Two years after Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle became a box office smash, Sony is back with a sequel (and overall third film in the franchise) that brings new faces and uncharted territory into the video game. In Jumanji: The Next Level, the teens from the first film are now in college and are once again sucked into the Jumanji game, transforming into avatars (played by Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan) and mistakenly bringing Grandpa Eddie (Danny DeVito) and his estranged friend Milo (Danny Glover) into the alternate reality with them.
“The key was trying to find a fresh, creative twist from the first movie — the first movie fortunately did so well around the world,” Johnson told reporters at the Los Angeles premiere Monday. “Of course bringing in the two Dannys, Danny Glover and Danny DeVito, was the key element for us and introducing new characters with Awkwafina and some other surprises as well.”
Awkwafina, who joins as video game avatar Ming, said she was “such a big fan” of Robin Williams’ 1995 version, and after meeting with director Jake Kasdan, “I was like, ‘How can I not?'” The star’s red carpet appearance came just hours after her Golden Globes nomination for The Farewell, and she was still in celebration mode. Co-star Alex Wolff even ran down the press line shouting, “She’s a Golden Globes nominee! Just want everyone to know!’ as Awkwafina tried to calm him with, “Appreciate that, thank you, thank you.”
Aside from the new additions, the film expands the Jumanji world with explorations of the desert, jungle, mountains and the creatures who live there, which called for shoots in California, Atlanta, Hawaii and Canada and some harsh conditions for the cast.
Gillan — previously the only female star, who admitted that with Awkwafina coming on board, “I was just happy to have another girl around, I needed that” — recalled shooting the first half of the movie in a “luxurious” studio, before being sent out to film in the humid jungle and snowy mountains in Calgary.
“At one point we could see a blizzard coming toward us and we were like, ‘Should we maybe get off this mountain?’ and they’re like, ‘We’ll just finish this scene and then we’ll get off the mountain,'” she said. “It was very extreme, but it’s so worth it when you watch the film.”
Nick Jonas had similar challenges with the “very intense and very cold” conditions, remembering “Kevin Hart, having just come up on one of the snowmobiles — that was the only way to get to set — and the wind blowing in his face so much that he started to cry, and so off camera as we’re all trying to do our scene he’s just crying because of the wind. He’s obviously already funny but when you add that element to it, it gets even better.”
The singer, who was supported at the premiere by brothers Joe and Kevin Jonas, also spoke about the story’s use of the body swap to show “something very true, which is identity and being who you are, seeing the core of who people are through their shell that they’re wearing — in our version it’s an avatar. It’s a theme that I really related with and connected with on the last one and felt that they did an even better job this time.”
The premiere, held at TCL Chinese Theater in Hollywood, also welcomed stars Hart, Black, DeVito, Glover, Colin Hanks and Lamorne Morris, as well as guests Max Greenfield, Keegan-Michael Key and Constance Zimmer. Jumanji: The Next Level opens Friday.