The cast and crew of Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, aren't looking to move on from Robin Williams" they're looking to honor the spirit that he made synonymous with Jumanji. That isn't meant as a slight against the rest of the cast, crew, or the book upon which the first film was based. But there's no denying that when audiences rush out to see this new Jumanji in the numbers the studio is hoping, they'll be driven as much by their love of the first movie as its late star.
Not wishing to remake, reboot, or in any other way replace the original or its star (this new Jumanji continues the same mythology), the makers of Welcome To The Jungle faced a unique challenge: embracing the past, while still coming up with a movie that did more than repeat the original. But as we learned from our visit to the film's set, the need to honor not just the brand, but Robin Williams was on their minds from the very beginning.
Even before the film ramped up to full production, it was Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson who got out in front of any potential grumblings, stating that respecting Williams' legacy and doing right by the movie he made so memorable wasn't up for debate. While speaking with Johnson on the film's set, he reiterated the pressure of making a follow-up adventure to "a beloved movie" that "became even more beloved with the passing of Robin." Make no mistake: according to Johnson, that was his top priority:
That was the number one thing. I just wanted to have open dialogue with Jake [Kasdan] and Matt Tolmach, our producers. And the studio. What is the way that we can pay homage to the original movie, not only the original move but also to Robin Williams, in a way that felt good... that made people feel good but as you said, not get bogged down in it. I think we came up with some really nice ways to pay homage and I think the family is going to be very, very happy with it.
Producer Matt Tolmach echoes that sentiment, confirming that Robin Williams - and his character, specifically - is "massively important" to their current goal:
You know, Dwayne has been pretty open about it in his various Tweets and Instagram posts about it, that the spirit of Robin is something that you'll feel. And the spirit of Alan Parrish is something you'll feel in this movie. And again as a fan, all of us want to pay homage to him and that character.
Tolmach later explained how Alan Parrish's influence on Jumanji will grow thanks to the new mythology they've developed - entirely in keeping with the core concept of the Jumanji game. In short, a game that operates by its own rules, through time and space, with the same spirit maintained (no matter how much the game itself may change). From a fictional standpoint, Johnson also teased the larger importance they'll be placing on Alan's time spent in Jumanji's jungle, the evidence of which this new ensemble cast will find along their own journey.
Director Jake Kasdan was last to emphasize the fact that, as someone who built his career in comedy TV shows and films, respect and admiration for Robin Williams goes without saying. Where Jumanji is concerned, Kasdan explained how this "continuation" of the series was shaped carefully. They're all continuing along the path that Williams made, after all:
So obviously-- he's a hero. To anyone who works in comedy, like I have for a long time, Robin Williams is this towering figure. We miss him a lot, but also know his work like... it's like canon kind of comedy material. So it's something where he looms large to a lot of people who do this stuff.
I think we've laced it in in a way that I hope is clever. I think that [Robin's] performance and the character are incredibly resonant so we were very conscious of acknowledging his place at the top of Jumanji Mountain.
Here's hoping all involved have found the sweet spot, reminding audiences of the reason they fell in love with Jumanji - and proving that Williams may be gone, but he is far from forgotten.
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) release date: Dec 20, 2017