Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle could have easily been a cynical nostalgia cash-in — a reboot of a beloved 1995 film and 1981 picture book, now with big stars like The Rock, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan. Instead, it was something more earnest and charming, with humor appealing to kids and adults — and, helpfully, wasn’t actually a reboot.
As a result, the film outperformed both critical and financial expectations, and was the rare major studio film that actually saw box office numbers increase from its opening weekend to the second. Not surprisingly, a sequel has already been announced, following its $941.7 million worldwide gross.
With the film now available on a variety of home formats, CBR talked to Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle director Jake Kasdan — who was previously best known for his work on raunchy comedies such as Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Bad Teacher and Sex Tape — about the film’s surprise success. With the backdrop of the soon-to-debut Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle escape room in Hollywood (produced by 60out Escape Rooms and open on March 29), Kasdan discussed the importance of the film’s young cast — the students who become The Rock, et al, when transported to Jumanji — the enduring power of author Chris Van Allsburg and some very (very) preliminary thoughts on the follow-up film, which he’s on board to direct.
CBR: Jake, expectations weren’t small going into opening weekend for Jumanji — it’s a big movie with a lot of big stars — but people were surprised by the amount it succeeded, and how it performed week to week with great word of mouth. What do you think it was that made people connect to this movie the degree they did?
Jake Kasdan: First of all, I would say we were as surprised as anyone that it’s kept going the way it has. We’re all completely thrilled about it. It’s been just this fantastic and fun and humbling thing. People found it over the course of a long time, and then told their friends, and kept going back to see it again. I always hoped, as I was making this movie, that it could be like a big, satisfying movie for a generation of families. It was a lot like the kind of movies that I loved growing up. The fact that it has sort of found that life is fantastic. I couldn’t be happier about it.
That speaks to a universal quality. It’s definitely a family movie, but I know plenty of single adults in their 20s and 30s who loved it. Was that an aspect you saw in it, or something you’ve been pleasantly surprised about?
As much as we always knew it was a movie for families, i was always really essential to me that it be a movie that I would love now. We were trying to make it actually funny in a way that translates for people of all different ages. In a way, we were always trying to age it up, and hoping that it could be legitimately entertaining on a date, as well as if you take your little kids — or kids can take their parents, kids can take their grandparents. That it could work in a lot of different contexts like that.
If anything, I was surprised that little kids connected with it more than I expected to. I always thought the sense of humor was a little more adult, you know?
Usually when you hear that with a family movie, it becomes a cynical thing — this movie felt rather un-cynical.
That’s great, I’m glad to hear that.
Right now, something that’s optimistic and not cynical almost feels edgy.
I do think that is part of it. It’s a very affirmative movie. The messages of it are very classic, but positive, affirmative messages. Hopefully delivered in a way that doesn’t feel cornball, because the big conceit of the thing is a big, fun idea.
Also, the movie has a big wish-fulfillment component to it, which is what I originally loved about this idea. Who hasn’t had some version of the fantasy — “What if I could be the kind of hero that I love in movies, or I love in games?” The fact that we were able to convince these people to come and be in this movie, who were the exact right people for it — who hasn’t looked at The Rock and wondered, on some level, I wonder what it’s like to be that guy? To carry yourself through the world like that?
Then there’s a huge measure of just luck. The right moment for the right movie, and you happen to get people to show up, and are grateful that they enjoyed it enough to come back.
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