Spoiler Warning! This article contains spoilers for all of the Jumanji movies including the most recent installment, Jumanji: The Next Level, which is now available to own on Digital, 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD.
I’ve had a number of burning questions on my mind since seeing Jumanji: The Next Level, many of which are unanswerable right now because they could pave the way to big creative opportunities for another film. But, there was one particular plot point that I was eager to get answers on now, as it’s a major connecting point between the new movies and the 1995 original: How exactly do time and memory work in the game?
In the 1995 film, the game begins with a young Alan Parrish (Adam Hand-Byrd) and Sarah Whittle (Laura Bell Bundy). Alan rolls the dice and winds up getting sucked into the board game until another player rolls a five or eight to free him. The problem is, Sarah is then chased out of the house by bats and doesn’t roll again to bring him back. Twenty-six years later, Judy (Kirsten Dunst) and Peter Shepherd (Bradley Pierce) open the game back up and free Alan (Robin Williams) who’s aged 26 years while trapped in Jumanji. Eventually Sarah (Bonnie Hunt) rejoins the game and the four of them see the round through to the end. Alan and Sarah immediately return to when the game first began back in 1969. They remember everything that happened, but when they make it to 1995 and meet Judy and Peter again, the kids have no memory of their time playing Jumanji together.
In Jake Kasdan’s 2017 film, however, the rules seem a little different. In 1996, young Alex Vreeke is sucked into the video game version of Jumanji. Then, in 2016, we meet the movie’s main characters: Spencer (Alex Wolff), Martha (Morgan Turner), Bethany (Madison Iseman) and Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain). They boot up the game and are pulled in as well. While trying to win the game by ending a curse on Jumanji, they run into Alex’s avatar, a pilot named Jefferson McDonough (Nick Jonas). Together, they complete the mission and all return home. According to the rules of the 1995 film, Alex should have been returned back to 1996 with all of his memories intact, while Spencer, Martha, Bethany and Fridge are left with no memory of what happened. That’s not the case though. Alex does return to 1996 and changes the course of his life for the better, but the 2016 teens still remember what happened in the game. They don’t lose the memory like Judy and Peter.
I recently got the opportunity to hop on the phone with Kasdan to talk about his experience making the Jumanji movies. We’ll share the full conversation soon, but right now let’s dig into his explanation of how time and memory in Jumanji works. “We’ve tried hard to stay kind of consistent with the set of rules that is started in the first movie.” But, Kasdan also laughed and noted, “The design in the first movie does not take into account the weird reconception that would happen 25 years later, unsurprisingly.”
Kasdan then further dug into the details:
“Robin and Bonnie’s characters remember it because they’re the ones who emerged with the memory intact. And the way that the first movie ends, because they have emerged at the time that they entered the game, the way we’ve tried it, the way we’ve sort of played the role also, right? Which is like, you come back out at the time that you went in.
They are able to preemptively prevent the kids from having that experience in the first movie. Do you see what I’m saying? So the kids show up in town at the end of the first movie, they recognize them, and there’s the scene where they tell the parents, ‘Don’t go on a ski trip.’ There’s this moment at the very end where they alter the course of the present day in the original Jumanji, 1996 right? And prevent the kids from ever having the experience of playing the game.”
So based on Kasdan’s description, it seems as though it’s up to the person who went into the game first to decide whether or not to intervene in the future players’ experiences. Bonnie and Alan stepped in and changed the course of Judy and Peter’s lives, making sure they didn’t lose their parents. Perhaps Alex opted not to do the same given how the Jumanji experience changed Spencer, Martha, Bethany and Fridge’s lives for the better, turning them into such a close-knit unexpected group of friends.
That explanation makes a lot of sense and, on re-watch, makes the ending of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle even more powerful. The rule-obsessed part of my brain can’t help but to come up with a slew of follow-up questions like, does that mean Alex had to actively place his old game console in the school basement for the kids to find again? Or, does Alex’s second chance create a new timeline that eventually merges with the prime timeline we’ve been following?
Whether there are concrete answers to those questions or not, from an emotional standpoint, the time Kasdan and his team put into this particular plot point does have a nice payoff. “I spent a lot of time trying to figure that out, that exact thing,” Kasdan also added:
“With the first movie, my first movie, we wanted to find a good organic connection to the original. But what made that so challenging was exactly the thing you’re talking about which is, the end of the original movie sort of undoes the events of the movie, so none of the characters other than the two have moved past that moment with the cumulative experience that they would remember.”
It’s a good thing Kasdan went this route because that cumulative experience is the emotional backbone of the sequel, Jumanji: The Next Level, and I’ve got high hopes the evolving connection between the group of friends and how much they’ve grown as individuals from their experience playing the game will only make Kasdan’s third Jumanji movie better. (And there has to be another Jumanji movie, right?)