So a couple of corrections immediately: Peter’s not exactly an iconic shapeshifter. And he’s not really a wolf boy. He’s kind of a monkey boy. But there really are fake monkeys!
I want to blog about this because in a recent review of our book – which was very nice, thank you – the question of text choice came up. Our book covers a lot of novels, film and TV, but we never wanted to do a comprehensive survey of every shapeshifter, instead we wanted to pick some texts and discuss them in the context of particular themes. We also chose to focus on relatively recent texts from the last decade or two, because that’s what most readers are familiar with.
But it did make me think about some texts we might have missed, and that will have to function as my segue into the topic of this blog post: Jumanji.
I have a weakness for this movie. Don’t judge me. Jumanji is a 1995 children’s fantasy film directed by Joe Johnston and starring Robin Williams, Bonnie Hunt, and Kirsten Dunst, and, most importantly, Bradley Pierce, our almost-wolfboy. You can watch the trailer here.
If you’ve not seen the film, the plot is about a couple of kids who find a board game called Jumanji, which brings jungle life to the real world: dangerous creatures appear, there’s a stampede, monsoonal rain, and even a nod to Australia with a giant crocodile and enormous spiders.
Well, that’s what I call a Hollywood nod to Australia anyway. So when the kids play, one of them gets sucked into the game (literally), and 26 years later emerges when 2 new kids find the game and start playing it. They then battle the jungle terrors together until one of them manages to get to the end of the game, which returns everything to normal.
The movie is notable for the fakest looking monkeys ever (that is an entirely unsubstantiated claim and I’m willing to see faker monkeys if anyone wants to find them).
They were probably okay for 1995 but honestly, I kept looking for the bits of string holding up the paper monkeys being moved around the set.
There’s a lovely moment when the monkeys pass a shop with a television screening a scene of the flying monkeys on The Wizard of Oz, and they get quite excited.
As I watched this again recently I realised that there is an element of shapeshifting in this film that I didn’t remember: the boy, played by Bradley Pierce, turns into a half monkey in the film after he cheats at the game. I think it’s a half monkey but initially I assumed it was a half wolf, because the sudden hairy hands/face and pointed ears look like most other human-wolf hybrids on screen.
Also, the boy’s name is Peter, hence another lupine connotation. But then you see the big tail and no, it’s a monkey. He stays as this human hybrid until the game is over and everything reverts back to before.
If we were to position this film within the other texts discussed in our book, we’d probably include it with other shapeshifters who have been turned into an animal as a punishment; ie, shapeshifting functions as a moral lesson. Remember Eustace from Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in the Chronicles of Narnia? His greed for gold turned him into a dragon. Only once he’d learned his lesson could he return to being a human. Many shapeshifters these days are framed in terms of redemption, where they are trying to overcome their darker side, and sometimes they have become shapeshifters because of wrongdoing. And so we have Peter, who cheated in the game, so he lost part of his humanity and became part animal.
The thing is, he’s a very cute little wolf/monkey boy and it’s hard to shake your head for his lost humanity when you see this:
This is one of those blog posts without a real point, which I was hoping to disguise in cute pictures of the little wolf/monkey boy, but as I reach this point I think it’s best to just ‘fess up and say it’s just for fun. Anyway, here’s to the forgotten wolf/monkey boys and other shapeshifters permeating our popular culture texts that didn’t make the final cut for our book.