Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

When you make a movie based on a picture book, you have to add stuff. How much stuff? Let’s take a look at the Caldecott Medal picture book that inspired the 1995 Robin Williams movie Jumanji.

Jumanji the book


The original 1981 hardcover (ISBN 0395304482), as well as some later printings, had a green-bordered cover featuring the monkeys destroying the kitchen.

My 30th-anniversary paperback (ISBN 9781783446766), as well as a fancy 2016 hardcover reprint, features the rhino stampede instead.

Although in a way I don’t think the cover of the book should have been changed, I think the change was a positive one. In both the book and the movie, the monkeys seem more malicious than the other animals. The rhinos, which appear later, are much more dramatic.


The story is told in 28 pages: 14 facing pages of text on the left with full-page illustrations on the right. Here’s what happens on each set of facing pages.

  1. Judy and Peter are left at home to try to amuse themselves.
  2. They go to a nearby park and find the Jumanji game.
  3. They take the game home and read the instructions:

The game looks like this:

  1. A lion comes out of the game.
  2. Peter and Judy realize they have to finish the game to make the lion go away.
  3. Monkeys destroy the kitchen.
  4. There’s a monsoon in the house.
  5. A man with a map appears.
  6. Peter is bitten by a tsetse fly. Some rhinoceroses stampede through the living room and dining room.
  7. A python curls around the clock on the mantelpiece.
  8. A volcano erupts, changing the monsoon rainwater to steam. Judy rolls double sixes and wins the game.
  9. When the steam clears, the house is back to normal. Peter and Judy take the game back to the park. When they return home, they clean up miscellaneous toys, assemble a puzzle, and take a nap.
  10. Peter and Judy’s parents return.
  11. Two boys are seen carrying the game from the park. They are the sons of Peter and Judy’s parents’ friends.

Jumanji the movie

The movie is a lot more complicated and a lot more menacing.

There are several threats in the movie that do not appear in the book’s illustrations and are not mentioned in the book’s text:

  • a player gets sucked into the jungle in the game
  • bats
  • mosquitoes (rather than tsetse flies)
  • a hunter with a gun (rather than a man with the map)
  • carnivorous plants
  • a multi-animal stampede (rather than a stampede of only rhinos)
  • a pelican that snatches the game
  • a punishment for cheating (Peter starts turning into a monkey)
  • a giant crocodile
  • quicksand floors
  • spiders
  • an earthquake (rather than a volcanic eruption)

The movie’s plot (well summarized at imdb) involves a pair of adult characters, Alan and Sarah, who started playing the game as children years before Peter and Judy but never finished. It also involves Alan’s father and a man who worked for him in a shoe factory but later became a cop. Scenes from the movie take place in various locations around a small town, not just in Peter and Judy’s house and their neighborhood park.

About author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg

“The idea of the extraordinary happening in the context of the ordinary is what’s fascinating to me.”
Chris Van Allsburg

That’s what attracts me to the work of Edith Nesbit, Edward Eager, Ruth Chew, and J.K. Rowling: the idea that magic stuff can happen to anybody. The surreal flavor of Van Allsburg’s work is a bit too creepy for my taste, though.

Van Allsburg is known for his picture book The Polar Express, which was also adapted into a movie.

My husband is a fan of Van Allsburg’s book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, which purports to be a kind of manuscript of illustrations for miscellaneous unfinished (and really weird) stories.

I have two books by Mark Helprin that Van Allsburg illustrated. They are Swan Lake and A City in Winter. (FWIW, I also have Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale as both a book and a movie.)

I have not seen or read Van Allsburg’s Jumanji follow-up, Zathura.