The game can only be played by children.When Alan first hears the drums the game is located in a busy building site, yet no one can hear the drums but him. Later, both Judy and Peter can hear the drums coming through the ceiling, but their aunt can't. This could go with the WMG below that the game was created to train the youth into brave warriors; since only they could play, it'd stop them from getting adult help and thus make them independent and strong. (Obviously Alan and Sarah are adults during most of the film, but that's probably a loophole that the game didn't expect - it assumes people will continue to play as fast as possible to make it all go away.)
The game is alive and it wants to be played.Over and over again... The game senses potential players, and lures them with drum sounds only they can hear. Taking out the pieces 'starts' a game automatically. An accidental drop of the dice 'makes' a move. The game demands on being played fairly too - Van Pelt won't kill the innocent, even those who are players, and the game doesn't appreciate being cheated on.
The game is a Horcrux.It's virtually impossible to destroy, has insane defense mechanisms, and outright tries to kill people. There is no way that it cannot be the remnant of the soul of an immensely powerful creature.
The game itself is the player.The game plays against the human players under the pretence of a board game for up to four. The game takes a 'turn' in the form of releasing incredibly dangerous jungle things. The game wins if it manages to kill the human players, or if it takes over the environment and turns it into a real jungle. Every time the game is disposed of, it uses it's drums to lure in new players.
Jumanji and Zathura are Shadow Games based on non-Egyptian magic.Presumably, these types of Shadow Games work on different rules, which is why the players don't have to be in the presence of their challenger.
Jumanji was created by natives of the jungle to train youth into brave warriors and hunters.
The games run off magical virtual reality; they don't change real reality.Zathura and Jumanji unleash their horrors, not by unleashing animals from another words, but by inducing the players into a magical Matrix VR. All the players involved experience the same hyper-realistic Matrix. The game can predict the future, and so can depict the Alternate Future of what would happen if the game was played, but left unfinished (such as that guy getting fired and people freaking out over Alan's mysterious disappearance). Evidence for this theory: the complete Reset Button when the game ends. It would create a major Temporal Paradox if everything in the game was real; but a magical Matrix can handle it fine.
Van Pelt is always modelled on the father of the player who gets sucked into the game or rolls the dice to summon him from the board.
Van Pelt is a previous player from a session that never ended for himJust like how Alan got sucked in. But Van Pelt had different rules for getting out. Alan had only to wait for a five or an eight; Van Pelt is trapped until somebody else rolls the "sucked into Jumanji world" scenario, and then he must kill that person. That's why Alan was so terrified of him; they clearly met in Jumanji world, and Van Pelt wanted to kill him. That's also why, the very next time Alan rolled, it brought Van Pelt into the real world. As the only two people who've been inside Jumanji world, their destinies are intertwined. That's also why Van Pelt only wants to kill Alan, and has no desire to kill anybody else.
Van Pelt is a player from a previous game who became trapped and went native.Van Pelt was a big game hunter in our world during the early-to-mid 1800s (judging by his clothing and rifle) who discovered the game lurking in the African jungle. Though the porters tried to warn him and the rest of his hunting party that it was bad mojo, he sat down for a nice board game one evening with his buddies. During the course of the usual proceedings, nearly the entire group was killed by the jungle hazards. Van Pelt, now quite insane and frustrated that this was something he couldn't kill, asked the spirit within the game to stop playing around and fight him properly. Its answer was to the effect of, "Okay, fine," and so it sucked him into its jungle. Unlike Alan, who constantly sought a way out of the game, Van Pelt decided he was thoroughly enjoying this new challenge and gave himself over to the game entirely.
Van Pelt and Alan are related.We know that the last people who had the game were also from around there, and Parrishes have clearly been a prominent family in those parts for a very long time. While first looking around the house after moving in, Peter finds a bust of some guy with sideburns just like Van Pelt's (maybe it was actually him). He isn't just played by the same actor as Alan's father for the heck of it; it's to show the family resemblance.
As already noted, he apparently got himself stuck as a permanent part of the game long ago.
Related to the last theory, Van Pelt IS Alan...Similar to how in Zathura, Walter became an astronaut and was involved in the game even though he was already playing it, Alan became Van Pelt in another universe where Judy and Peter never discovered the game. He was stuck inside the game because he had no way of getting out. Eventually he went native, joined some sort of hunting party and became the Van Pelt we all know and hate.
