(especially for kids)

Based upon the award winning children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, this film does many of the adventurous things for kids that they're told not to do by adults, and in the nicest and safest possible way. The Christian coalition shouldn't even get upset about this one despite the nasty dangers all around.

Only those who have a major issue in their lives that needs to be resolved can hear the beating of the drums that leads them to Jumanji, "a game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind." One child, Alan Parrish, gets sucked into the game board for twenty-six years. This film may make parents all over the world run to find out where they can buy it. (Wasn't it Margaret Meade who once said something about burying children between certain years?)

The game Alan began has never been finished and it is only when two other children begin to play that Alan, in the persona of Robin Williams wearing banana leaves (eat your heart out, Carmen Miranda), reappears as a 38-year-old Robinson Crusoe look-alike and partakes in the quest to finish the game. Along the way David Alan Grier in a supporting role as Officer Bently manages to capture some of the best laughs.

Both computer-generated and animatronic effects, including elephants, crocodiles, spiders, and monkeys, are coordinated with onscreen acting to create some interesting and entertaining situations, but even this wears off before the film has ended. The design of these creatures allows the fantastic to overwhelm the frightening and, in doing so, assures a buffer for the kids watching.

Despite director Joe Johnston and ADI's Alec Gillis' intentions to make the animals large and menacing, they all have a soft edge; the lion may have fangs and growl, but he's also like a cuddly toy. Younger audiences are bound to have fun and, when all is said and done, this is a family film. Great seeing Bebe Neuwirth, no matter what she's in.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett