December 18, 1995 12:00 PM

Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce

When the lion bared its pointed incisors and growled in Jumanji, a family movie based on Chris Van Allsburg’s popular 1981 children’s book, the 5-year-old in front of me—whoosh!—jumped into his father’s lap. And there he remained through the maniacal monkeys, the stampeding elephants and the Porsche-size spiders—all horrors resulting from tosses of the dice in Jumanji, a board game so viciously malevolent it makes Mortal Kombat seem like Old Maid.

Don’t pack the kids off to see Jumanji while staying home to defrost the freezer. This is scary stuff, though its message—that one must face one’s fears squarely—is worth the anxiety if an older wise person is sitting nearby. Adults will have a reasonably good time, too, thanks to sharply comic performances by Hunt and Williams. Suggested topic for postmovie discussion with rugrat critics: How is Jumanji like The Wizard of Oz—to which it pays explicit homage—and how is it different? Talk amongst yourselves. (PG)

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