Why 'Jumanji' Director Jake Kasdan Chose That End-Credits Scene
[This story contains mild spoilers for Jumanji: The Next Level.]
Two years ago, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle stunned Hollywood with a box office return of $962 million worldwide. Nobody was more surprised than its director, Jake Kasdan, as he merely strived to tell a satisfying yet stand-alone story. With two successful Jumanji movies in the books after 22 years, the prospect of a sequel quickly became apparent to Kasdan and Columbia Pictures.
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“Most of what I love about the first movie was that we finished that story because I was completely focused on having that be its own stand-alone story and not feeding into a serialized story,” the helmer tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We would tell those kid stories, and it would come to an end. Since I felt like we had done that, we were going to have to figure out a new way in, and the studio agreed.”
All roads led to Jumanji: The Next Level, which just bowed to $60.1 million domestically, easily surpassing 2017’s Welcome to the Jungle and its $36.1 million opening weekend. Overseas, The Next Level earned another $85.7 million in its second weekend. In anticipation of the Jumanji franchise having a third hit on its hands, Kasdan wisely included a tantalizing post-credit scene that would return the series to its roots.
“We felt like that was an exciting thing to end on, and it suggests something that I’d actually love to see,” he explains. “At the same time … I won’t pretend that the plan is that much richer or more detailed at this point.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Kasdan discusses The Next Level’s short turnaround time; casting a figure from his childhood, Danny Glover; and giving Star Wars a run for its money.
How in the world did you turn this movie around in just two years?
(Laughs.) That’s a good question. When the first movie came out, I truly had no thought of what a sequel would be. I resisted engaging that conversation because it felt like a bad idea and tempting fate. Suddenly, when there was a conversation about doing a sequel, we really started from nothing. Beyond that, we were all sort of resolved that unless we had an idea that we thought was legitimately exciting, we weren’t going to do it. This idea came fairly quickly when I sat down and started to engage with screenwriters Jeff Pinkner and Scott Rosenberg. Once we zeroed in on the idea, we could see that it actually would be possible to get it done in this time frame. We liked the idea that the first one came out at Christmas, and we liked the idea that the next one would come out at Christmas. So, we decided to go for it. In terms of how we actually did it, we were moving really fast and didn’t stop for a minute the last two years. I’ve been in deep every minute.
Welcome to the Jungle’s worldwide gross of $962 million exceeded industry expectations by a significant margin. Internally, was there any indication that it would do as well as it did?
If there was, I was not aware of it. (Laughs.) I had no expectation that that would happen. I didn’t see that coming at all.
Aside from the characters they helped define, your family — father Lawrence Kasdan and brother Jonathan Kasdan — had nothing to do with The Last Jedi. However, since they’re still Team Star Wars, was there any joshing at the Kasdan family dinner table once Jumanji gave Star Wars a run for its money at the box office a couple years ago?
(Laughs.) Not really. No one in my family was directly involved in that movie, and I honestly never really thought we were giving that movie a run for its money. They were always going to do just fine. It was more that none of us could believe what was happening with Jumanji. We were all celebrating, and we were all stunned in the best ways. There’s a lot of ways you can get stunned, and that’s definitely one of the really good ways.
Sequels are a tricky thing. The approach is usually bigger and/or darker, while comedies often make the same movie in a different location. What was your philosophy for this one?
By nature, if we were going to do another one, it needed to, in some ways, be bigger, but the truth is that was never really driving anything. My main focus throughout has been: “If we’re going to make another one, how do we do something different from what we did the first time so that it doesn’t just feel like we’re repeating ourselves?” Those are the kind of sequels that I’m not usually interested in where it’s just another episode of the same thing. If we were going to do another episode, it had to be a different thing. So, the central big idea here was changing who the players are and adding these new characters like [Danny] DeVito and Glover that let us get into a story about some guys at a completely different point in their lives who are having this Jumanji adventure. It’s a similar kind of adventure, but it has different features, sequences and landscapes to it. The character element was the exciting idea for me.
Giving three of the four lead avatars new personalities was a considerable risk given how well the first movie did. With that in mind, were there any “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” notes from the studio at first?
Honestly, they were really supportive of the idea. I think they got excited about it the way we did. We all just sort of rallied around this big thought of how a sequel would work — that includes the actors who really responded right away. After the first one had come out, I had an early conversation with Dwayne [Johnson] about a sequel, and he had great clarity right away. He thought the exciting thing would be to play a different guy. He was just kicking it around like we all were, but he did see that that would be the most fun thing. And, I felt that way from the jump, too. I felt like we had done the other story pretty thoroughly. Most of what I love about the first movie was that we finished that story because I was completely focused on having that be its own stand-alone story and not feeding into a serialized story. We would tell those kid stories, and it would come to an end. Since I felt like we had done that, we were going to have to figure out a new way in, and the studio agreed.
Madison Iseman told me that you shot the avatar actors first on the last movie, and then you showed the real-world characters their performances as needed. Did you follow the same pattern on this pic?
