Thursday, June 17, 2010


Hey, remember "Jumanji?" The wacky family adventure movie (heavily expanded from a short children's book) in which Robin Williams is a crazy wildman who grew up in the jungle dimension of a magical board game? Did you know they made a cartoon the following year? Did you know it went on for three seasons? And did you know that the entire character design team just consisted of Everett Peck, the creator of Duckman and about half the ghosts from The Real Ghostbusters?

Well, if you didn't, now you know all of those things. Good for you!

The Jumanji cartoon, like a lot of Peck's work, had incredibly ugly, awkward looking humans with some remarkably cool and creative creatures. It wasn't the prettiest animation, but for a kid's show adapted from a kid's movie adapted from a kid's book, the writing was amazingly not terrible. In fact, having run out of everything else to watch on the internet (that happens when you're unemployed and single) I just watched almost every single goddamn episode of goddamn Jumanji while I was drawing monsters, and there were quite a few things interesting enough to me to screengrab.

As in the movie, siblings Peter and Judy find a magical board game in their new attic. When they roll the dice, the game tells them a riddle they need to solve to end the turn. Unlike in the movie, every turn sucks the kids into the Jumanji world, where they end up solving the riddle with their jungle-man pal Alan, who doesn't know his own riddle and has been trapped in Jumanji for over twenty years. Now, here's where things start to get imaginative; we never find out Jumanji's origin, but the jungle world, infested with deadly creatures and traps of every sort, functions a lot like a video game where you can actually die. Villains re-spawn when defeated, various actions can unlock special secrets, clues or items and there are even some "glitches." In a few episodes, we even see that there's machinery under the ground, the sun is a strange flaming satellite-like device, and that some of the local creatures are partially or fully mechanical inside. The entire game dimension seems to have some level of sentience, and becomes more aggressive if it feels threatened or insulted.

Jumanji even has its own avatar; a fashion-conscious reaper whose purpose is to kill a player who becomes too big a danger to the game. Too bad he only appears twice.

Another recurring element, but not entirely villainous, are the Manjis. These awesome little guys don't just wear tribal masks, they are tribal masks. They're dangerous if offended and attempt to cook and eat human beings in more than one episode, but they're usually helpful. The one time they're strictly antagonists is in an episode where Peter becomes more and more enamored with their lifestyle, and is finally invited to join them. During a weird ritual, he enters a bubbling cauldron and emerges with a mask of his own, which becomes his body when he puts it on. The longer he spends as a Manji, the less he remembers ever being a human, and can only change back if he willingly removes the mask himself. They never explain if this is a special case or if all the Manjis used to be human, but I think it's implied.

Now, the most important part of the Jumanji world is its wildlife, and here's where Everett Peck gets almost as creative as he did with Ghostbusters. The movie only had a bunch of real-world animals, big spiders and some predatory plants, but the cartoon features all-original beasts in every single episode, and exaggerated monster versions of conventional creatures. Some of my favorites:

A giant magma-dwelling toad.

Crescent-faced, stampeding beetles.

A giant glue-spitting "caterpillar" (Velvet Worm?) clearly designed by Peck's buddy, Fil Barlow!

A vicious, killer lemur!

An acid-tongued frog. One recurring villain, the mad scientist Dr. Ibson, mentions inventing these in another episode, making them machines.

"Berbalangs!" These are explicitly androids. We meet Dr. Ibson for the first time when the Berbalangs malfunction and he shows up to fix them. And yeah, that's Alan there. Not a pretty design.

This river reptile wouldn't be that special if not for it's indescribably weird cry.

This is clearly a giant mole-rat, though they never say so.

And how about giant, killer anteaters?

Or flesh-eating sloths?

These giant, sentient ants fight a never-ending war over an artifact they call the Bahoot. The black ants call it the Black Bahoot, and the red ants refer to it as their Red Bahoot. It is, of course, equal parts black and red. It's also just a worthless ball of dirt held together with spit. I wonder if there's some sort of heavy-handed moral here about war? Nnnnnnnnaaahhhhh...

The single coolest thing I've seen in the show? Deadly, swarming, meat-eating butterflies who are only thwarted when Alan leads them to their natural predator; carnivorous flowers which lure deadly, meat-eating butterflies with the smell of rotten meat. Someone really knew their biology.