by Gill Pringle

How do you make this one special?

Matt: That’s always the question with a sequel. And we went through a process that Jake [Kasdan, director] set the bar for all of us. Let’s make sure we have a story to tell if we’re going to do this again. Let’s not, just because we did it before, do it again. And so that was the challenge for us… Because the last one was such a new idea for audiences, what do you do this time? There are a couple of ideas in the movie that we thought really, really shook it up in a way that made it fresh. And that was this idea that the game that was smashed at the end of the last movie is broken but still alive in some ways. And what would it mean therefore, if all the rules were changed and that different people could enter the game and so the avatars would switch.

I think the thing with sequels is, and I say this both as someone who’s worked on them, but also as an audience member, when you go to a sequel of a movie that you really love, I think you do want the comfort of knowing that you’re going back to a world that you like, that you enjoy it, so you don’t want it to be like, forget the last movie. You want enough of that DNA, but then you also want to make sure that you’re getting something new as well. And that was the balance that we tried to strike with this, and I think we’ve found within the familiar world of Jumanji that we created before, a really interesting and new way of spinning the story.

Matt Tolmach

Hiram: And we had to do a lot of work to win the audience over, obviously with the first one. There’s this natural hesitance when people think, “they are remaking one of the most beloved movies of all time.” And that was a big thing for us, making sure people realise we’re not remaking, we’re continuing because we are huge fans of the original.

People went in and they were so surprised at what it was, and we were really getting the sentiment of “God people really love it”, and there’s an appreciation for it because there was such a sweetness in the story. That’s where the challenge is, where we all lock arms and led by Jake and saying, “Well we’re not going to do another one if we don’t have the right story, because we need to continue to pay homage to that. Continue to respect the world of Jumanji and continue on with what fans want.” Because the truth is, it’s tricky where fans want something new, but they also want to still feel what they loved so much about the first one. So, finding that that nuance of what’s going to keep us in the bubble of the warmth of Jumanji, but it’s definitely going to feel like a fresh new ride where we’re not just hitting these familiar things.

And I think we were able to hit the tone and once Jake and the writers cracked that story much to the joy of the studio, we were able to go forward.

Hiram Garcia

You also had the added difficulty that a video game by its very nature is quite formulaic. It has certain rules. You can’t change those if you’re going back into this world.

Hiram: The beauty of Jumanji is that the game will constantly evolve. In the very first one with Robin Williams, the game manifested in its own way. In ours, it manifested in its own way, through many systems that we have in the back of our mind of mythology for it, but the game ultimately wants to be played, and it will continue to evolve so that it can be played. Its main focus is that it needs to be played, and it serves a purpose when it gets played. So, evolving from a board game that wasn’t being utilised, now changing into this device that, ‘Oh, I’ll be able to get played if I turn into this’. You never know, years from now the game could evolve into something else, because ultimately it has one goal and that’s to be played. And then what it’s able to do to those who play it.

And by bringing in new characters, particularly Danny DeVito and Danny Glover’s characters, two guys who, let’s face it, don’t even know what a video game is…

Hiram: That’s a brilliant idea because it’s like before it’s kids who are savvy with these sorts of things. This time it’s two guys who don’t even grasp they’re in a video game.

Matt: Those were some of the funniest moments when we read the first draft of the script. It’s grumpy old men. I remember reading it and thinking, it’s like ‘Who’s on first’. You know the old comedy bit?

Hiram: Are we in Florida? They never get it. They just never get it. But at the root of it, no matter what it was going to be, it needed to be rooted in heart. And the journey of these two old friends in the centre of this is really what we got excited about, because we went on this great journey with these kids and now on this one, it’s still at the core about relationships. They find themselves in this game and through the game they’re going to be able to resolve their issues. It’s a very basic thing, but it’s the heart of the movie. And it’s what the audience ultimately connects with. And obviously tugs on heartstrings in the right way.

What about bringing in Awkwafina? She’s had an amazing year. At what stage does she come in your minds for a role in this film?

Matt: Honestly, she was the first person we talked about. We were all fans of hers for different reasons. Jake knew her work. She was in a crazy, funny TV show that I do called Future Man. She was in the pilot. She’s a brilliant actor and she has this crazy dead pan comedic tone. And it just seemed like with each of these people. You’re always thinking like, what’s a really funny idea to pair with this avatar? The idea that Spencer, the anxiety ridden neurotic kid is now Awkwafina…

Hiram: The first time she put that voice, we were all like, Oh my God.

Hiram, you’ve also got Jungle Cruise coming out in 2020 with The Rock.

Hiram: Something about the jungle is drawn to us. But the good thing about this is that we only touch on the jungle in this one and then we’re in the snow cap. But the truth is when we’re fortunate enough to make as many movies as we do, when it comes to locations, there’s only so many locations. You’re going to be in the snow, the desert, beach, or jungle. And it’s something about people that they love things set in the jungle and so forth. But we were very cognizant of it.

Are you excited for Jungle Cruise because you’ve delayed it by a year, was it to give yourself extra time to finish it off?

Hiram: We were very bullish on it, but we felt like it was a big summer movie and Disney was really behind it and loved the idea of moving into a bigger spot where we could potentially get a bigger place. So, we’re really excited about it. The team’s great. Emily [Blunt] and DJ [Dwayne Johnson] had such unbelievable chemistry and the movie has been testing great. It’s going to be something fun in July 20.

It’s slightly teased in the title of The Next Level, but you must be have in the back of your minds, The Final Level

Hiram: We’re superstitious so we never like to get ahead of ourselves. It’s always about the audience. If the audience gives us the love, like they did in the last one… As storytellers, we always have mythology in our head and ideas of where we want to go, but it’s all about if the audience dictates it.

Matt: Totally.

Jumanji: The Next Level is in cinemas December 26, 2019

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