By Joel Kalkopf
10th December 2020

A young Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) races through the town square on his bike, sprinting as fast as he can towards the safe haven that is his father's shoe factory. Upon seeing the fear in his eyes, Mr Parrish (Jonathan Hyde, 'Titanic') knows this is the work of Alan's school bully.

"You're going to have to face him sooner or later. Look, if you're afraid of something, you've got to stand and face it."

After Alan accidentally puts Bentley's (David Alan Grier) sneaker prototype on the conveyer belt and causes it to break down, and afraid of what his father might do to him, Alan allows Bentley to take the blame - sheepishly walking out of factory, and dooming Bentley to redundancy.

Fear is a fascinating concept when it comes to films. Everyone can remember their early cinema experiences when they were just that little bit scared. I know so many people who love to to be scared out of their minds, but I'm talking more about the films that aren't really "horror", but as a child, seemed to really linger on the mind. We all remember the films that scared us as children - 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'Snow White' immediately comes to mind for so many - but for me, as well as these Disney classics, I remember being so afraid of 1995's 'Jumanji'.

This was not a fear that would prevent me sitting through it. On the contrary, I loved the thrill and fear that came with 'Jumanji'. There was much to be scared of, including the deep drum beats that call to the players, the giant mosquitos breaking through the glass, and the man-eating plant just to name a few. I would willingly re-watch the film again and again, even today anticipating the moments that raise the hairs on the back of your necks. I still can't watch the spiders scene, but that's a whole other issue. As children, we enjoyed the fear, we wanted to be scared to some degree; some much more than others. These are the films and the memories that live on in the mind so much longer than the happy-go-lucky family-friendly adventures. By all reports, it is not only acceptable to scare children through cinema, but it is actually healthier to do so (of course, a relative scare - not legitimate terror).

It begs the question: should we encourage scary films for children? And what's more, what does 'Jumanji' teach us about being afraid that makes the film stand the test of time?

Peter (Bradley Pierce, 'The Borrowers') and Judy (Kirsten Dunst, 'Spider-Man', 'The Beguiled') plead with Alan to help them finish the game, accusing him of being too afraid to join their quest.

"I've seen things you can't even imagine... thing you can't even see. Afraid? You don't even know what afraid is. I'll watch the game, but I'm not afraid."

There is something magical about movies as a child; opening yourself up to the wonder and imagination that's laid out in front of you. These are things you can't find anywhere else, and from that, stems the need for a child to feel a little bit of fear from the movies. Now obviously, I'm not saying you need to sit children down in front of the TV and watch 'Jaws' until they refuse to go to the beach, or make them cower in terror as you show them 'The Exorcist' until they refuse to bond with a demon (though in retrospect, that might actually be a good thing). Nonetheless, this is obviously not a hard and fast rule. It's about understanding the benefits of fear, and how they will ultimately allow you to make those decisions in a positive manner.


I can't remember if my parents watched 'Jumanji' before me to make sure if it was appropriate, but the important takeaway is that not only did it teach a valuable lesson about fear itself, but that by being a child-friendly scary film, it forced you to take on those lessons head-on. Feeling scared from a movie as a child is proven to have long-term benefits, with research showing that it increases imagination, creativity, and resilience in life. It makes sense when you think about it, because if you see the hero on screen conquer their fears, would it not encourage you to equally showcase your bravery and camaraderie in the face of danger? Being scared by what you see on screen teaches you how to grapple with any negative energy or emotions you may feel as a child. Not only will you learn how to navigate dangerous situations through simulation, but you will inevitably learn to therefore navigate your own emotions. It encourages children to develop regulation strategies, which in essence paves the way for improved life skills. In particular, it hopefully can lead to less avoidance of difficult situations - a valuable takeaway indeed, particularly for 2020.

Of course, it goes without saying that it has to be a positive experience for this to surface, and 'Jumanji' has that in spades. You'd have to be mad not be swept up by Robin William's ('Good Will Hunting', 'Mrs Doubtfire') magnetic energy on-screen, playing older Alan with a wonderful balance of heroism, warmth and tragedy - something that in the years to follow, Williams continues to explore in his roles. Having Peter and Judy as the other main players of the game as children allows younger audiences to see themselves in the role, and this only adds to the "simulation" effect I mentioned earlier. It helps that the kids are equal parts adorable and bad-ass, which was easy for me to relate to for obvious parallels... Maybe. Add to this already appealing recipe of great laughs, roaring fun, chases, animals and romance, and you've got yourself one hell of a great adventure flick.

Not every kid is the same, and there is of course no blanket rule in how to introduce horror-like films to children. I have a nine-week-old son, and he's going nowhere near 'Jumanji' just yet. That's mostly because of the spider scene that I still can't watch, but that's another issue. But 'Jumanji' stands the test of time because it knows how to balance the fear and the adventure elements so well. I would never revisit the film if it was just scary, and I wouldn't hold the memories I have associated with it if it was just another fun family film. Whilst I really enjoyed the reboot 'Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle', I can't see it passing on through generations, nor does it linger on the mind like its superior predecessor. The reason? It's fun, sure, but it lacks the child-like wonder - and ultimately, it's not scary.

Peter starts to cry as Alan turns to him, first in frustration, then in comfort.

"I'm sorry ... 26 years buried in the deepest darkest jungle, and I still became my father... It's alright to be afraid."

Later in the film, the hunter Van Pelt point his gun directly at Alan. Terrified by his impending doom, he trembles in fear - but he doesn't run.

"Aren't you afraid?"
"I'm terrified. But my father says you should always face what you're afraid of."

The lesson here that it's alright to be afraid - and while this is important, it's imperative to understand it in the right context. It doesn't mean you have to be unhappy and go to a boarding school you don't want to, nor does it mean you should punch a bully in the face so he doesn't bother you anymore. But what it does mean is that we must learn to conquer our fears by embracing them, learning from them. Scary movies - or more importantly chlid-friendly scary movies - allow a child to explore an imagined version of the world - at very little cost. Not only does 'Jumanji' pass this test, but it has so much fun doing it.

The game is finished, we are back in 1969, and normal life resumes for young Alan. Mr Parrish hurries back into the house because he forgot his speech, and he's immediately embraced by the rushing and relieved open arms of Alan. As he watches his father leave the house once more, he stops him and builds up the courage to finally admit, that it was him who broke the machine at the factory.

Resilience, bravery and self belief - a hero's journey complete through the adventures of 'Jumanji'. Alan has learnt to conquer his fears, something we can all stand to embrace.

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