The Jumanji franchise is both surprisingly simple and subtly unique. The simple part is that its two most recent films stand together as one story. Boom. Got it. However, those two films also serve as subtle sequels to the 1995 Jumanji film that, besides the title, seems completely unrelated. So when you’re talking about Jumanji: The Next Level, which was just released on Blu-ray, it’s both a part two and a part three simultaneously, depending on how you look at it.
In all three Jumanji movies, seemingly normal humans get wrapped up in a game that comes to life. In the 1995 Robin Williams-starring movie, it was a board game that expands into the real world. In both 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and 2019’s Jumanji: The Next Level, it’s a video game that brings the real world inside of Jumanji. And though there was no mandate to tie them all together, Welcome to the Jungle and Next Level director Jake Kasdan felt it was only right.
“I felt like we were separate enough that people, once they saw it, would not feel like we were actually treading on something that they love in a way that offends them, which is something that you have to be conscious of,” Kasdan told Gizmodo on the phone last week. “So knowing what I knew, which is that actually our concept is probably sufficiently different to where that wouldn’t be a problem, I liked the idea of paying our respects to the first movie and saying that that world is still alive in our continuation, even though we’re telling a different story.”
In Welcome to the Jungle, those respects are paid when the players realise Alan Parrish (the name of Williams’ character in the first movie) had previously been stuck in the same game world—Jumanji—before them. In The Next Level, it comes with the introduction of a restaurant called “Nora’s.” Nora is the aunt of Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter (Bradley Pierce), the young characters who discover and play Jumanji in the original movie. Bebe Neuwirth played the aunt in 1995 and reprises it in The Next Level as the restaurant’s owner.
“The original Jumanji has its own story and it’s exactly right the way it is,” Kasdan said. “I don’t really feel comfortable continuing that story exactly [but] this was a good way to include the world, include a character that I love and who was played by an actor that I love, and it would be a way that she could step into our stories that would be completely organic to both the original movie and to our movie.”
Much in the way Welcome to the Jungle is a somewhat surprising sequel to the original Jumanji, Kasdan told us he was originally kind of surprised to be doing a sequel to his movie too. Though Welcome to the Jungle was one of the biggest box office hits of 2017, he wasn’t immediately sure what, or if, he wanted to do as a follow-up.
“We were only going to do a sequel if we could come up with something that we were really excited about,” Kasdan said. “And so there was this initial phase of like ‘It would be great, but let’s be tough on it. We’ll have all the conversations and kick it around and see if we can figure it out.’ And then an idea that I loved came pretty quickly.”
That idea was adding a whole new generation to the story in the characters of Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Milo (Danny Glover), two older men who were formerly best friends but haven’t talked in years. They, along with the teens from Welcome to the Jungle, get sucked into Jumanji in The Next Level.
“Doing another one of these adventures, but from the point of view of these two guys, you’re just coming at it from a completely different moment in their lives,” Kasdan said. Adding Milo and Eddie gave the director the chance to get Jumanji’s two biggest stars, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, to do funny impressions of well-known older actors, but more importantly, their friendship gave the film all sorts of new themes regarding friendship, ageing, and mortality.
Whether not those characters will continue on in a sequel, we don’t know. But the end of The Last Level does hint at what could happen next in the franchise. Kasdan admits the mid-credit scene, of a flock of ostriches from earlier in the movie now running around the real world, was done very purposefully.
“It’s not random and it felt like the appropriate expansion of that story. Like the movie you would want to see. Or that I would want to see. Or a part of the movie that I would want to see,” Kasdan said. “It feels something you’d want to see. But we certainly didn’t have the whole thing figured out. We have fragments, but we’re just now starting the conversation about what that could actually look like.”
One thing that may slow down seeing a third (fourth?) Jumanji film is the very serious global pandemic currently happening in the real world. When asked if he felt Jumanji: The Next Level was coming home at the perfect time since everyone was already at home, he laughed.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” he said. “[But] I think hopefully you could be on your couch and it’s a distraction in this crazy moment.”
That, it most certainly is. Jumanji: The Next Level is will soon be available on-demand, for digital download, and on Blu-ray. It’s expected to hit Australian stores early in April.