Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is "Jumanji" a Horror film for kids?

Confessions of a Film Junkie: Is “Jumanji" a Horror film for kids?

By: Brian Cotnoir

I am continuing my generation’s tradition of pointing out how freaky/scary some of the movies and TV shows we had as kids were over the internet.  Yes, for whatever reason we all like to point out the same stuff on the internet: “Freaky Fred on “Courage the Cowardly Dog” was creepy as hell!”, “How awesome and scary was “Are you Afraid of the Dark?”, “What was with that creepy a$$ clown in “The Brave Little Toaster”, and the list goes on.  In fact some of my Most Popular Articles are my “5 Films that you probably didn’t realize were too scary for kids”.  In one of those editions I briefly talked about the 1995 Family Classic “Jumanji”.  I remember my mom and grandmother taking me and my sister to see this in theatres.  Ever since the tragic passing of actor Robin Williams I’ve seen this film shown more and more on TV.  Now the more times I see it the more and more I start to realize, “Wow this is film is creepy as hell! This isn’t a kids movie, it’s more like a Horror film for kids!”    
    I mean just look at the opening title credits and scene: a spooky green mist comes out of nowhere and forms the title “Jumanji” before quickly fading out then we get a scene in 1869 where we see two brothers named Caleb and Benjamin out in the middle of the woods at night.  The two brothers grab a wooden chest and off of a cart and throw it into a whole, and begin to bury it.  While they’re burying the box the younger brother Benjamin falls into the whole and then this creepy tribal drum starts to play, Benjamin shouts to his brother “Caleb, help it’s after me!” and then wants to run away after being pulled out of the hole.  Caleb insists that they finish what they started and when his brother asks what will happen if somebody else finds it, to which Caleb replies “May God have mercy on his soul” as lighting flashes behind him.  Yeah just in the first two minutes of this film alone this film definitely gives off a horror movie vibe.  We know that the two boys must have played the game, but we never get to see what sort of things they endured.  I can only assume—based on what we see later in the film—the sort of horrendous things they must’ve encountered.  I actually wish there was a prequel film to “Jumanji” so we can see how the brothers came across this game (maybe the origins of the game too) and what sorts of things happened to them while they played it.          
I think it's Swahili for "You Gonna Die"
     In the next scene the film flashes 100 years later and we see young Alan Parrish riding his bike through the small fictional town of Brantford, New Hampshire.  The town is very reminiscent of the quaint New England towns in a Stephen King novel, and like in a Stephen King novel, our main character seems to be the target of bullying from every kid in town.  After being beaten up and having his bike stolen by a group of Bullies we see Alan walking home, and as he approaches a construction site he all of a sudden begins to hear the tribal drums.  As he explores the construction site and follows the sound of the drums he finds the edge of the chest that the two brothers buried one-hundred years earlier and pulls it out of the dirt.  He opens it up to find a game called Jumanji.  One thing I’ve always wondered about the game Jumanji is can only kids hear the drum noise or can adults hear it to?  When Alan finds the game at the construction site he appears to be the only one who hears the drums playing.  I know a construction zone is typically a noisy place, but even when they weren’t working how could none of them hear the sounds of tribal drums beating?  Or is the drum completely imaginary and it only exists in the minds of the people who get close to it?  Or is it possible the drum beats could be brought on by some kind of mental delirium?                      
Can't we just play Monopoly instead?
So Alan takes the game out and shows it to his friend Sarah and the two begin to play.  After Alan’s first roll he gets sucked into the board game as his friend Sarah looks on in horror.  Alan will eventually be trapped inside the game for the next 26 years.  Not only can Jumanji suck you into the game and keep you as its prisoner, but everything else that comes out of the game want’s to kill you! Oh yeah, amongst the many deadly things that come out of Jumanji at the roll of the dice include giant mosquitoes, man eating lions, killer plants, stampedes of wild beasts, and a English hunter who likes to hunt humans for sport!  Oh yeah, Jumanji is an absolutely terrifying game.  And God forbid you try to cheat in order to win the game because then you get punished for that too.  Peter tries to cheat and he gets turned into a monkey man with giant hairy hands, and a tail and everything.  It’s like a toned down version of Lampwick’s jackass transformation from “Pinocchio” or David Kessler’s werewolf transformation in “An American Werewolf in London”. Let’s also look at the Parish’s home.  After Alan’s disappearance, it is long speculated by most people in town that Alan’s father, Sam, killed his son and hid his body in the walls of the home.  After Sam and his wife pass away, the home goes unoccupied for years, because people believe the stories of Alan’s murder.  So when Peter and Judy move into the house with their Aunt, and they hear the tale of the disappearance of young Alan Parrish, it definitely gives the film the Haunted House vibe.     

Run!  It's a Stampede!

     Not only does the game mess with the people playing the game, but it also affects the people of Brantford too.  Carl Bentley (played by actor David Alan Grier) is constantly tormented by a group of monkeys that was released by Jumanji, and the stampede runs right through the heart of the town of Brantford creating mass chaos and destruction.                       
Please don't let me get cast in the "Planet of the Apes" remake
     Lastly when the game is over and all the deadly creations get sucked back into the game, life resumes off before they started playing the game in Alan’s living room 1969, and only Alan and Sarah have any recollection of what just happened.  What’s craziest is that Sarah had to live through 26 years of life already, and really you think of all the tragedies that have happened between 1969-1995 that she’s going to have to relive (the assassination of John Lennon, The Challenger Explosion, The Gulf War, etc.)  If Sarah and Alan have all the memories they have from the game, then can Sarah do anything to help prevent these tragedies? Not to mention the almost 3 decades of psychological damage she had to endure while she saw her best friend sucked into a board game and believed him to be long dead, how do you come to grips with that?    
     It’s amazing to think that this beloved children’s film might have been made more to scare them rather than entertain them.  Even today it’s probably one of the Best Children’s movies ever made, but is also one of the scariest one’s ever made, and I think there is more than enough evidence to suggest that this may be a Horror film for kids.


  1. Absolutely adore this review. Welcome back to writing!

    1. Thank you :) I take great pride in my Editorial reviews; they usually take lots of time to research and craft. I'm glad you enjoyed it.