Director Jake Kasdan upgrades the Robin Williams’ classic – and the world’s most dangerous board game – for a new generation in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
Released in 1995 in the wake of Jurassic Park, Jumanji was not only a great vehicle for Robin Williams, it also applied the CGI revolution to the story of a jungle-themed board game that comes to life, unleashing herds of rampaging rhinos, elephants, and other wild critters on a New Hampshire town.
A global box office hit and home entertainment staple, Jumanji is fondly remembered and has maintained a loyal fan base over the ensuing decades. Revisiting the world of the game for a new generation in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle might have sounded like a risky proposition, but with almost $1 billion in worldwide box office and counting, it’s obvious that audiences wanted another Jumanji.
For director Jake Kasdan, best known for comedies like Orange County (2002), Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) and Bad Teacher (2011), taking the reins of such a big star-powered and FX-filled blockbuster was not without its challenges.
“It was a big complicated production that involved a lot of stuff that I had never done before, like effects work and action,” Kasdan tells STACK. “The truth is, that was a big part of the appeal – it was the kind of movie I’ve always loved but had never made before. There were challenges in terms of learning something new, but I was surrounded by really great people with a lot of experience in these things to help me figure it all out.”
Did the amount of love for the first film bring additional pressure?
“You’re certainly conscious of the pressures that come with making another Jumanji, and you want to make a movie that’s a worthy follow-up to something that people loved,” he says.
“It was really important for us to figure out within the context of this new Jumanji story how to pay our respects to the original movie that meant so much to so many people. We always felt that what we were doing was very different – specifically, the game that comes to life.”
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is definitely a different beast from its predecessor and plays like a reversal of the first film.
Where the board game erupted into the real world in the original, the new video game equivalent transports four high school teens into the jungle as mismatched adult avatars, played by the winning combination of Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan and Jack Black.
This digital version of the game not only introduces Jumanji to a new generation, it also delivers a subtle message about kids getting lost in video games in the real world and their fixation on screens. As one character observes, “Since I lost my phone, my senses have heightened.”
“I think there’s a little bit of that,” says Kasdan, “but it’s not just kids. I think it’s all of us. It’s a universal issue. We definitely played with the idea of what would happen if you actually got stuck in your device.”
For Kasdan, the story’s focus on the characters, along with the body-swap concept of the player avatars, was the biggest appeal.
“It was a really funny and original way of telling what’s basically a coming-of-age character comedy set against this wild landscape. It was conceived that the teenagers would be portrayed for most of the movie by these adult movie stars.”
Indeed, one of the strengths of Welcome to the Jungle is its ensemble cast and the chemistry between them, and Kasdan says that he specifically wanted Johnson, Hart, Gillan and Black for the roles.
“I went and got each one of them. They were exactly the people we wanted and we were grateful they wanted to do it. We spent time getting the script just right for each of them.”
That also meant allowing for a bit of improvisation on the set. “When you have people who are this funny, you’ve got to let them bring stuff and add stuff, so we made sure to leave room [in the script] for something new and spontaneous to happen as we were shooting.”
Which just leaves the question: does Kasdan consider Welcome to the Jungle to be a sequel, a remake, or an upgrade?
“It’s the next story in the life of this mystical game. The character it follows is the game itself, rather than any of the people from the original movie. So in that sense it’s a sequel, but not a traditional one.”
The game may have evolved but fans of the original will welcome nods to the first film, such as a reference to Robin Williams’s character, Alan Parrish.
“I loved that,” says Kasdan. “There were a few things I felt were good, organic ways of including the mythology of the original movie that wouldn’t feel jammed in, but more like we were extending the world to include both movies in the same universe.”