Jumanji 2 was originally set to feature the President of the United States unleashing hybrid animals in Washington DC – here’s the story of the lost sequel.
This feature contains a mild spoiler for Jumanji: The Next Level.
The road to the blockbusting success of 2017’s Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle was a long one. Where the original film, directed by Joe Johnston, was a VFX-driven action-adventure with a relatively straight-faced lead performance from Robin Williams, the belated sequel was a much more comedic spin on the premise of a magic board game that causes mayhem for its players.
Released just before Christmas 1995, the first film wasn’t warmly received by critics (Roger Ebert notably slated it for being too scary for younger children, which I assure you was actually part of the appeal for me as a younger child) but it was a box-office smash, opening at number 1 in the US and going on to gross more than $262 million worldwide.
Jumanji blends aspects of Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life and Penny Marshall’s Big with a load of animal mayhem, starting its story with 1960s tween Alan Parrish getting trapped inside the game after trying to stop a game mid-play. 26 years later, two young siblings (Kirsten Dunst and Bradley Pierce) start playing the game and Alan (now played by Williams) emerges from the wilderness to help them reach the end, discovering that his hometown went to hell without him in the process.
At the end, time is reset, and the board game is thrown in the ocean, eventually washing up on a beach for a French family to find in the ominous final shot. With that ending and that level of box-office success, it’s unsurprising that a sequel was on the cards.
The terrifically entertaining Welcome To The Jungle eventually took a route closer to the 1996 animated spin-off series, which adapts the film’s story into a clue-of-the-week adventure series with Peter and Judy going into the jungle in each episode. Meanwhile, the original pitch for Jumanji 2 hews closer to the first film, with a few massive curveballs thrown in.
For one thing, Williams and the cast weren’t going to be invited back for a second game, with the game resurfacing to imperil a new family – specifically the First Family of the United States. For another, where the original uses then-cutting-edge special effects to create familiar beasts, this one was set to get a little more fantastical…
The script for Jumanji 2 was written by Jonathan Hensleigh, the only returning screenwriter from the 1995 film, and reportedly starts with US President John Cooper buying the game from a European antique shop as a souvenir for his family. Upon playing the game, the commander-in-chief is sucked into the world of Jumanji as Alan once was, leaving the opportunistic Vice President Snyder to take over his job.
One year later, Cooper emerges from the game with a horde of wild animals at his beck and call to help him take back America. If there’s a tenuous Capra reference for this one, it’s more of Mr Smith Goes To Washington than It’s A Wonderful Life, but only if Mr Smith had unleashed animal carnage at his final filibuster.
What’s more, it’s worth remembering that the original film has the Parrish house utterly destroyed by animals and freak accidents by the finale. 1996’s Independence Day may already have blown up Pennsylvania Avenue, but this would probably have got out ahead of 2013’s duelling ‘Die Hard in the White House’ movies Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down if the famous residence had gone the same way, this time by means of a nightmare family board game.
Visual effects supervisor Ken Ralston was set to direct the sequel, taking over from Johnston. Ralston started his career on the original Star Wars trilogy but is best known for his work on Robert Zemeckis’ films, winning Best Visual Effects Oscars for Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her, (on which he also served as Second Unit Director) and Forrest Gump.
At this point in time, Ralston was president of Sony Pictures’ effects house, Imageworks, and he intended to make Jumanji 2 his directorial debut. In 1999, he told Variety, “when I read the script, I saw the opportunity to do something unique and entirely different, less a sequel and more of an original.”
The sequel was set to be released in 2000, around the same Christmas release date that had been advantageous for the first Jumanji. As development trundled on and several writers were brought in to rewrite the script, casting information was sparse, but Ain’t It Cool News reported that Steve Buscemi was being eyed to play the villainous VP.
