- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A family friendly blockbuster from 1995 returns to the Blu-ray format in Jumanji: 20th Anniversary Edition (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated PG, $19.99).

Director Joe Johnston’s frenetic, “It’s a Wonderful Life” adaptation of author Chris Van Allsburg’s illustrated storybook about a jungle-themed board game that wreaks havoc in the fictional city of Brantford, New Hampshire, is still a pure joy to watch.

That’s often due to some slick special effects viewed within the screen filling (1.78:1), high-definition format.

They mix the computer-generated wizardry of Industrial Light and Magic (“Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars”) with animatronics and puppetry to bring mischievous monkeys, massive mosquitoes, police-car-eating plants, a lazy lion, a cranky crocodile and an African animal stampede to life.

Energetic performances also help, led by the late Robin Williams as the man trapped in the game for nearly a quarter century. He finds the girl he originally played Jumanji with (Bonnie Hunt), and they help a pair of children (one is a young Kirsten Dunst no less) complete the game and restore order to their home and town.

In celebration of the movie, the extras are numerous, though many were culled from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.

Best of the new includes Mr. Van Allsburg reading 8-minutes worth of excerpts from the book while his awesome illustrations appear on screen within a bizarre animated collage.

Also viewers get the first two episodes, “The Price” and “Beginning for Time” from the 1996 cartoon series “Jumanji,” which ran on the UPN Kids network. The picture quality is terrible, but it’s worth a look by cartoon historians in the family.

Best of the old includes playing a virtual version of the game Jumanji with up to four players moving around the board and either answering multiple-choice questions on geography and the animal kingdom or reading a riddle and facing the consequences.

Use the Blu-ray’s player’s controller to roll the dice and answer the educational questions covering wasps, hummingbirds and bats to name a few topics. The game takes about 40 minutes for four and is certified safe, as dice rolls do not lead to any earthquakes or floods.

Additionally, I enjoyed an optional commentary track from some of the special-effects team and a trio of featurettes (around 40 minutes total) covering the creature creation, destroying the house and basic behind-the-scenes promotional fodder.

I most loved hearing the quick wit of Williams on the set and while being interviewed about the movie. Man, I really miss his manic mirth.

Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) check out Zathura: 10th Anniversary Edition, now availabe in Blu-ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.


Families looking for another board-game-themed movie adventure will also appreciate the high-definition celebration of Zathura: 10th Anniversary Edition (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Rated PG, $19.99).

Director Jon Favreau (the man who gave us a live-action “Iron Man”) did a masterful job of bringing another Chris Van Allsburg book to the screen in 2005, balancing a poignant story of family with destructive action.

The tale finds young brothers Danny (Jonah Bobo) and Walter (Josh Hutcherson) not feeling the love for one another while dealing with divorced parents. They learn to bond when a mechanized board game leads them on a dangerous space adventure while still in the confines of their house.

Yeah, it’s Jumanji-ish at its origins, but the effects are again fantastic with an out-of-control robot, a cryogenically frozen sister, a destructive meteor shower and intergalactic space battle against lizard-like humanoids called Zorgons (built by the late Stan Winston no less) stealing the show

A generous amount of extras are also on the disks — many, again, culled from previous releases.

Very similar to the new “Jumanji” Blu-ray, we get Mr. Van Allsburg reading 17-minutes worth of passages from his book (accompanied by that crazed animation) and a two-player, virtual board game (Blu-ray-controller manipulated) that focuses on astronomy trivia.

Also, it’s worth listening to an optional commentary track by a young Mr. Favreau and co-producer Peter Billingsley and diving into over 90 minutes of production featurettes.

For families not owning any version of the films, both  “Zathura: 10th Anniversary Edition” and “Jumaji: 20th Anniversary Edition” are timeless classics worthy of purchase for a home entertainment library.

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