Scarlett Johansson Was Almost Cast And Other Facts About The Original ‘Jumanji’

Released back in 1995, Jumanji tells the story of Alan Parrish, a boy who gets trapped inside a board game for 26 years, only to return once the game is unearthed by the Shephard siblings, Judy (Kristen Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce). Now an unshaven, half-feral adult, Alan (Robin Williams) has to use all his cunning to finish the game and save his town from being overrun by savage plants and animals.

With a new Jumanji movie slated to continue the story of the mysterious board game and its chaotic real-world consequences, we thought we’d take a moment to remember the whimsical terror of the original with these fascinating facts.

Scarlett Johannson Auditioned For Judy

The future A-lister read for the part of Judy, though the part would end up going to Kristen Dunst. While the young ScarJo’s reading was solid, Dunst had already shown an uncommon maturity playing Claudia in Interview with the Vampire the year prior, and seemed to have a real understanding of the character. She explained to The Chicago Tribune in 1995 that she thought Judy was a mostly normal kid, but had trouble accepting the death of her parents, so “she deals with it through her lies.”

It Was Based On A Picture Book

Jumanji was first published in 1982 and would go on to win several awards, including the prestigious Caldecott Medal. The black-and-white illustrations show the contrast of a quiet, domesticated house being overrun with wild animals, and the utter chaos that results.

Author Chris Van Allsburg said he got the idea from playing board games like Monopoly, which he said “seemed kind of exciting,” but would leave the player with nothing more than fake money at the end. As a result, Allsburg thought up the game of Jumanji for his story, where the players’ every move caused something to happen in real life, not just inside the game.

Robin Williams Identified With His Character

Robin Williams said his character’s strict father reminded him of his own dad, who he described as “a bit stern and kind of elegant.” Given that Alan was an only child, and the story’s larger themes about fear and abandonment, he told the Christian Science Monitor that he identified with the character, as growing up he “had no siblings to play with, and we moved around a lot.”

The Same Actor Plays Alan’s Father And The Hunter

Speaking of Williams’ character, Alan’s father was played by actor Jonathan Hyde, who also pulled double duty as Van Pelt, the hunter determined to track Alan down. While Hyde is near-unrecognizable in his turn-of-the-century safari outfit, the moment where Van Pelt confronts Alan near the end of the film hints pretty strongly that the character represents Alan’s difficult relationship with his father. There’s even a fan theory out there that supports this idea.

Robin Williams Was As Fun To Work With As You’d Imagine

To the surprise of no one, Williams was a notorious joker both on and off the set who regularly entertained his young co-stars. Kristen Dunst recalled that her favorite bit was when he’d do an impression of Jodie Foster’s title character from 1994’s Nell ordering drive-thru. Co-star Bonnie Hunt described Williams as a “joy” to work with, and said that being on set with him was like being at a barbecue in his own back yard.

The Effects Were Revolutionary For The Time

Allsburg said that while he was writing the book, he never thought the story would be able to exist outside his imagination. It turned out all he needed was a little patience — and a special effects budget of around $50 million. Most of the animals that run rampant throughout the movie were digitally generated by Industrial Light & Magic, and while some argue that they haven’t aged well over the past couple decades, they were convincing enough at the time to inspire a rumor that an elephant was killed during production.

Not every animal was digitally rendered, though. Some of the effects were puppets that were used in close-ups, including one where Alan had to wrestle a giant alligator. According to Williams, he got so lost in the scene that the puppeteer inside the suit had to tell him to knock it off.

The Ode To It’s A Wonderful Life

The end of Jumanji is one big hat-tip to the Frank Capra classic. Once the game’s completed, Alan goes back in time 26 years to a much more pleasant version of his childhood — complete with two loving parents. To really have the homage hit home, “Hark Hear The Angels Sing” is being played on the piano and sung by the guests.

When Asked What Jumanji Meant, Robin Williams Never Gave The Same Answer Twice

Fans loved to ask Williams what, exactly, Jumanji meant. And ever the entertainer, he’d give a different answer every time, often saying that it was an island in the Caribbean, and that people should book their vacations there early.

The word is actually from the Zulu language, which means “many effects,” a noteworthy coincidence given the film’s effects budget.

The Parrish Shoes Sign Is Still On Display

When the movie was being filmed in Keene, New Hampshire, the Parrish Shoe Factory sign was painted on the side of a building. Because the residents had such fond memories of Williams’ presence during filming, (he was even given a key to the city), it remains on that brick wall to this day.

It also became a makeshift memorial after the actor’s death in 2015. A local movie theater also held a screening of the film in remembrance of Williams, which helped raise money for MAPS, a local counseling service.

Before The Upcoming Sequel, There Was The Cartoon

With all the hype about the upcoming Jumanji movie starring The Rock — which is a sequel, not a reboot — it would be easy torget that it was also adapted into an animated TV show that ran on UPN, and later BKN, from 1996-1999. The show ignored the continuity of the film, instead re-telling the story of Alan and the Shephard siblings with a few changes.