Ready or not, nostalgic kids of the '90s, here it comes: a Jumanji remake, for some reason. Despite being completely perfect in its original form, Hollywood is rebooting the 1995 film, which originally starred Robin Williams, baby Kirsten Dunst, and some very mischievous computer-generated monkeys. According to The Hollywood Reporter, screenwriter Zach Helm will roll the dice and take his chances adapting Chris Van Allsburg's beloved story for the big screen reboot, which is being produced by Ted Field and Mike Weber for Columbia Pictures. (There are no stars or director attached to the project yet.) Hollywood.com has reached out to Helm's reps.
The book Jumanji, about two children named Judy and Peter Shepard who unleash a jungle (quite literally) when they play the titular magical board game, differed in many ways from the movie, including making Judy and Peter orphaned and adding a backstory about a man named Alan (played by Williams) who has been trapped in the world of the game for years. It will be interesting to note the direction in which Helm — who penned both the imaginative, serious Will Ferrell vehicle Stranger Than Fiction (which earned him a Critics Choice Award nomination) and the kid-friendly Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium (another adaptation of a childhood favorite book, though this one was noticeably less loved by critics) — will go.
Will he stick closer to the book or the movie? For the Jumanji remake to work, it's got to have the right amount of appeal to a new generation without dumbing the story down or betraying fans of the original film. In which case, it might be wiser for Helm to stick more faithfully to the book so that it doesn't rely too heavily on being a complete reboot of the movie. And hey, a David Alan Grier cameo wouldn't hurt, okay?
[Photo credit: Tristar Pictures]
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Based on the children’s book by Jumanji author Chris Van Allsburg Zathura shows what happens when 6-year-old Danny (Jonah Bobo) starts playing an old tattered metal game he finds in his divorced dad’s wooden house. Danny’s 10 year-old brother Walter (Josh Hutcherson) doesn’t want to have anything to do with the stupid game--or his annoying little brother for that matter. But Walter is forced to take notice when to his horror their house is pummeled by meteors after being propelled into deepest darkest outer space. See while Jumanji game is all about jungle perils Zathura’s game is set in space in which equally dangerous obstacles are at hand. The more they play the worse things get. The only way to get back to Earth is to finish the game--at whatever cost. Sound familiar? Newcomers Bobo and Hutcherson are convincing as kids caught in divorce. Little Danny doesn’t quite understand what it all means but Walter is all too aware--and he blames Danny for their parents’ split. Hutcherson does a fine job conveying the emotions tied up in such family turmoil and Bobo--albeit a tad cutesy and screechy--follows suit. As the boys’ older sister Kristen Stewart (Panic Room) is the typical surly teenager saddled with babysitting her pesky brothers while dad is out. She ignores them mostly--until she realizes the house is surrounded by carnivorous lizard-like creatures called Zorgons. That gets her attention. As far as the adults go Dax Shepard (Without a Paddle) is an astronaut the boys pick up along the way who holds a key to the plot while Tim Robbins makes a nice little cameo as the beleaguered father. Actor/director Jon Favreau who gave us the delightful Elf is still toying with his inner child with Zathura. Obviously with the special effects and what not this is his biggest undertaking so far. But Favreau manages to bring things er down to earth as it were. He easily taps into all those boyhood memories of playing space cowboys and flying rocket ships--as well as expertly guiding his young cast. The problem with Zathura is it is too much like its predecessor Jumanji but without talents such as Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt to back it up. Of course if you’ve never seen Jumanji Zathura will seem like a fun ride for the whole family. But if you have you may come to the conclusion the original already set the bar.
Based on Chris Van Allsburg's enchanting award winning children's book the story begins on a snowy Christmas Eve where a doubting young boy lies in his bed waiting to hear the sound he doesn't know if he believes in anymore: the tinkle of Santa's sleigh bells. What he hears instead however is the thunderous roar of an approaching train where no train should be: it's the Polar Express. Rushing outside in only a robe and slippers the incredulous boy meets the train's conductor who urges him to come onboard. Suddenly the boy finds himself embarking on an extraordinary journey to the North Pole with a number of other children--including a girl who has the tools to be a good leader but lacks confidence; a know-it-all boy who lacks humility; and a lonely boy who just needs to have a little faith in other people to make his dreams come true. Together the children discover that the wonder of Christmas never fades for those who believe. As the conductor wisely advises "It doesn't matter where the train is going. What matters is deciding to get on." Gives ya goose bumps doesn't it?
Talk about a vanity project for Tom Hanks. He portrays several of the characters in the film--the conductor the hobo who mysteriously appears and disappears on the Polar Express the boy's father. Wait isn't that Hanks playing Santa Claus as well? But if anyone can pull off some cheesy dialogue about the spirit of Christmas this Oscar-winning actor can. Interestingly the film also incorporates adults to play the children (none of the characters have names actually) with Hanks as the Hero Boy; Hanks' Bosom Buddies pal Peter Scolari as the Lonely Boy; The Matrix Revolutions Nona Gaye as the Hero Girl; and veteran voice actor Eddie Deezen as the Know-It-All Boy. Everyone does a good job but trying to make CGI-created people seem real is a difficult undertaking. With
The Polar Express director Robert Zemeckis has created an entirely new way to do computer animation called "performance capture." "[It's a process that] offers a vivid rendering of the Van Allsburg world while infusing a sense of heightened realism into the performances. It's like putting the soul of a live person into a virtual character " visual effects wizard and longtime Zemeckis collaborator Ken Ralston explains. Oh is that all? Problem is no matter how hard they try it doesn't work--not completely. Similar to flaws in the 2001 Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within virtual characters just can't convey human emotion as well as real-life actors plain and simple. And with a touching story like Polar Express that real-life connection is missed at times.
Of course like the images in the book it's still an exceptionally beautiful film to watch. Zemeckis enjoys being a filmmaking innovator. He charmed audiences with a lively blend of live action and manic animation in the 1988 classic action comedy Who Framed
Roger Rabbit? and then wowed them with the 1994 Oscar-winning Forrest Gump blending authentic archival footage of historic figures with the actors. Now with The Polar Express it's this performance capture which gives Zemeckis unlimited freedom in creating the world he wants. And boy does he make use of it. True the story is a classic but the director knows he has to make The Polar Express exciting for the tykes-- simply riding around in a train to North Pole without any thrills certainly wouldn't be enough for the ADD world we live in. To accomplish this the film is padded with exhilarating scenes such as the train going on a giant roller coaster ride through the mountains and across frozen lakes (too bad Warner Bros. doesn't have a theme park) and the boy's race across the top of the snowy Polar Express. Even the North Pole is a booming magical Mecca filled with some pretty boisterous (and weird looking) elves who like to send Santa off in style Christmas Eve--watch out for Aerosmith's Steven Tyler making a cameo as a jammin' elf. Ho-ho-ho!