...Or perhaps, his hatred and/or "evil" side.During the events in the jungle, this side was removed from him, and molded into a form he could actively fear or hate, to push him to continue challenging it. This side of him was either destroyed, or sent back to the universe in which savage feelings belong anyway. Which couple with Fridge Brilliance/Horror when you realize that this might possibly happen to anyone...
If a game has only one surviving player, then that player is added to the game.A variant on the "Van Pelt gone native" theory above. This has two purposes: it prevents people from abandoning games because they think their victory is trivial; and it punishes players who won't cooperate with the other players.
Van Pelt is Linus from Peanuts.At some point he got sucked into a world of monsters with nothing but his blanket to rely on. He's been known to use his blanket for self-defense◊, so he's certainly no pushover, but after a few days of merely beating animals back, he snaps and decides he needs a more permanent solution, hence the gun. His blanket, now stained with the blood of many, many foes, becomes the cape he wears as an adult. Oh, and Linus's canonical last name? Van Pelt.
Alan Parrish and Sy Parrish from One Hour Photo are the same person.In 1995, as Jumanji ends, Alan Parrish is about 38 and appears to have the perfect life. Clearly, something terrible and life-shattering happens in the seven years before the events of One Hour Photo take place. He changes his name and moves to Los Angeles, alone. His disturbed personality traits during OHP make sense. Alan's relationship with his father has severe problems which are resolved only superficially; and nobody could possibly spend twenty-six years, including most of their later childhood, in a terrifying, hostile environment all alone and come out as okay as Alan appeared when Jumanji ended.
Van Pelt's reason for trying to kill Alan was...
The board game is an Eldritch Abomination that turns universes into copies of itself when the game is lost.If someone lost a game of Jumanji, everything would come loose and spread and spread until the real world was a jungle world like Jumanji. It would then go around looking for more universes to convert.
Jumanji's a curse from vengeful jungle spirits.They're angry at 19th century safari dudes for ruining their unspoiled nature, so this is the punishment. It comes in the form of the kind of amusement westerners enjoy, and hits them with perils based on the Darkest Africa stereotype. Definite ironic punishment. If there's an Egyptian version to punish graverobbers, it definitely has stiff-armed living mummies and other crap they were afraid of. Zathura, by extension, is a pre-emptive one for spoiling outer space.
Everyone survived in the 1995 timeline.Alan and Sarah remain in the timeline, only a "copy" of their memories getting sent back, and the poison in Judy's system gets sucked back into the game. Granted, it's still kind of depressing for Alan, who believes he and his father never had the chance to reconcile in any way, but it's okay for Sarah, who is validated in both timelines and still an adult in the 1995 timeline, Judy, who survives, and pretty much everyone since Alan might be able to reacquire some of his family's commercial assets and help rebuild the house (his old house) that the kids' aunt had just bought. As for emotional trauma, everything in the 1995 timeline is still present in the 1969 timeline for Alan and Sarah, and the people in alt-1994 are technically different people (being almost a year younger and never having experienced the effects of the game), so it's not like that's got any measurable advantage for them.
Van Pelt taught Alan the skills he would need to survive the jungle world of JumanjiNot as an act of kindness, but with the intent of turning Alan into resilient prey worthy of being hunted. While Alan recognizes Van Pelt as a sociopath from the beginning it isn't until the hunter tries to kill him that he realizes just how sadistic he is.
Tribal Bob (in the animated series) was once a human.We know that Peter once became a Manji, though he was cured, there nothing saying it never happened before. All the other Manji have animal-like masks, but Bob's looks vaguely human-like, like Peter's did. Bob was once a player who got stuck in Jumanji, and became a Manji to survive. He probably didn't have anyone close to him to bring him back to his human form.
Jumanji and Zathura were created by a sadistic Eldritch being.Someone - something - had to have created the board games in the Jumanji 'verse - something with almost Godlike power, as the games clearly have the ability to augment reality - thus this entity would have had to give them either a fragment of its own power, or be in a position to access something of such immense paranormal force. It would be easy enough to label them as creations of a fun-loving Trickster god, much like The Mask, if not for the fact that these games, while seeming like harmless paranormal fun at first, are very much intended to kill people - particularly, the children playing the game. The fact that the board games don't rack up a bloody death count stems less from their own canonical potential, and more from the fact that these movies aren't rated R (or 18+). So the logical conclusion remains - just what cosmic horror with a creatively sadistic flair created these games? Perhaps they want man's imagination to be his downfall... Take note that the Jumanji game must have been created in the 1800s, if Van Pelt is any judge. During the peak of the British Empire, no less. Perhaps it was a horrible punishment for what the British Empire did to a lot of African tribes. Zathura, meanwhile, has aesthetic designs which were very similar to the perception of sci-fi in the 1950s; following this line of thought, it's plausible that the same entity created Zathura as punishment for mankind's unprecedented wars in the first half of that century.
