When it comes to 1990s family movies that offered the perfect mix of adrenaline and anxiety, few films can compete with Jumanji. Directed by Joe Johnston, the blockbuster adventure film tells the story of the Shepherd siblings (Bradley Pierce and Kirsten Dunst) who play a magical board game that unleashes a whole swarm of wild animals and natural disasters that can only disappear once the game is finished. In the process, they free a man, Alan Parrish (played by Robin Williams), who has been trapped in Jumanji for 26 years.
Flash floods, rabid monkeys, blood-thirsty tigers, and a ruthless hunter—Jumanji left no terror to the imagination, which is exactly what makes it such a classic. As a new version of Jumanji is set to thrill a new generation of moviegoers, we're taking a look back at the movie film that started it all.
1. SCARLETT JOHANSSON AUDITIONED FOR THE ROLE OF JUDY SHEPHERD.
In an old, dug-up audition tape, you can watch an 11-year-old Scarlett Johansson put her lines on tape for the role that ultimately went to Kirsten Dunst. Perhaps Dunst won the role because of her deep understanding of the character? In 1995, she did tell the Chicago Tribune that, "Judy's like a normal little girl, but she can't deal with the fact that her mom and dad are dead. She deals with it through her lies."
2. THE CONCEPT FOR JUMANJI WAS BASED ON A 1981 PICTURE BOOK BY CHRIS VAN ALLSBURG.
Chis Van Allsburg, who was admittedly unhappy with the original draft of the film, got to contribute to a later draft. "The premise [of] the book, and which is of value to the film story, is that there's anarchy and chaos and something uncontrollable inside an environment that we associate with control, which is the house," Van Allsburg told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "It's this surreal contrast of two things that don't go together: the quiet domesticity of a large and carefully tended house, and the utter chaos that shudders through it." This also gave some depth to a film that Van Allsburg complained originally had "movie cliches and a Los Angeles-centric feeling."
3. VAN ALLSBURG'S FRUSTRATION WITH MONOPOLY IS WHAT INSPIRED HIM TO WRITE JUMANJI.
In a 2004 interview with Scholastic students and teachers, Van Allsburg revealed the thinking behind his picture book. “When I was a little boy and I would play games like Monopoly, they seemed kind of exciting, but when I was done with the game, all I had was fake money,” he said. “So I thought that it would be fun and exciting if there were such a thing as a game board where whenever you landed on a square and it said something was going to happen, then it would really happen.”
4. ALAN PARRISH’S FAMILY LIFE IN THE FILM REMINDED ROBIN WILLIAMS OF HIS OWN FAMILY.
When asked in a roundtable interview whether Parrish’s father was like Williams’s own, the actor admitted a slight comparison. “He was a bit stern and kind of elegant,” Williams said. However, the actor likened the disconnected relationship between Alan and his father to the fractured relationship between his dad and grandfather. “The wonderful thing about [my dad] is he would never force me to do anything ... because something had happened early in his life where he didn’t want that to happen to me. He had to give up a dream,” Williams continued. “His father had been very wealthy and when his father died, they lost all of that and he was forced to work at a strip mine in Pennsylvania ... When I found something I loved, [my dad] saw that ... That’s what makes it nice, when you can connect on that level.”
5. WILLIAMS RELATED TO ALAN AS AN ONLY CHILD.
In a 1995 interview with The Christian Science Monitor, Williams recalled how his feelings of being an only child helped him connect with Alan. “I've read Jumanji to my four-year-old and six-year-old. They are fascinated and a bit frightened by the black-and-white drawings of monsters under the bed,” said Williams. “But the story has ... something much deeper and more disturbing. It's the fear all children have of abandonment and separation from their parents. That's where my character comes in. I play a boy who has been swallowed up in the game. By the time he is able to come out, 26 years later, his parents are dead, and he feels lost and alone. That's something I can understand. As an only child, I had no siblings to play with, and my parents worked hard, and we moved around a lot.''
6. ROBIN WILLIAMS WAS A JOKESTER ON SET.
"Robin Williams was so wonderful to work with," Dunst told the Chicago Tribune back in 1995. "He would crack us up all the time on the set. I learned a lot about improv from him. My favorite impression he did was Nell (the Jodie Foster character) going through a drive-through." She wasn’t the only one to praise him, as co-star Bonnie Hunt noted in a 1995 interview, “When you walk on a set with Robin, it's like you're at a barbecue in his backyard. He really is a joy."
7. THE ACTOR WHO PLAYED PETER SHEPHERD ALSO VOICED CHIP IN BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.
If hearing Bradley Pierce as Peter Shepherd in Jumanji felt oddly familiar, that’s because the then-child actor kicked off his career voicing the loveable teacup Chip in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast. Today, he continues to be an active voice actor, his most recognizable recent credit being The LEGO Movie video game.
8. THE PARRISH SHOES SIGN IS STILL ON DISPLAY IN KEENE, NEW HAMPSHIRE.
In fact, upon news of Williams’ passing last year, the town’s residents gathered by the sign and set up a makeshift memorial for the late actor. “He was amazing, just amazing,” Rene Hammond, the owner of Frank’s Barbershop around the corner from the sign, told The Keene Sentinel. Days after, the town even had a screening of Jumanji. According to Yankee Magazine, Tim Horgan, The Colonial Theatre’s director of audience services, told Sentinel.com, “We thought it might be a good idea for us to do something good for the community in response, not only to commemorate Robin Williams because he was so impressive, but also because a little bit of our city is in the movie.”
9. ROBIN WILLIAMS CLAIMED THAT "JUMANJI" MEANS “MANY EFFECTS” IN ZULU.
Hence all the chaos that ensues in the film. In the same interview with Entertainment Weekly, Williams also mentioned some fake answers he’d give to people who asked him what Jumanji meant. ”I tell them it’s an island in the Caribbean. Book your travel there early,” Williams joked.
10. ALAN PARRISH’S FATHER AND HUNTER VAN PELT ARE PLAYED BY THE SAME ACTOR.
For those who never realized Jonathan Hyde played both Alan’s distant dad and villain Van Pelt, you’re welcome. Surely, Joe Johnston had to be playing with symbolism here, as Alan Parrish had to overcome both oppressive men in the film.