Making Jumanji with Robin Williams

The late Robin Williams played Alan in the 1995 film Jumanji.
The late Robin Williams played Alan in the 1995 film Jumanji.PHOTO: TRISTAR PICTURES

NEW YORK • The 1995 Robin Williams movie Jumanji was a challenging shoot, not least because of the complicated story line.

In 1969, young Alan (Adam Hann-Byrd) gets sucked into the titular game to the horror of his friend Sarah (Laura Bell Bundy).

Twenty-six years later, orphaned siblings Peter (Bradley Pierce) and Judy (Kirsten Dunst) restart the game and release an adult Alan, played by the late Williams.

To complete the adventure, they, along with a grown-up Sarah (Bonnie Hunt), battle stampeding elephants and rhinos, carnivorous plants and a monsoon.

The film proved a monster hit, earning US$262.8 million worldwide, and has now spawned a reboot, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle, starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart, which opens in Singapore on Dec 21.

Members of the original film's cast - including Jonathan Hyde, who played dual roles as young Alan's aloof father and a hunter who terrorises the players - as well as director Joe Johnston shared their memories of its demanding production.

Producers presented a script for Jumanji, based on the children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, to Johnston, who had successfully worked with young actors and special effects on Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989). Johnston: The studio said they would make the film if we could get Robin to do it. He had passed on the original script. A bunch of us stayed up all night doing a cut-and-paste job and changed a lot around and Robin liked it enough to say yes. Hyde: It was a strange shoot. We were in Vancouver through the winter. It's a wet, cold city. For five months, that became a bit of a drag. Johnston: I was a little put off by Bonnie's performance on the first day of shooting. I thought it was completely over the top. But once she made me understand what her character had gone through to become this crazy lady, she sold me.

Hunt (via e-mail): Joe had a clear vision. Naturally, Robin wanted some improvisation, so those two worlds had to meet. Respectfully, we always did takes as written, but then Robin would ask: "Joe, could we please have one more for us?"

Johnston: I was a little apprehensive at first, based on what I'd heard about Robin and how he wants to ad-lib and go crazy. It wasn't like that at all. He understood that he needed to be this very critical part of the machine. It was a tightly structured story. He never went out of the box.

Pierce: A lot of things Robin would improv would go over Kirsten's and my heads. He would go on these Ethel Merman riffs where he would sing all his lines like her. It was hysterical, but I didn't realise he was imitating a real person.

Hunt: In between set-ups, we would drop our Jumanji roles and improvise, just to get it out of our system. Characters would spring to life based on the daily headlines or waiters from dinner the night before, and the crew was a wonderful audience. It was pure joy. Pierce: Robin's son, who's my age, would come up and they would invite me to join them at the zoo or the aquarium or a movie. It was great to see him as a dad and a friend rather than just a comedian.

Hyde: Every Monday night, Robin went to a comedy club in Vancouver and did an hour and a half of improv with the locals, then another hour and a half of solo stand-up - three hours of burning off excess steam. He was glorious.

The original ensemble wish the makers of the new film well, but said it would not be the same for them without Williams. Hyde: I was hoping they would make another Jumanji while we were all still alive.

NYTIMES

•Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle opens in Singapore on Dec 21

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2017, with the headline 'Making Jumanji with Robin Williams'. Print Edition | Subscribe