I was going to write about safety and new found fears this week but Robin Williams’s death shifts my attention, especially while on the topic of fear.
Jumanji was released in 1995 when I was eight years old. I was a skittish girl, tormented by terrible nightmares that left me quaking under my covers, trying to work up some semblance of bravery in order to run to my mother’s bedroom. Yup, I was a big ol’ wuss. Not that my wimpyness has since been cured but it’s certainly not as intense as it once was. I couldn’t even watch The Dark Crystal until I was well into my teens when I feigned nostalgia, pretending the movie was a fixture of my childhood like that of my friends’. Don’t even get me started on the string of sleepless months caused by a sleepover viewing of People Under the Stairs.
I was reluctant to watch any film with even the smallest hint of ominous tone. Although, I did get the pleasure of enjoying Jumanji, despite my fearful protests. When my mum suggested we go see it, I loudly and defiantly denounced it as too scary. Fortunately, my mother’s assurance that Robin Williams was in the movie enticed me into the plush and sticky theater seat.
Three years earlier Aladdin was in theaters and Jafar was the antagonist of my nightmares. It was Williams’s voice behind the genie that would comfort me. His spastic energy and rapid fire character shifts distracted me from the looming long-jawed Jafar, his wispy evil goatee, and the shadowy blues and maroons that in themselves set my five-year-old mind on edge.
Again, in Jumanji Williams’s fatherly rosy cheeks and kind velvet voice comforted me. He played Alan Parrish, once a bullied wuss until he was whisked into the title game’s throbbing beat by a riddle and an early CGI tornado, to be transformed into a jungle warrior. He guided Kirsten Dunst, another of my childhood favourites, and young Bradley Pierce through the world of Jumanji as the wuss’s champion. Alan Parrish, along with many of Williams’s other roles were figures of bravery for myself and other wimps to aspire to.
It was that courageous quality that calmed my childhood fears, that same pluckiness, adventurousness and humour that I can’t wait to introduce to Joanie. We’ll watch Jumanji and Aladdin, Hook and Dead Poet’s Society, then later Good Will Hunting, Fisher King, Good Morning Vietnam and even that great episode of Homicide: Life of the Streets in which he plays a grieving father against Daniel Baldwin’s crass cop. And I’ll tell her about Robin Williams, the wuss’s champion. We’ll laugh and cry and make fun of Flubber, and be better, braver humans for it.