What’s more, the political thriller element isn’t even the oddest aspect of the Jumanji 2 script. In terms of merchandising, the first film had a board game tie-in from Milton Bradley that was very popular, (I can tell you from experience, it was sold out in toy shops throughout North East England after the film hit UK cinemas in early 1996) but following the wisdom of Mel Brooks’ Yogurt in Spaceballs, the studio obviously knew that merchandise is where the real money to be made from movies.
And so, with an increased focus on visual effects and a drive for more ‘toyetic’ tentpole films in the same year as The Phantom Menace relaunched the Star Wars merchandising juggernaut, Sony Consumer Products went to a 1999 licensing convention with concept art for new hybrid animals that would appear in the next Jumanji film.
Ewa Martinoff, Sony Consumer Products’ VP of Marketing and Brand Planning, explained to Kidscreen: “The original had trouble becoming its own unique entity because the animals were traditional animals, and lots of companies already license animals such as giraffes and elephants. The new characters are unique proprietary characters.”
While the art has never emerged online, these original characters reportedly included a half-crocodile/half-ostrich cross-breed, a half-rhino/half-flamingo hybrid, and a half-giraffe/half-elephant monster.
Designed by Ralston and brought to life by Imageworks in the planned film, these creatures would have been part of the planned Jumanji 2 action figure line.
Whatever the thinking behind it, we’re not going to argue with any studio that wants a movie where the President of the United States leads an army of alien-looking animals in a coup on his own White House. We don’t know if it would have been any good, but it certainly would have been unexpected…
As with the first film, the script was redrafted several times, by writers including Steve Oedekerk, Don Rhymer, and the author of the original Jumanji picture book Chris Van Allsburg. Production was set to begin in late 1999, but this version of the sequel stalled after Ralston stepped down from the project in early 2000.
By 2002, Sony was said to be pursuing another pitch for a Jumanji sequel from director Denis Dugan, who wanted to bring back Robin Williams in the lead role and give him a more comedic part this time around. However, this came at a point where Williams was taking more serious films like One Hour Photo and Insomnia, and perhaps that’s why it didn’t get further than the development stage.
Instead, the first Jumanji follow-up to make it to our screens was 2006’s Zathura: A Space Adventure, based on another Van Allsburg book. It was more warmly received by critics but didn’t do as well at the box office. All in all, it’s a fun family film that firms up Favreau’s big sci-fi effects movie credentials ahead of later works like Iron Man and The Lion King, but regrettably, it doesn’t feature any hybrid animals laying siege to the White House.
You might think that a Jumanji sequel would have been revived during the rush to adapt toys and board games for the screen after 2007’s Transformers, but the sequel buzz died down after Zathura underperformed. As mentioned, the eventual reboot finally turned Jumanji into an ongoing franchise, with a further sequel, The Next Level, following in 2019, and a fourth film in early development. Going by the mid-credits tease on that third film, the new instalment could be coming back around to the kind of real-world mayhem the series originally intended.
Meanwhile, Ralston moved on to develop a new version of H.G. Wells’ novel The Mysterious Island, another monster mash that had previously been adapted in 1961. Funnily enough, both the Jumanji sequel and the next screen version of Mysterious Island (itself a sequel to 2008’s Journey To The Centre Of The Earth) wound up being turned into Dwayne Johnson vehicles instead.
While he’s yet to direct a feature, Ralston is now the creative head at Imageworks and has continued to collaborate with Zemeckis on movies like The Polar Express (another Van Allsburg adaptation) and Beowulf. He later bagged another Oscar nod for his work on Disney’s live-action Alice In Wonderland remake and received a well-earned lifetime achievement award from the Visual Effects Society in 2016.
Finally, at the time of writing, I don’t know what’s happening in US politics as you read this, but without the real concept art to share, I’ve done what any self-respecting film journalist would do and commissioned my brother Sean to draw what Jumanji 2 might have looked like for your enjoyment. And remember, if anyone wants to commission Film Stories action figures based on the Crostrich, the Flaming Rhino, and Giralephant, our DMs are always open.
Illustration by Sean Harrison
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