Growing up in the nineties, one of my favorite movies was 1995’s Jumanji. Starring Robin Williams as Alan Parrish, a man who got sucked into and trapped within a magical board game as a child only to be freed years later as an adult by two kids who began playing the game where he left off, the movie was a huge financial hit despite the mixed reviews. It was so popular, in fact, that it spawned an animated television series, video games, and a board game. I was such a huge fan of the film that I can still remember the most famous clue offered up by the magical game within the movie: “In the jungle you must wait, until the dice read five or eight.” (It was actually this clue that sucked young Alan Parrish into the game to begin with, and instilled an irrational fear within me that prevented me from playing the board game based upon the movie that Hasbro released.) Because of all of this, it pains me to say that the movie being released this year that I’m most worried about is the long-awaited sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
You may be asking yourself how I can be worried about a movie that hasn’t even debuted a trailer yet. Well, the synopsis released by Sony was enough to give me pause. Per Sony:
“When four high-school kids discover an old video game console with a game they’ve never heard of – Jumanji – they are immediately drawn into the game’s jungle setting, literally becoming the avatars they chose: gamer Spencer becomes a brawny adventurer (Dwayne Johnson); football jock Fridge loses (in his words) “the top two feet of his body” and becomes an Einstein (Kevin Hart); popular girl Bethany becomes a middle-aged male professor (Jack Black); and wallflower Martha becomes a badass warrior (Karen Gillan). What they discover is that you don’t just play Jumanji – you must survive it. To beat the game and return to the real world, they’ll have to go on the most dangerous adventure of their lives, discover what Alan Parrish left 20 years ago, and change the way they think about themselves – or they’ll be stuck in the game forever.”
Ugh. Where to even begin dissecting that press release?
The first thing that stuck out to me upon reading it for the first time is the fact that Jumanji is no longer a magical board game, but a magical video game. In my mind, this takes away from some of the original film’s charm in which it’s implied that the game is ancient and has been around for centuries, luring kids in with the beat of its drums before entrapping them and forcing them to play it. It also raises questions as to what other attributes of the board game that the video game may or may not have now. For example, will it still have its signature rhyming clues? Before the children get sucked into the game, will they accidentally release anything into the real world?
The synopsis is also interesting to me in that, even though this movie will feature a magical video game, it appears that the world the kids will be sucked into is the same as the board game, for it makes direct reference to Robin Williams’ character of Alan Parrish. This poses some interesting questions in that, if it’s the same world, why do our new heroes assume avatars provided to them by the game upon entering the jungle? The original movie made it clear that Alan grew up, in his real body, within the game. Also, if the original film established there is a magical board game that transports people to a jungle world, and this one establishes there is a magical video game that transports people to the same world, what are the implications of that? Does this mean there is some kind of witch out there creating these objects? To what end? Can we get a story explaining the origin of these games? Because that’s a movie I want to see! (And something tells me that history won’t even be touched on in this sequel.)
I mentioned above how the premise of a magical video game, in concept alone, lacks the charm of the original’s magic board game. To expand upon this, I’m also worried that this “modern technology” will mean the look of the jungle within the game is too fresh and new looking. One of the things that impresses me about Jumanji to this day is how old the world seems. While we don’t get to see the jungle within the game itself, we do get to see the things that emerge from it. And though some of the effects haven’t stood the test of time – like the horrendous CGI monkeys – all of the animals look like they’ve lived life and have a history to them; the character of the hunter Van Pelt also looked like he’d been living his own adventure within the game for years before we met him. I’m afraid that with the game itself being a video game in this new movie, the filmmakers will make the jungle our heroes are transported to – and all of the inhabitants within it – look too modern and new. The first official picture of the cast released from the film does nothing to alleviate my fears as they look like contemporary action stars, rather than people who have been inhabiting an ancient jungle world for years.
And speaking of Van Pelt, that character has got to be in this movie right? The synopsis makes reference to what “Alan Parrish left 20 years ago”; that could be any number of things, but one thing we know for sure is that the life Alan lived within the game was complicated by Van Pelt, who hunted him from years. At the end of the original movie, when our heroes beat the game and everything was sucked back into it, we saw Van Pelt go back too – alive and well. Surely he’ll make an appearance in this movie! If he does, I just hope that Sony managed to bring back the original actor, Jonathan Hyde, to reprise the role; he was great in the part.
Let’s turn our attention to cast members we know for sure are in the movie, however: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan. Look, I love all four actors – I’m particularly fond of Karen Gillan from her time on Doctor Who where she played Amelia Pond – but they don’t inspire confidence within me as to what type of tone director Jake Kasdan is trying to strike with this movie. Hart and Black in particular are known for their broader, comedic roles. And while the first Jumanji was comedic, its comedy was situational and rooted in realism. The casting choices indicate to me that Kasdan is going for a more over-the-top tone in this film, made all the more apparent by the fish-out-of-water aspect of the kids being transported into the jungle and being trapped within bodies that are not their own. And if you need more proof as to the type of humor this movie appears as though it will indulge in, look no further than the fact that “popular girl Bethany becomes a middle-aged male professor” who has the body of Jack Black. I get that this is a coming of age story in which four very different kids are being forced to work together and discover new truths about themselves in order to escape the game, but I don’t understand why the kids can’t just retain their real bodies in the jungle like Alan Parrish did twenty-years ago; why do they need to inhabit avatars? And if they have to inhabit avatars, why can’t there be two men and two women to correspond with the two boys and two girls playing the game?
The biggest reason I’m worried about this movie, however, is the fact that it serves as a direct sequel to the original film. By the look of it so far, the name Jumanji could have been removed from the script and the mainstream audience would probably have never even made the connection to the original. It probably would have still been a hit too because I bet the majority of parents would still take their kids to see a family adventure movie about children getting trapped inside the world of a video game. But it’s not even the Jumanji brand I’m worried about being tarnished here, it’s the legacy of Robin Williams’ character Alan Parrish. I don’t like that the film is making direct reference to him, and something that the character left in the jungle years ago that our new heroes need to discover. For an entire generation of kids, Williams will be remembered as the grumpy but charismatic man from the jungle who escaped from a board game. Now, Sony seems to want to expand on his character in this follow-up despite the fact that Robin Williams is no longer around to be a part of it. I just wish they left it alone. Even if they insisted on doing a sequel to the original, they didn’t need to make mention of Alan Parrish – especially since this premise involves a video game, not a board game.
It does, however, give me some small comfort knowing that Dwayne Johnson understands just how important it is to incorporate Robin Williams’ character the right way, even though he’ll only be mentioned and not seen. In an Instagram post dated August 22nd 2016, the Rock wrote:
“As a producer on this movie and someone who loves the original, you have my word we’ll honor the legend of “Alan Parrish” and properly introduce a whole new generation to the fun and crazy JUMANJI universe that so many of us loved and grew up on.”
I’m an optimistic person by nature, but as an enormous fan of the original, I can’t help being extremely nervous about this sequel. I’m sure there are some of you who might consider all of my concerns nitpicking, especially since they’ve all sprung from a short synopsis released by Sony, but I believe they’re valid. Hopefully, the movie addresses them all in a satisfying way, and I hope that once I see an official trailer, my mind will be put a little more at ease. Even if the trailer doesn’t do much to allay my worries, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll end up seeing this movie with an open mind regardless upon its release and judge it on its own merits. In the meantime, I’ll bet you my bottom dollar that when a trailer is finally released for this film, it’s going to feature some version of Guns N’ Roses’ classic song Welcome to the Jungle.
What are your expectations for Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle? Are you excited for it? Do you plan on seeing it in theaters upon its release? Let me know in the comments below!