Johnson, Gillan, Hart, and Black? It’s official: Jumanji’s back.
Sony has shared the first trailer for Jake Kasdan’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, the follow-up to the beloved 1995 Robin Williams movie. More than two decades after Williams’ character Alan Parrish emerged from the jungle in the original film, a new group of kids are stumbling upon the supernatural game, only to get sucked into a familiar world of tropical danger.
But as the trailer reveals, there’s a twist: Instead of centering on the iconic board game, Welcome to the Jungle follows four teenagers in Breakfast Club-style detention — Spencer (Alex Wolff), Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany (Madison Iseman), and Martha (Morgan Turner) — as they find an old video game in a school storage room. When they choose their in-game avatars and press start, they find themselves transported into the savage world of Jumanji, trapped in the bodies of the characters they chose.
“We always talk about [Welcome to the Jungle] as another Jumanji adventure,” producer Matt Tolmach tells EW. “It is very much the spirit of Jumanji, but with a different group of people and sort of a different idea. But the idea of the game that comes to life is the DNA there.”
The body-swapping concept is a key part of the film and a major departure from the original, as the four teenagers find themselves inhabiting the bodies of their avatars in the game. The nerdy Spencer is now Dwayne Johnson’s Dr. Smolder Bravestone, while football player Fridge now shares the body of the brilliant but petite Franklin “Moose” Finbar, played by Kevin Hart. Martha, a bookish overachiever, inhabits the body of the Lara Croft-like badass Ruby Roundhouse, and the popular Bethany is now Jack Black’s Professor Shelly Oberon.
“It allows this level of candor and examination because the characters are teenagers who are trying to figure out their own person, and in these new people, it complicates that mess,” Kasdan says. “But it also gives them the opportunity to take something from the experience.”
But just as the body-swapping presents a challenge to the characters, it presents a challenge to the actors, too: Johnson plays against type as a sensitive, video-game-loving high schooler, while Black spends the entire film playing a teenage girl.
“There wasn’t exactly an Actors Studio Workshop approach to this for me,” Black says, laughing. “I knew what I thought was funny about it, and I knew what I could do. I guess I subconsciously used all of my memories from high school when I was there — all of my research of high school girls from the 1980s.”
The trailer also gives a brief glimpse of Nick Jonas as Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough, a cryptic figure who the heroes encounter in the game.
“He’s a mysterious stranger that they meet in the midst of their adventure,” Kasdan explains. “At first, they’re not sure what to make of him, but he becomes a part of their effort to get out.”
The video game setting also allows the story to poke fun at some of the familiar aspects of gaming — like the female character who wears shorts and a tank top to explore the jungle. Gillan’s costume earned criticism when first look photos were released a few months ago, and at the time, Gillan tweeted, “Yes I’m wearing child sized clothes and YES there is a reason! The pay off is worth it, I promise!”
“[The character is] very knowing about what’s happening and calls it out, like, ‘What is it about these games? Why do people look like this and dress like this?’” Tolmach says. “There are so many people who know this world of video games, and it’s really great to be able to have fun with some of the tropes.”
The original Jumanji mostly revolved around the idea of this dangerous, tropical world bleeding into the real world, but Welcome to the Jungle drops its players right into the game’s setting, where Alan Parrish found himself trapped all those years ago. (Black teases that the four main characters will encounter evidence of Alan’s stay in the jungle.) The film’s jungle backdrop meant that the cast and crew spent months dodging mosquitos and filming in some of the most remote areas of Hawaii.
“Nick really embraced the jungle,” Black says. “Like, Nick Jonas would disappear for a few days and just be on a real physical adventure. He’d come back with bumps and scrapes and bruises and a big smile on his face because he’d traversed some impossible mountain scape and came down the other side of the mountain on like a zipline.”
But while Jonas immediately took to the tropics, Black says some of his other costars were a little more wary.
“Kevin has a thing about insects, and he was in a little bit of a hell,” he adds, laughing. “But he braved the storm, and it was very funny whenever he expressed his insectophobia to all of us. He also wore the most powerful DEET known to man. It was such a powerful repellant that I think it burned through a couple layers of skin.”
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle will open Dec. 20.