As the holiday release of Jumanji: The Next Level nears, the success of the series can ironically be credited how loosely it has followed the original book that spawned it. Beginning with 1995’s Jumanji, a follow-up of sorts arrived with 2005’s Zathura: A Space Adventure, though the link between the two was more due to the marketing than the films sharing any actual ties (which was the case between the two books they were based upon). The series didn’t really become what it is today until the release of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, and to call it a massive surprise hit would be an understatement.
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Jumanji: The Next Level is set to hit theaters on December 13th, retaining the video game premise and original cast of its predecessor, while adding some new faces and once again switching up much of the “gameplay”. Early reactions to The Next Level have been highly positive, with some even going as far as to describe it as superior to its predecessor. All of this clearly signals The Next Level becoming as much of a runaway success as Welcome to the Jungle was.
Looking over the series as a whole, each individual instalment has been increasingly distant from the original book by Chris Van Allsburg, and it is quite evident that the decision to diverge from the original story has been a major component of the success of the franchise. At its core, the Jumanji series retains the book’s foundation of a jungle adventure game coming to life, with each film taking varying degrees of liberty in executing it. Given where the Jumanji franchise currently stands, it makes perhaps the most compelling case yet that, as opposed to adapting a given source material outright, it’s sometimes better to give it a complete makeover.
Jumanji Adapted The Book (But Changed Some Things)
The original Jumanji, which remains a beloved family adventure to this day, is the only film in the series with any direct ties to the original book, but it also also added plenty of its own material to the story. In fact, the majority of the what it places its focus on are elements unique to the film itself. While Judy and Peter are still present (now being raised by their Aunt Nora after their parent’s deaths), they’re joined by the new characters Alan Parrish and Sarah Whittle, portrayed by Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt, who began playing Jumanji back in 1969; Alan was imprisoned in the game until 1995, when Peter rolls a five, freeing Alan from the game.
The movie also introduced the villainous game hunter Van Pelt, played by Johnathan Hyde (who also played Alan’s father). The events of the movie are undone completely after Allan wins the game, as he and Sarah are returned to 1969. Released during the height of Robin Williams’ comedic stardom, Jumanji was heavily marketed on its leading man, as well as its then-groundbreaking visual effects work. Chris Van Allsburg has spoken positively of the film despite the alterations made from his original story. While Jumanji would prove to be a box office hit and a celebrated entry in the filmography of Robin Williams, what came next would flip the script in more ways than one.
Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle Left Everything Behind
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was a stunning surprise-hit if ever there was one. The sequel would follow a group of high school kids who discover the game (now a video game) while serving in detention, taking on the form of the different characters they chose to play after being pulled into the world of Jumanji. They subsequently join forces with another kid who was pulled into Jumanji two decades earlier (Jumanji having transformed itself into a video game after noticing his apathy towards it) in order to beat the game and make it home. Welcome to the Jungle would carry single strand of connective tissue with the original, with a brief glimpse at the hut occupied by Alan Parrish during his time in Jumanji, while whatever connection the series had previously had with the original book was now tossed out the window completely.
With Robin Williams’ iconic performance in the original film still strong within the public’s memory, and the sequel arriving after a whopping twenty-two years after the 1995 film, Welcome to the Jungle wasn’t expected to be anywhere near the runaway hit that it ultimately was, especially going up against the season’s eight-hundred pound gorilla, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. However, Welcome to the Jungle pulled off a major Christmas miracle by emerging as a towering success during the 2017 holiday season, and by the New Year had taken the number one spot at the weekend box office from The Last Jedi, while also surpassing 2002’s Spider-Man to become Sony’s biggest domestic hit. While it might look to the naked eye like Welcome To The Jungle pulled off all of its unexpected accomplishments despite its deviations from the source material, a much stronger case can be made that its shocking success was a direct result of charting its own course.
What The Next Level Says About Adapting Source Material
With Jumanji: The Next Level arriving in theaters next weekend, the series has risen to a level of anticipation and popularity that would have seemed completely impossible two years ago. As with its predecessor, The Next Level will also open within the vicinity of a Star Wars movie, namely the upcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; however, this time, the former’s box office success is now a foregone conclusion. All of that can be directly attributed to how much the basic Jumanji premise has been completely reinvented (with The Next Level also set to have new characters taking on a few of the in-game character’s roles, as well.)
The Jumanji series, at this point, has radically transformed the story of the book, while having only the most bare minimum ties to the original movie. All of this clearly demonstrates that not only will audiences accept a movie making significant alterations to an existing source material, but that doing so can actually be the wisest course of action. Had Welcome To The Jungle simply repeated the “living board game” premise of the original with a new set of characters, there’s no reason to expect that it would have seen the level of success that it did, especially arriving so long after the original Jumanji. By transforming itself into a video game adventure, Welcome to the Jungle offered audiences something completely fresh and different within a recognizable IP, and in so doing, set up The Next Level to continue with the new Jumanji flavor, with the series now having effectively rebooted itself without actually hitting the rest button.
As the holiday movie season prepares to kick off, The Next Level is arriving with genuine audience excitement and anticipation. By contrast, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was the underdog two years ago, one that nevertheless proved to be a massive triumph for Sony while re-invigorating a long-dormant franchise that never really was one. At this point, it is clear that the complete revamp that it gave to the series is the exact reason why Jumanji: The Next Level is now assured to be one of the biggest hits of the holiday season.
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