Monday, March 31, 2014

Films That Should Be : Jumanji 2

Jumanji had all the makings of trilogy, it's hard to fathom then how a sequel was never made. The end scene of the film was clearly set up for sequel, in such a way that I wouldn't be surprised if a script was on stand-by. Besides it made a lot of money at the box-office, raking in $262,797,249 worldwide and becoming the 7th highest grossing movie of 1995, just under the marvellous GoldenEye. It received mixed reviews from critics but audience goers paid with their wallets and thought it was the best family movie of the holidays.

I personally saw it in cinemas in '95 and I enjoyed the hell out of it. When I left the cinema I day-dreamed about the possibilities of a sequel, as the ending made me anticipate one. It would surely be more extraordinary and more wild than the first, perhaps they would travel to the jungle itself? Or maybe it would be set in a desolate theme park, there were numerous doors opening in my mind. I'm sure many others thought just as myself that it wouldn't be long until a new Jumanji.

I became a fan overnight and as Christmas was only a week away my family quickly knew what to get me. Many sleepless nights later and the fateful day rolled around, I got given the official movie tie-in novel and board game. One thing I really wanted was the board game. To me as a kid it's style and design was a work or art, so I was wrapped and quite content regardless of whatever other presents I got. Now this game wasn't quite like the movie as that was wooden and this was cardboard, but it's overall effect was the same and I was happy to have it. The novel was a fun read that I'd re-read ad-nauseam just to remember every detail, until it was eventually released on cable.

Many years have now passed and Jumanji isn't the golden gem I once thought. It's not bad by any means but the CGI hasn't stood the test of time and now feels dated. Secondly some comedic parts feel too kiddy like what you'd expect from an Ernest movie, but 19 years later there's still much to enjoy.

I first expected a sequel within the coming years around '98 or so. There was rumours flying and tidbits of news circulating on Entertainment Tonight, yet sadly nothing was confirmed or eventuated. Years rolled on I'd given up hope and instead become preoccupied with Pokemon, Dawson's Creek and various cartoons including Jumanji. I definitely felt the cartoon was the best and closest to a sequel we'd get.

Why Jumanji 2 wasn't made remains a mystery, much of it's history is unintentionally or intentionally shrouded in secrecy. Zathura was the most recent link which was given the unofficial title of a sequel, yet it's merely the same author and features a board game that manifests things. The board game itself is very different to the 1995 film and most importantly isn't 'Jumanji'.

In '99 aintitcool news revealed a plot outline for the sequel which concerned The President of The United States visiting a strange shop somewhere in Europe, where he sees and buys the magical board game, perhaps as a present for his children. He takes it back to America and strikes up a game with the Vice President in the oval office. Unfortunately the President makes the same mistake as Alan Parrish and is sucked into the jungle of Jumanji, after which the Vice-President who has pesky ulterior motives, takes advantage of the situation and quickly hides the board game. Eventually resulting in him becoming President and all hell breaking loose.

I assume Robin Williams turned down the role a couple of years prior and 'Plan-B' was opted, which unmistakably sounds awful. Not only is the President unrelatable but uninteresting, cliche and way too grand, even in the adventurous spirit of the first movie. I can only hope this was a very loose plot device that would have counted for 10 minutes of actual screen time, then thankfully focused on another family. The cartoon series had much better plot potential with a hefty number episodes working flawlessly as a continuation of the film.

Ken Ralston was reportedly attached to direct, basically using the sequel as a launching pad to make Mysterious Island sometime after. Ralston has no direction to his name but a large list of visual effects supervising work on many films including Jumanji. Which in theory sounds like a great fit although by most reports he would have rushed the sequel and it would've suffered. It even got to the stage of preliminary animation before Ralston left the project, which seemed to steam from arguments with Sony, who were then in charge.

I can't say I'm sad this effort didn't get off the ground. The wrong people were involved, the plot was almost non-existent and most importantly it wasn't a continuation of the first film, but something very different and mostly tacked-on. I believe Robin Williams was a stepping-stone to a faithful new chapter that would've been true to the original while elaborating more strange characters and problems from the jungle. It's difficult to imagine that more attempts and efforts weren't made subsequent or prior.

Williams would have opted out of a sequel after '95 because he was too busy. Making 5 films a year until the turn of the millennium, It would be surprising if he even considered cramming Jumanji 2 somewhere in the mix. Williams was clearly riding the wave of success and a sequel would have been beneath him, while also unusual as he only ever returned to play Genie in Aladdin until later roles.

2005 would have been an ideal time to make a sequel as it was the ten year anniversary and Robin Williams' schedule was relatively empty with only two films to his name that year, The Big White and Robots, the latter being one he could do in his sleep. Williams would have been in his early 50's, a few years before his heart problems, and raring to have a another crack at a family comedy after a series of dark dramas and thrillers.
Zathura was also released in 2005, which maybe coincidental but to me adds weight that the ten year mark was ideal and something studio heads would have wanted. Perhaps after exhausting their efforts they settled on Chris Van Allsburg's other children's book.

Maybe it's a good thing it wasn't made but I can't help wondering what might have been if not for a few obstacles. Especially something so successful and wildly popular that it now seems odd that nothing afterwards was made. Where The Crow gets 3 sequels after the Brandon Lee's death and Jumanji can't even manage one, and there's no real reason, deliberation or explanation for fans, except a visually better looking re-boot that'll surely be a pale imitation and not nearly the same.

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