Actually, the way the schedule lined up this time was the opposite. We shot the real-world portion of the movie first. In the first movie, it really served us to lead with the movie-star avatar characters and let the kids, who are brilliant, have a glimpse of how we can make those connections. In this case, it actually served us much better to do it this way, partly because of the additions of Danny and Danny. It created a slightly different dynamic that way. We had these two brilliant, iconic movie star guys playing those parts, and I really wanted Dwayne and Kevin [Hart] to see what they had done before we started their part of it. So, it worked out pretty well this time.
Did you show Johnson and Hart their dailies for reference?
Yeah, and we were able to get them together a little bit. DeVito and DJ spent some time together, and I was able to rehearse with them a bit. This configuration served the overall thing in a better way, even though it was really just a byproduct of people’s schedules. It worked out well.
What did you add or clarify via additional photography?
It was very minor, actually. Early on, the movie felt like it was playing quite well, but there were a couple of areas where it just felt like this could rhythmically work a little bit differently. So, we went and picked up a couple of fairly minor scenes, but it’s the kind of thing where something small in the right place can help everything around it. It wasn’t really informational; it was a couple little comedy scenes.
Since they wore the same wardrobe throughout the first movie, was the cast thrilled to finally change their wardrobe halfway through this movie?
(Laughs.) I think they were excited about it, and once they got up to the mountains in Calgary, they were really excited about it. It was cold up there, so they were all glad to have a little more shelter.
Given his ties to Silverado and Grand Canyon, can you talk a bit about Glover’s casting?
Danny figures largely in the last 30-plus years of our movies. For me, he looms large and always has. It’s partly because of that and because of knowing him when I was a little kid. He’s so brilliant in both of those movies that he made with my dad. There was never even a hint of a thought of anyone else. I wrote it for him. Kevin was hugely excited about the possibility from the first time we ever talked about it. That was one of the real lucky and wonderful parts of making this one was getting to work with both of those Dannys — two guys I’ve loved forever.
Besides Nora’s Diner, I didn’t notice any other nods to Alan Parrish’s story. Because Welcome to the Jungle did so well, did you feel like you were no longer beholden to the original 1995 movie?
I’ve never felt anything but admiration for the original movie. We were a little bit more focused on making that link in the first movie. We have Bebe Neuwirth (as Nora Shepherd) show up at the end, which we’re hoping will be a surprise for Jumanji completists. She’s playing the same character, Nora, that she played in that movie. She was the aunt in the Robin Williams movie. People who know and love the first movie will make the connection. I think we were mainly just focused on the task of continuing our story that we had started in Welcome to the Jungle in a way that felt organic. That, naturally, led us away from the deep backstory of the first movie.
There’s a post-credit scene of sorts, and it leaves things in a very tantalizing place. What do you want to say right now?
There’s not that much to say about it, honestly. We felt like that was an exciting thing to end on, and it suggests something that I’d actually love to see. At the same time, we have just barely gotten this movie made. (Laughs.) I won’t pretend that the plan is that much richer or more detailed at this point.
Has Rhys Darby ever delivered a take that wasn’t flawless? He’s nailed that NPC delivery.
He’s perfect. There’s nothing wrong with what that guy does, ever. He’s flawless and a total pleasure. In some ways, he’s really become the voice of our adventure. I love that he’s part of the signature of these movies. He’s a completely unique onscreen presence.
Rory McCann is not only a well-regarded actor, he’s a physically imposing one, too. Has it been difficult to find an ideal physical counterpart for Johnson?
Yes. Most of his movies require one, and everybody takes a different swing at how to do that. I had the feeling early on that if we were introducing a new villain here — which seemed appropriate just in terms of changing up the adventure story — it would be interesting to try and find a guy who’s bigger than Bravestone. There’s thematic value in the idea that the biggest and strongest avatar meets someone who’s actually bigger, and being the biggest and strongest isn’t simply enough. But, that’s really hard to find because there aren’t that many people who are convincingly bigger than DJ and are also great actors that can hang with this cast. There are some, I’m sure, but it’s not a big list. Rory is just absolutely brilliant, and anyone who knows him from Game of Thrones knows that that guy is the real deal in every conceivable way. We had Bobby Cannavale as the villain in the first movie, and he’s also an incredibly great actor, who was overqualified for what we had him doing in that movie. When the introduction of this new character presented that challenge, Rory was actually the guy I was thinking about from the jump.
Was the bridge sequence the toughest to achieve?
Yes. It was really, really challenging. It’s the best kind of challenge where you come up with something for a team of brilliant and experienced people that they have actually never done before. There’s something great about that. You can’t just say, “This is exactly like what we did on X.” So, it’s the best kind of challenge because you’re solving new problems for the first time together. The practical reality of doing it was really challenging, and we worked on it almost every day for a year and a half.
Karen Gillan really shines in that scene.
She’s both a legitimate action heroine and very much like the Martha character that she plays. The fact that she can actually be both things so completely has been this incredible gift. I think that Karen is quietly the essential part of the motor of these movies. She’s the one who makes it feel real. The danger and comedy play because you’re relating to her as an actual person. She shoulders an enormous amount of that work, and she is simultaneously really funny and this incredibly athletic action star that she’s developed into the last four or five years. She’s a rare and incredible performer.
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