Jumping back to 'Jumanji': Nearly 30 years later, film's prop master returns to Keene

·5 min read

Aug. 10—On the corner of Main and West streets in Keene is a mural for the fictional Parrish Shoes — recognize it?

The mural was painted as part of a set for the 1995 movie "Jumanji," for which Keene was a filming location. It has remained next to what is now Keene Confections Pastry Shoppe ever since.

Almost 30 years later, a key member of the "Jumanji" team recently returned to the city for the first time since working on the film.

Dan Sissons, "Jumanji" prop master, traveled to Keene on July 30 for a trip that had been a year in the making.

Alongside Ted McGreer, owner of Ted's Shoe & Sport on Main Street; Justin Fitz, a "Jumanji" fan who makes replicas of the game board from the film; and Ted Bartlett, a "Jumanji" film historian and prop collector, Sissons took a walk down memory lane in downtown Keene — and of course stopped at the Parrish Shoes mural.

"I was amazed at how it's very much the same town, like [there's] still lots of recognizable landmarks and things," said Sissons, who lives in Vancouver. "I was really, really impressed with Keene and the way that it's so vibrant."

The group also stopped by Sole's B.A.R. on Winter Street, co-owned by Liu Vaine — who was an extra in "Jumanji" as a student at Plymouth State University in the 1990s. He can be seen painting the Central Square gazebo.

"I kind of remember handing him the paint can and the brush," Sissons said. "I kind of remember the moment of interacting with him."

The visit was part of a full weekend of "Jumanji"-related stops throughout the Northeast, including a planned event with "Jumanji" book author and screenwriter Chris Van Allsburg — that Bartlett said ended up getting canceled — and a trip to the second filming location in New Berwick, Maine.

Bartlett, a Syracuse, N.Y., resident and lifelong fan of the film, said he connected with Sissons over social media three years ago to ask questions about it. Much to Bartlett's surprise, Sissons offered to answer his questions in a phone call.

"We've kept in touch ever since," Bartlett said.

When they arrived in Keene a couple of weeks ago, they went to Ted's Shoe & Sport to meet with McGreer — who met Bartlett two years earlier over social media as McGreer developed his Parrish Shoe line inspired by the film.

As the group walked around the city, Sissons shared his memories working on the movie and stories from the set. McGreer said Sissons also brought along his original "Jumanji" prop script that included what props were needed, scene by scene.

Both McGreer and Bartlett lauded Sissons' humility and readiness to share his experiences in the film industry, citing his expansive career working on blockbuster films like "Deadpool 2," "I, Robot" and "Suicide Squad."

"From the perspective of a movie watcher and somebody who just sells shoes, I was blown away by his humility ... and how willing he was to talk," McGreer said.

'A key part of the film'

Bartlett, 28, said he wore out his family's copy of "Jumanji" on VHS because he watched it so frequently. Over time, he said, he became fascinated by the game board at the movie's core.

"That board game has really been the thing that's kept me involved with the film," he said. "When you see something that young, you don't really grow out of it; you kind of grow around it, and it grows with you."

In his role as prop master, Sissons said he was in charge of "anything that an actor touches, holds or interacts with."

This included the "Jumanji" game board itself.

He said a group of 15 people collaborated on its creation, from woodcarvers to sculptors to glass-blowers.

While the casting team worked to find an actor to fill the leading role of Alan Parrish — which ultimately went to Robin Williams — Sissons and his team developed the board's design. He said the process took approximately 12 weeks.

Similar to how the game board deepened Bartlett's interest in the movie, Sissons said this particular prop drew him to the project.

"The prop is a key, key part of the film," said Sissons, who started his career in props in the early 1980s. "That doesn't happen very often in a prop master's career where the prop is a focal point of a picture, so that was super exciting to me."

Much like other major props used in "Jumanji," the game board was meant to be kept hidden from onlookers or photographers to keep it under wraps until the movie's release — until The Sentinel published a photo on the front page.

Sissons painted the picture:

They were filming the scenes where extras were looting stores amid the chaos brought on by the "Jumanji" game — including elephants and rhinos stampeding through the town.

As Sissons was nearby distributing props to the extras, a Sentinel photographer asked a young Kirsten Dunst to hold up the game board.

Much to Sissons' alarm, she did.

The photo, by photographer Michael Moore, was published on the front page the next morning, Nov. 17, 1994.

"So now I'm in trouble," Sissons said, chuckling at the memory.

"Jumanji" filmed on location in Keene on two separate occasions, according to Sissons: in November of 1994 and spring of 1995. The movie also filmed at the Mount Caesar Cemetery in Swanzey.

He said his experience returning to Keene decades later was a positive one.

"I remember everyone being fantastic when I was there in the '90s," Sissons said. "And that sort of repeated itself."

Caitlin Howard can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1441, or choward@keenesentinel.com.