Jumanji and Zathura are the same magical artifactIt is a magical item or cursed item that appears as a game that is semi-familiar to those it encounters and wishes to ensnare. It is not one particular game, but rather a magical item that takes the form of a game.
Van Pelt is genuinely trying to be a father-figure for AlanHear me out on this. He's so capitally hardened by his big-game hunter life, and, being from the time period he looks to be from, he's being a dad the only way he knows how. Imagine the upbringing Van Pelt must've had! He keeps trying to tough Alan up, telling him to "Face me like a man" - while holding a gun - and does so because it's how he was raised. In fact, Van Pelt is probably seriously scarred to the point of anhedonia, and he probably wants to carve Alan (not literally) into a version of himself. See, if he achieves this, he will finally feel the love of seeing himself in another human (and that's what love is, right?). He laughs when Alan finally does face him "like a man". This is his anhedonia melting off, slightly. So he's all up on Alan being his warped idea of tough because he's trying to be a father figure. Come on, he wouldn't be the first person to go about it all wrong. The fact that he was actually going to kill Alan is because his anhedonia (complete lack of pleasure) has made him suicidal. But a "man" wouldn't commit suicide, so he wants to kill the prodigy who's now willing to face him.
Jumanji feeds off the fears of its players.Perhaps the game doesn't try to actually kill its players at all. Under this theory the game prevents its players from actually dying but puts them in situations that cause extreme fear and distress. Perhaps it makes them confront specific fears such as the duality fear of Van Pelt representing Alan's fear of confronting his father. Furthermore, the game does this because it converts their fear into the energy it needs to perpetuate itself and its powers. Though this makes the game seem 100% sadistic, this theory also allows for the possibility that the game chooses players who can affect the future in a positive way as a result of having played the game. For instance, Alan has a better relationship with his father, saves someone's job, and is a more mature individual after the game. Also, Alan and Sarah are able to influence Judy and Peter's parents into not taking the trip that ultimately kills them and scars Judy and Peter. Under this idea, the game may itself be a living spirit or some other creature in disguise of a culturally relevant/understandable game. Perhaps it is a primal force of balance and by causing distress to players it can then cause good things to happen to them as well.
Magic aside, Jumanji is just a game.The warning on the box is flavor text and the players aren't ever in any real danger. If a player dies in the game, Jumanji removes them from turn order (like it presumably temporarily does for people waiting for a specific die roll) and the game continues until reset, when they're resurrected. If all players die, the game automatically resets and displays a little game over rhyme. No one in recent memory realizes this because the original owner lost the game or died without telling people of its secrets and all subsequent players won and then (understandably) freaked out and tried to get rid of it without understanding it wouldn't have done permanent damage.
There are other games, spanning different settingsWe already know of Zathura, a space adventure. There could easily be a fantasy adventure, a pirate adventure, a prehistoric adventure, a horror adventure, etc out there, waiting to be played.
Jumanji's designer was Philip Lemarchand.Surprised this one hasn't popped on here sooner. Both the Lament Configuration and the game are beautifully crafted pieces of artwork, really. Each is a gateway for their users to more than they bargained for. The box was made for adults who had become jaded to the pleasures available to them. The game was designed for a younger audience, who had grown bored of the pleasures of youth and adolescence. Solving the Lament Configuration summons the Cenobites, along with their definition of pleasure. Playing Jumanji summons the creatures of that jungle, and their definition of fun. Unlike the Lament Configuration, though, Jumanji has a sort of exit clause; if you win the game, then all the damage the game caused is reversed.
Carl can make very brief glimpses into the future.His accuracy at predicting the shoe styles of the 90's is due to his bizarre ability to see fleeting images of the world of tomorrow.
The game has an Enfant Terrible personality.As Sarah and Alan said, the game thinks. Therefore it's not implausible that the game has a personality. In this WMG, the game acts like an innocent trapped being drumming its heart out to escape. Players are lured by the siren beat of the drums. By the time the board game has wrecked their entire world, it's too late, just like when a human Enfant Terrible throws a raging tantrum. Yet, the game always sucks back its destruction as if to say, "I'm sorry; play again?" Insert Evil Laugh here.