J is for Jumanji


The aim of my Blogging From A to Z Challenge is to find the origins of online games, some relatively modern and some with ancient roots. Gaming might well be a modern take on an art that is almost timeless – storytelling. A perfect excuse for a writer to delve a little deeper. [Visit here for links to other A to Z participants.]


Game: Jumanji, the video game that five teenagers are sucked into in the 2017 movie Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.

Release Date: 1996 [when board game becomes a game cartridge]

Director: Jake Kasdan

Genre/gameplay mechanics: VR; co-operative – learning & evolving; three lives – game quest MUST be completed to escape; character strengths & weaknesses; super AI with adaptive nemesis;

Setting: virtual reality world in the 21st century – jungle + oriental bazaar, ancient tombs/catacombs.

Storytelling: story by Chris McKenna based on original Jumanji book by Chris Van Allsburg. Starts in 1996, but the main action is set twenty-one years after the film with Robin Williams and follows four teenagers who are transported into the video game world of Jumanji, playing as the characters they chose. Uniting with another player, they must overcome the game’s magical power to win and return home.

Release: Movie was released December 5, 2017

Sequel: a yet-to-be-titled sequel is under development with the same team.

Formats: Amiga CD32

Origins (Chronological):

  1. 1995 American movie, Jumanji directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams did very well at the box office. The story centres on 12-year-old Alan Parrish, who becomes trapped in a board game while playing with his best friend Sarah Whittle in 1969. Twenty-six years later, in 1995, siblings Judy and Peter Shepherd find the game, begin playing and then unwittingly release the now-adult Alan. After tracking down Sarah, the quartet resolves to finish the game to reverse all the destruction it has caused.
  2. 1981 –  fantasy children’s picture book, Jumanji written and illustrated by the American author Chris Van Allsburg. Both the book and the film are about a magical board game that implements real animals and other jungle elements as the game is played; thus, the dangers which the players have to overcome in the game also appear in real life. Jumanjistar Robin Williams said “jumanji” is a Zulu word meaning “many effects”, as did Van Allsburg

Adaptations set in the ‘Jumanji’ universe – the franchise has expanded into other media:

  1. Books – after the initial 1981 Jumanji book, Van Allsburg wrote and illustrated Zathura (2002): Brothers Danny and Walter, neighbours of Peter and Judy from the previous book, find Jumanji but ultimately choose not to play it. Instead, they find a similar game with a space theme, “Zathura”, which they begin to play. As with Jumanji, playing Zathura brings elements of the game into reality, and to set everything back to normal, the boys must complete the game. The book was adapted into a film, Zathura: A Space Adventure, in 2005.
  2. Television – Jumanji, an animated television series inspired by the 1995 film ran for three seasons from 1996 to 1999.
  3. Games – Jumanji the board game was originally published by Milton Bradley in the US and MB Spiele in Germany in 1995. Jumanji is a North American-exclusive game for Microsoft Windows that was released in 1996 and based on the film. It contains five different action-arcade-based mini-games that are based on popular scenes from the film. A video game based on the film was released in Europe for the PlayStation 2 in 2006. In 2007, Fujishoji released a Pachinko game, using clips from the film.


Jumanji cast



Recommendation: The fifth-highest-grossing film of 2017, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle received mostly positive reviews, many classing it as an excellent film inspired by video games but not directly adapted from one. In her review that understands where this movie echoes gaming, Angie Han for Mashable.Com says, “While Jumanji isn’t interactive in the way of actual video games, it does its best to simulate that feeling by getting you on the same page with the players at every turn. So when, say, the overlooked nerd starts to relish his new identity as a beefy badass who looks like the Rock, the part of you that identifies with that overlooked nerd enjoys it too.”

Some of the good reviews don’t want a video game But, perhaps there is room for the right one, even if the VR element is in its infancy. Or is it imminent?

3.5 Stars: OK, I admit that I didn’t play the game in the movie, but I did watch the film so my stars could still be valid – realistic setting; neat storyline, though not as exciting as the first film; can’t argue with the gameplay and three lives seems to be reasonable – see H. Certainly entertaining and watch-again; and has some background origin. And that nod to another heroic figure that hates snakes, plus the Lara outfit – yeah.

  1. Setting: 4.75*
  2. Storyline: 3.5*
  3. Gameplay: 3.75*
  4. Entertainment: 3.5*
  5. Genesis: 2*

Alternative ‘J’ thoughts:

J is also for Jules Verne but despite his influence culturally, I’m struggling to find a video connection – well one for J.

+ ‘J’ Games played: Jade Dynasty


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