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The mastermind behind “Jumanji” gives his take on the updated film version

Dec 18, 2017

Chris Van Allsburg
Credit Courtesy of Chris Van Allsburg

Hollywood is coming to Michigan. The Michigan premiere of the new film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle happens on Tuesday, Dec. 19 in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor.

The film stars Dwayne Johnson, Karen Gillan, Jack Black and many more names. It was inspired by the work of Chris Van Allsburg, the renowned writer and illustrator of children's books. He's won two Caldecott Medals for his illustrations for The Polar Express and Jumanji, which was published in 1981.

Van Allsburg grew up in Grand Rapids, and he joined Stateside today to talk about the original Jumanji and this new take on the story.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On where the original idea for Jumanji came from

“I wrote the story as an adult but had recollections of feeling kind of a disappointment when I played board games when I was a kid.

"I had a decent imagination, but there was still something vaguely disappointing about playing Monopoly and not having real money, that sort of thing, and so I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was such a thing as a board game which did not require the imagination of the players, because everything that happened on the board game actually came to life – happened in real life.

"So that was the, kind of, starting point. And then I thought about different kinds of games and I sort of hit on a jungle game, because I thought the combination of jungle perils inside your house would be a provocative combination.”

On where the word “Jumanji” came from

“When I was just sort of, you know, casting around for a name… I was set on finding something that was slightly exotic – didn’t sound like it was a word from the English language. And I think maybe the ‘J’ attracted me because it sort of suggested jungle. And, I don’t know, it just sort of at that point sprang into my head – ‘Jumanji.’”

On what Van Allsburg likes about the new film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

“It’s updated. It’s no longer a board game. It’s a video game, and I think maybe the most interesting thing about it is the use of a convention in video game design which is that when people play it, they can choose an avatar.

"So when they actually play the game, they’re playing sort of through the identity of this avatar of a character in the video game. So this is actually what happens to the four teenagers who play this game. They all end up drawn into this video game, but when they arrive in the videogame, they do not arrive in their own bodies. They now inhabit their avatars.”

On why the proceeds from the Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor events will go towards the Jo Elyn Nyman Anchors Programs for Children at hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice

“Many years ago, when the first Jumanji came out, my wife at that time was on the board of the children’s hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, where we lived. And she had this idea that, well you can actually use movie premieres not simply to draw attention to the film, but you could actually… use this as a way of raising money and drawing attention to a worthy cause. And for her, it was the children’s hospital in Providence.

"So she arranged this Jumanji premiere. It was a great financial success, and then when The Polar Express came out, we were contacted by children’s hospice in Grand Rapids. They were very keen on the idea of trying a Polar Express premiere in Grand Rapids to raise money for the children’s hospice. Hard to think of a more worthy and worthwhile effort than that. So we did this premiere in Grand Rapids on that occasion.

"Got to know the mission of children’s hospice and visited the hospital a couple of times, and since then have developed a strong relationship with the hospital, and especially the hospice effort. And so, I’m assuming now that as long as I’m blessed enough to have my books turned into movies, there will always be a premiere in Michigan for hospice.”

For details on these Michigan premieres, click here.

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