Join us as we take you back to the 1990s with three 90s kid’s classics, The Adventures of Huck Finn (PG), Jumanji (PG) and Free Willy (U).
The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993)
THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN, Elijah Wood, 1993, ©Buena Vista Pictures
Mark Twain’s 1884 novel has been adapted for the screen many times since the first 1918 silent screen adventure Huck and Tom. Set along the banks of the Mississippi River, Twain’s book has become engrained in the history of literature, with literary giants like Ernest Hemmingway stating that American literature starts and ends with Huck Finn. Twain’s language, violence, cutting satire and breadth are unique in children’s literature, as he dovetails adventure with humour and social discussions ranging from domestic violence and slavery to war and religion. However, the breadth and depth of Twain’s work have led to challenges for filmmakers, especially in translating the text for young audiences. As a result, many adaptations have watered down the novel’s social themes and violence in favour of a kid-friendly spit and sawdust adventure.
When Disney announced a live-action adaptation of Huckleberry Finn, many anticipated yet another watered-down adaptation of Twain’s novel. After all, the Disney machine was, and largely still is, fearful of anything that challenges its family-friendly image. But, first-time director Stephen Sommers achieved something rather unique with his 1993 adaptation. Sommers brought Twain’s work to a young audience while maintaining elements of darkness. The result was a rip-roaring adventure that didn’t shy away from a deeper exploration of Twain’s work.
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Despite the film’s opening narration from a young Elijah Wood stating, “Get ready for a spit-lickin‘ good time!” The Adventures of Huck Finn never falls into the Disney trap of becoming coy or cute. Sommers always maintains Huck’s core journey of enlightenment through the denial of Jim’s civil rights while attempting to incorporate the language of Twain’s world. The Adventures of Huck Finn is full of charm, beauty and respect for Mark Twain’s novel. Sommers’ film is a stand-out 90s kids classic that deserves far more praise.
Director: Stephen Sommers
Mention the film Jumanji to any kid today, and they will no doubt talk about Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson. The recent relaunch of Jumanji has captured the imaginations of a whole new generation accustomed to computer games while at the same time paying homage to the original. However, as with all remakes, many kids watching the new films will never have watched the 1995 classic.
The 1990s heralded a gigantic leap forward in digital work on screen, with Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993) pushing the boundaries of digital on-screen effects. Meanwhile, theatrical sound also stepped out of the shadows of Dolby Stereo (SR), with DTS Digital and Dolby Digital wrapping the audience in spacial audio like never before. However, while these technological advances were groundbreaking, many movies still relied on practical effects, stop motion and model work to sweep a viewer away to new worlds. Jumanji, like Jurassic Park, is a fascinating example of a movie with one foot in the new digital world and one in old-school physical effects.
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Jumanji is as frantic as the wild creatures at its heart, taking us from 1869 to 1969 before ending in 1995. Here director Joe Johnson plays with themes of time, love, belonging and isolation while paying homage to the fantasy and adventure work of Steven Spielberg, Richard Donner and Joe Dante. Robin Williams is off the leash yet vulnerable, while the two kids at the heart of the action, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce), create a joyous sense of fun and adventure.
Twenty-five years after it hit our screens in 1995, Jumanji’s effects work is a tale of two halves, with only some of the groundbreaking digital work remaining impressive. However, as with many early digital movies, it is rescued by its physical effects work. This is one 90s Kid’s classic that remains a must-see, and one of the best fantasy, adventures of the 1990s.
Director: Joe Johnston
Free Willy (1993)
By the mid-1970s, the international ‘Save The Whale’ campaign had begun to make its voice heard in abolishing the heinous whaling industry, and by the early 1980s, the International Whaling Commission had brought forward a moratorium on the commercial practice. This transition in public thinking was also reflected in films, from A Whale for the Killing (1981) to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986). However, while this campaign marked a considerable step forward in protection, discussions on the cruelty inflicted on performing whales, dolphins and sea lions in captivity remained silent. Here the business model of Sea World and others thrived on a circus model that was beginning to feel uncomfortable. However, by the 1990s, the tide was slowly turning in the use of whales and dolphins as entertainment, and one film was about to turn that wave into a tsunami.
I doubt anyone at Warner Brothers could have anticipated the impact of a small family with a tiny budget in challenging the practices of aquariums and water world’s around the globe. But that is exactly what Free Willy achieved on its release. Offering us the story of a lonely, damaged and angry foster child and an equally lonely performing whale, Free Willy was more, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial than Flipper as a boy and a whale seek escape, freedom and love.
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Bathed in the beautiful cinematography of Robbie Greenberg and the outstanding score of Basil Poledouris, Free Willy would combine animatronic work with the real Keiko the Whale, who became a star in his own right. But, it’s what happened after his release that remains so devastatingly sad. While Keiko the Whale, just like Willy, found his freedom in 2002, he sadly died not long after, but his role in redefining our views on captivity is eternal.
Director: Simon Wincer