Latest reviews of new albums:
  • Composed by James Horner
  • Epic Soundtrax / 1995 / 51m

Joe Johnston’s 1995 movie Jumanji was one of those movies made in the aftermath of the success of Jurassic Park that threw in a load of computer-animated creatures and assumed that was enough to make audiences come flocking, and that was indeed correct.  (Twenty years later, there is no sign of that phenomenon coming to an end.)  Robin Williams plays a boy stuck inside a board game, eventually released from it (along with said creatures) by more children who find it and start playing a quarter of a century later.

This was the fourth film Johnston directed and all of them were scored by James Horner, with the collaboration producing one of his most delightful scores, The Rocketeer; they never worked together again, rather disappointingly (each of the director’s subsequent six movies having been scored by a different composer).  I imagine it was a fairly difficult film to score, because by its nature it is essentially a series of short episodic madcap action sequences rather than a genuinely coherent narrative, without much for the composer to grab on to and build his score around; but as usual Horner did the business and provided music that worked brilliantly in the film, managing to link the whole thing together very effectively.

James Horner

James Horner

His colourful, energetic score opens with a “Prologue and Main Title”, beginning with a dark atmospheric mood-setter (complete with shakuhachi) before the score’s adventure theme appears, somewhat tentatively at first for a solo horn before becoming more boisterous; then the other main theme, a sweeter-than-sugar melody associated with Williams’s character (used throughout the film by Horner to remind you that there’s a child in that grown-up body).  It’s so delicate and so beautiful, it’s a pity that it usually only appears fleetingly, Horner not really being given the chance by the film to give an extended presentation.

“First Move” is a piece of tension, bursts of excitement, before “Monkey Mayhem” starts with a burst of another theme, this one representing the mystery of the game (and again heard only in little bits through the score), with first some madcap circus-style action similar to parts of the composer’s first score for this director, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and then a lovely little rendition of the adventure theme before some vintage Horner action music, those familiar staccato bursts of shakuhachi over the crashing orchestra.

The score’s prettiest cue is “A New World”, with the cute theme given its lengthiest airing except for the end titles.  “It’s Sarah’s Move” meanders along a bit (probably shouldn’t have been on the album) but then comes one of the strongest pieces of action/adventure music, “The Hunter”, which is dynamic and propulsive but also has a slightly lighthearted air which makes it really delightful.  “Rampage Through Town” covers a lot of ground in its two and a half minutes, from dark action (in fact parts of the film are surprisingly dark and scary, given it’s supposedly for children) to light emotion, the latter rather more engaging than the former.

“Alan Parrish” (Williams’s character) starts as another madcap piece of action before a lovely melody emerges from the shenanigans, leading into a sweeping variation on the character’s theme.  “Stampede!” starts with a great, absolutely thunderous version of the adventure theme but it’s rather rudely interrupted by a little comic passage, sadly Horner (very atypically) not quite managing his usual magic trick of through-composing his way past such obstacles in a musically satisfying way.  “A Pelican Steals the Game” is very lighthearted as you’d expect, before “The Monsoon” sees things get rather more serious, the action here decidedly more grown-up, and it’s effective stuff.  The titular finale “Jumanji” is by far the longest track on the album and also one of the most entertaining, whizzing through most of the major material in satisfying style.  The end titles piece then goes from the monkey action music into the beautiful main theme and finally just a little burst of the tribal drums and vocal which accompanies the board game throughout the movie (but this is its only appearance on the album).

Jumanji is not quite as tightly-focused as the majority of Horner’s albums and even though it’s not particularly long by his standards, it does seem a little rambling at times.  Having said that, its reputation (fostered from when it was first released) as being somehow lacking in original ideas or particularly coherent action music seems entirely undeserved: it’s exactly the score the film needed, there’s a great thematic core running through it, the only drawback being that the film is so relentlessly madcap that Horner is rarely able to stay with ideas long enough to develop them as much as he would almost certainly have liked to do.  It’s not one of his best, but still entertaining and highly listenable from start to end.

Rating: *** 1/2 | |

Tags: ,

  1. Mike (Reply) on Saturday 22 August, 2015 at 02:10

    This score doesn’t get a lot of credit, but I agree it is pretty good…it doesn’t have a catchy main theme like some of his more memorable action scores, but it is more of a slow burn, building up to the epic Jumanji finale.

    The rerecorded cue (Stampede I think) on the Kunzel album “The Big Picture” is a good introduction to the score, btw.