Funny Man Robin Williams He Talks about How Who He Is and How He Got There

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YOU WON'T FIND the word "Jumanji" in Webster's, and the definition you get out of Robin Williams changes from one breath to the next.

"It means an Italian kosher restaurant - it's Hebrew al dente," riffs Williams, having phonetic fun with the title of his newest movie.

"It's amazing how many times it's been mispronounced," he says, citing examples: " `Jimjanny'. . . `Jomjuney'. . . `Jim Jarmusch'. . . `You're doin' "Gymjarmush" - the basketball movie?'

"It's not an easy sell, the name," Williams tells his captive focus group of reporters gathered at San Francisco's Ritz-Carlton Hotel for interviews with Williams, co-stars Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst and David Alan Grier and director Joe Johnson.

"Jumanji" is based on a children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, but it goes far beyond the written word. Jumanji is a one-of-a-kind board game that has been buried for decades when it comes into the possession of 12-year-old Alan Parrish (played by Adam Hann-Byrd of "Little Man Tate" fame).

Alan and his friend Sarah (Laura Bell-Bundy) start to play the game one day in 1969, and the eeriness begins immediately. The quaintly worded instructions don't prepare the youngsters for the consequences of their rolls of the dice. On one of his moves, Alan disappears before Sarah's eyes as he is sucked into the game.

Twenty-six years later, orphaned young sister and brother Judy (Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce) find the game and begin to play.

Their actions free the now-adult Alan (Williams) from the dangerous and lonely jungle world of Jumanji.

But they also summon other creatures - elephants, zebras, lions, crocodiles - all of which wreak havoc on their small New England town.

Enlisting the help of the adult Sarah (Hunt), Alan and the children try to send the animals - and a relentless hunter (Jonathan Hyde) - back where they belong. In the process, they learn how to correct past mistakes - and not to play games without reading all the rules.

Williams, 43, says there's no place on the planet that he'd like to be trapped for 26 years. But the man who two years ago labored under layers of rubber as "Mrs. Doubtfire" did marvel at the experience of working with the animatronic and computer-generated beasts in "Jumanji." He had to dodge a stampede, outwit a lion and wrestle a crocodile.

"It's wild to do," says Williams, dressed in black jeans and a forest-green shirt with a gold-, blue- and brown-splotched peplum. "It was weird with the crocodile 'cause that's an animatronic - like some former presidential candidates.

"I was wrestling with it; I went `Poom!' From inside I heard, `Hey!' They had a guy shoved in there, and there were two guys that move him!"

Often, Williams was acting with creatures who weren't there - they were added later by Industrial Light & Magic. So to keep the story's heart from being overwhelmed by the dazzling special effects, he concentrated on the characters he could see.

"You have to make the connections with them because that's the one real thing you know that's there," says Williams, who earned Oscar nominations for his work in "Good Morning, Vietnam," "Dead Poets Society" and "The Fisher King."

Though "Jumanji" has plenty of action, Williams doesn't see himself joining a club with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal.

"Oh, yeah, right," he scoffs, mimicking Schwarzenegger: "Come over here, little man. I will split you like a spring log."

"Jumanji" is more about facing fear than causing it. Asked if he's afraid of anything, Williams replies:

"Oh, desperately. And now I should lie down and we'll talk about it!

"The world frightens me a lot - the world as it exists. I can't do a movie where all of a sudden I'll blow things away and make a joke about it. Because we live in a world where that's a reality. …