining from start to finish and never lingers long enough on a scene to the point where you get bored waiting for the next thing to happen instead keeping the pace fast and the cool stuff popping up non-stop.
Now, as impressive as the special effects were back in '95, they are admittedly dated by today's standards. The CGI is extremely ambitious and sometimes not all that convincing (the monkeys really look animated) plus it doesn't always gel with the rather impressive if obvious practical effects used here and there. The lion is mechanical one second, then CGI the next and, as decent as both individual effects are, when put one after the other, that can be a little jarring. But the film's ambition pays off as, regardless of how believable the effects are or not, you still buy it and find yourself fascinated by this whole adventure which gets surprisingly apocalyptic when you see how the board game is affecting the real world.
The solid cast also helps make Jumanji such an enjoyable ride. Robin Williams is much more likeable than he was in Hook only a few years earlier, the two kids are luckily not annoying, Bonnie Hunt proves to be an inspired choice for Alan's love interest, Jonathan Hyde clearly has the time of his life playing dual, completely different roles and the likes of Bebe Neuwirth and David Alan Grier bring life to side characters that should have been forgettable but who, in their hands, end up being essential players in this whole madcap story. That the film still works so well as a kid-friendly action comedy is a testament to its ambition and to its ingenious concept. It may be flawed visually by today's standards but so are some of the best kids movies out there (Return To Oz, anyone?) and they make up for that by simply being extremely creative, smart, super fun and very memorable.
Overall, if you haven't seen Jumanji or you're looking to show a cool flick to your kids then I definitely recommend the film: it takes an awesome idea and makes it, well, awesome. It's exciting, inventive, funny and has a lot of heart.
What more could you ask for?