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SPOILERS AHEAD. (But they’re for the Jumanji series so, like, it’s fine.)

Jumanji finds young adults across generations fighting for their lives, fending off various jungle-themed trials and hazards as a simple board game comes to life in surprising ways. Along the way, they learn lessons in teamwork, friendship, family loyalty, self-confidence, and self-respect. The players leave the experience with a new outlook on life. But is this Jumanji’s intent?

Is Jumanji a game striving to leave a positive impact on its players?

Or is it trying to murder children?

As far as we know, Jumanji has never killed anybody. The Shepherd kids, Alan Parrish, and Sarah Whittle all survive, despite the game’s best efforts (See: trapping Alan inside the jungle, forcing him to spend 26 years hiding from a professional big-game hunter.). The Brantford High School Four all survive the ordeals when they’re sucked into the game, even managing to rescue a fifth on the way. While we’ve never seen Jumanji kill any children, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t.

The original Jumanji opens in the year 1869 where two brothers are burying the drum-beating game board. One asks, “But what if someone digs it up?” The other responds, darkly, “May God have mercy on his soul” ::THUNDER/LIGHTNING::

Uh, what the fuck do you think happened to those two brothers? Was there a third brother? A sister? An entire family that is no longer? Most of the Jumanji veterans we’ve witnessed leave the game much happier, feeling a sense of renewal in their life and sporting a pair of rose-colored glasses to view it through. The Ominous Bros., meanwhile, whip at their horse and buggy to get away from that monster game as fast as possible. And something tells me they’re not just in a big hurry to ask that girl to the school dance, or whatever they were too shy to do before facing jungle-death.

I recognize that family-friendly action movies need a certain degree of conflict, circumstantial trial, distress, etc. Our characters face challenges that reflect their personal journeys. These jaded teens are meant to discover deeper meaning and respect for themselves and the people around them. But, uh, perhaps being gunned down by evil jungle thugs is a bit extreme. Maybe, just maybe, being chased, encircled, and ultimately trampled by stampeding rhinoceri skews too far past “a healthy dose of life-lessons.”

I’m not saying these aren’t fun movies.

I’m saying they’re not simply fun movies. There’s a very real sense of life-and-death here that I think is being overlooked. Sure, it starts as bats and monkeys. But before long we have minors fighting for their lives against lions and carnivorous plants. I would think by the end of this ordeal, assuming you survive, you’d be more changed than simply, “Hey, bullies! Don’t bully me anymore.”

Also, our scope of Jumanji’s reign is pretty limited. The movies only showcase two gameplay sessions. In Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, Jumanji transforms itself into a video game, adapting to serve the attention of its next player(victim). How long has Jumanji terrorized youth? Years? Eons? Did Jumanji start as just a haunted deck of cards? Hopscotch? Or that game where you have to, like, roll a hoop with a stick? Was Jumanji once just evil StickHoop™?

I worry we’ve only seen about .02% of Jumanji’s attacks. The player successes. Maybe the only player successes.

I’m waxing dark here, but I genuinely bounce between the two sides.

Is Jumanji supposed to be good or evil?

These characters are learning life lessons. Alan Parrish was a kid at the mercy of his bullying schoolmates and a disappointed father. After his Juman-tervention, he’s confident, loving, appreciative of what he has. Which is nice. Alternatively, Alan’s just happy to be fucking alive. Which is, uh, harsh.

And to really dive deep, presumably the game controls all aspects of what happens within the confines of playtime. Jumanji has a direct hand in flooding the Parrish house with crocodiles. Jumanji is the puppet master, disconnecting the helicopter rotor, forcing Spencer to climb up to the speeding blades while it careens towards a disastrous crash. Jumanji’s tests of the human spirit are on par with Jigsaw.

Where does Jumanji’s control end?

Jumanji controlling all aspects in the jungle itself is all well and good. But when Jumanji pours itself into our world, do our destinies surrender to Jumanji’s hand? If our world has a God, when Jumanji is released, who takes priority? Does God become co-captain to Jumanji. If Jumanji kills a child, does that make God an accomplice? Should we explore theories on Jumanji’s origins? No, right? Are there movie executives currently developing this?

The general point is that I don’t see Jumanji in the same light I once did. “A game for those who seek to find a way to leave their world behind” does not evoke as much whimsy or wanderlust as it once did. And I’m left with another thought: If only I could have put this much thoughtful focus into any of my formal education, then maybe I wouldn’t have to write this article for attention.

Jay Kasten

A writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles just waiting for anybody to let him do those things.

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