Over the weekend, I saw two movies with my kids, one an old favorite, the other a new film in theatre. Here, then, is my double review of Jumanji and The Croods.
In case you haven’t seen the films, here’s a brief summary. Jumanji tells the story of a magical board game that releases violent and mischievous denizens of the jungle around the people playing the game. When one of them finishes the game, everything will go back to normal. The players are two pairs of children, one who began the game in 1968 and the other who began in 1991. The Croods follows the adventures of a family of cavemen (Neanderthals?) driven from their cave by some sort of massive tectonic disruption. They find help in “Guy,” a modern-looking human (Cro-magnon?) who helps them learn to enjoy the world and adventure their way across the land ahead of the disaster. It’s not a great movie, but cute enough.
A few thoughts about both films:
- Though these are ensemble casts, both films have an adult man as one of the central figures (perhaps even the crux of the narrative). Both are played by men whose star was higher in the 1990s than it is now (Robin Williams in Jumanji and Grug in The Croods).
- Both films feature deadly plants: The Croods has a field of sentient meat-eating flowers, Jumanji features vines with hungry yellow pods. Also: both have mischievous monkeys.
- Neither film passes the Bechdel test. The Croods gets as far as two women having a conversation without a man, but I believe they spend it talking about Cage’s character.
- Both films hinge the emotional development of these men on fatherhood. Grug has to learn to shift from his primary role as protector and worry-wart into the father of an adult child free to make mistakes. Allan, the boy who spends decades in the Jungle, has to face his own unresolved issues with his father and learn to survive in the real world. And in case the father issues weren’t clear enough in the story, the same actor plays the hunter Van Pelt and Allan’s stern father (he also played J. Bruce Ismay in Titanic.
- The Jungle also becomes a stand-in for a wild, untamed place of both wonder and danger in both films, though there are far more dangers in the Jumanji jungle.
All in all, Jumanji holds up pretty well, with its kid-centric adventure story keeping the Robin Williams antics to a minimum and its terrible CGI looking only sort-of bad. The Croods would be a fine movie to rent–the finale was actually very touching to me as a father–but probably not worth theater prices unless you’re also looking for an outing on a cloudy/cold day (like I was).