Sony capped off their CinemaCon presentation tonight with a brand new five-minute clip of its upcoming Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, due out on Dec. 22. Introducing Dwayne Johnson, the studio’s worldwide marketing and distribution chief Josh Greenstein said that the movie will appeal to everyone “from eight to 80.”
Released 22 years ago, the original Jumanji was built as a Robin Williams blockbuster vehicle at the height of his B.O. trajectory post Mrs. Doubtfire. Based on the 1981 classic Chris Van Allsburg childrens’ book, Jumanji follows a young boy and his sister, who while their parents are away, uncover a jungle board game. But when they start to play it, all the animals spring to life and spiral out of control. When they scream the word “Jumanji” all the action goes back into the box. Made for $65M, Jumanji minted $267M at the global B.O. and also featured performances from Patricia Clarkson, David Alan Grier and a young Kirsten Dunst. The pic was shot in the college New England town of Keene, NH.
However, director Jake Kasdan’s take on Jumanji gives the game concept a major dusting off, taking the action inside a video game which serves as a portal through space and time. Beyond this reveal, the clip identifies the new film’s body swapping concept, with the teenagers at the film’s center taking on avatars in the game’s jungle world, embodied by Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart and Karen Gillan. Don’t worry, the rhinos from the original movie are in there too in a stampede scene.
Though while changing up Jumanji‘s game, Kasdan considers it a sequel to the 1995 film, not a reboot.
“Jumanji is the kind of movie that I think people shouldn’t out-and-out remake. To me, a big part of its power is in the unique elements of its original execution. Within that, I think there’s this central idea and mythology that’s mysterious, but powerful, and commands a powerful part of the imagination,” Kasdan said.
“I was a fan of the original movie, and I felt like this [Jumanji update] really honored it, and included a lot of the stuff that I loved about the original movie, but did it in a really new way,” Kasdan said of his attraction to the project, noting the longevity of the original film. “It really holds up. You go back and watch it — it’s a very unusual and original kid’s movie. It’s unusually scary and magical, in a way that’s different from a lot of other magical kid’s movies.”
Former Sony Pictures’ co-president of production, Matt Tolmach, who serves as a producer on Jumanji, found inspiration to take on the project in a personal place: Watching his son experience the original Jumanji children’s book for the first time. “I was literally home with my kid one day, reading the Chris Van Allsburg book to him, and watching him be mesmerized and transported by it,” says Tolmach. “I always thought there was this incredible idea within the movie — and obviously, its DNA going back to the book — that there was this life within the game. What if I could just live in there, and leave this world with all of its troubles and anxieties and all of that, and just go into this game?”
“The walls between our reality and entertainment are becoming virtually transparent or invisible. The whole idea behind this movie is that you literally inhabit a game,” Tolmach said about the body swapping conceit. “We all think of games as something you play, and then it’s time for dinner, or you need to go to work or do your homework, and you walk away from the game. But if you’re actually in a game, those rules are very different and the stakes of that game become very real.”
While attempting to continue the Jumanji story without treading familiar ground, Kasdan found that the biggest creative challenge was working on an action and effects heavy blockbuster — a change-up from the absurdist and raunchy comedies he’s known for including Zero Effect, Orange County and Bad Teacher.
“I’ve never made a movie quite like this before, with this kind of action and effects component to it, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and it was a great education,” he said. “I surrounded myself with people who were very experienced in that way, and have worked on all kinds of huge movies, and who have experience in world-creating type movies, where mostly the work that I’ve done has taken place in a pretty recognizable reality.”