Why the "Jumanji" Sequels Don't Hold Up to the Original
People seem to be swept up in the fantasy of Jumanji. The 2017 film was a surprise hit, raking in a global total of $962.1 million, just shy of the $1 billion mark. The new film, titled The Next Level, is sure to be a hit too. Whether it will be as big of a success remains to be seen, but it's sure to be profitable.
Why is it, though, that people seem to have forgotten what a treasure the original film was? Jumanji, starring Robin Williams and a very young Kirsten Dunst, was successful for its time, raking in $262.8 million globally. Regardless of the profit difference, the sequels will never hold a candle to the original, and I aim to explain why.
Let's look first at the biggest problem with the sequels: continuity. In the original, we're introduced to a board game which has a life of its own. It can even trap you inside itself until another player rolls a 5 or an 8. Now, when Allan Parrish (Willaims' character) is freed from the game after 26 years, he's a changed man. He's been living in the jungle all this time, hunting to survive and being hunted by horrifying things. Allan was so terrified by Jumanji that he was frightened by the very sight of the game. We were treated to all manner of terrors throughout the film, from a giant carnivorous plant to a monsoon with a crocodile, to quicksand and horrific spiders. The game even summoned a stampede of rhinos and a lion which Allan had to face off with in order to save Peter and Judy. Not to mention the greatest threat of all: the hunter Van Pelt. Fast forward to 2017. We don't get any of that in the sequels. What we get instead is tame compared to the original.
The continuity is broken in so many different ways. First of all, the game changes itself into a video game. Okay, so I know the game is magic but is it really that powerful? It can really will itself into a different form of existence? In rewriting itself, the game changed to become more like how a video game is. You get three "lives", three chances to finish the game. In the original, it was do or die. You had one shot and that was it. If you died then Jumanji never stopped until another player came along and that same chance was given to them. The sequels destroy everything the original set up in favor of a more comedic approach. To me, this absolutely ruins the spirit of Jumanji. It's supposed to be serious, frightening, and a little nightmarish. When you see the sequels, you can't help but wonder what Allan was so afraid of. You don't see the horrors that he saw. You see a bunch of silliness.
The next big difference is the cast. Now, I do enjoy the cast of the new ones but let's first consider what a feat the original accomplished. You had one big name: Robin Williams. He was the money maker. Then you had Bonnie Hunt. She had Rain Man, two Beethoven movies, and a romantic comedy alongside Robert Downey Jr called Only You under her belt. She was a big name but certainly not as big as Robin. Kirsten Dunst was relatively unknown aside from her role as Claudia in Interview with the Vampire. Bradley Pierce was also relatively unknown, aside from voicing Chip in Beauty and the Beast and portraying Sydney Chaplin Jr in Chaplin. My point is, the original film took risks. It didn't rely on star-power to make money but rather story and a lot of heart. The sequels, however, went the opposite direction. Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan are all very well-known stars, which is first and foremost what drew people in to see the film in the first place. Throw in a lot of comedy and some brainless story and there you have it - instant money with an inevitable follow-up.
The third and final major issue is the message. The original, as serious as it was, had several great messages, the first of which was friends always stick together and will always have your back. The second was cheating has consequences. Sure, you probably won't be cursed and turn into a monkey but there's consequences all the same. The sequels don't have those messages. While the sequels focus on a group of friends, there's no heart in them. The original Jumanji had you facing these terrors yourself. The sequels have you embody someone else. You're not learning anything by embodying a character. In the 2019 film, Spencer actively chooses to return to Jumanji just so he can feel what it was like to be Dr. Bravestone again. He didn't learn anything or grow as a person.
In conclusion, sadly, it seems that people don't care about messages or growth anymore. They just want to be entertained. They don't care about meaning or substance. Being able to go into a film and not think much can be a good thing, but when you're destroying a legacy in the process, that's a travesty.
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© 2019 Nathan Jasper