Director Jon Favreau Continues the Jumanji adventure with Zathura
Jon Favreau's kid didn't want to let go of his leg as they entered the room for the press roundtables. The family vibe surrounding his latest directorial effort, Zathura, is undeniable. And it was understood almost immediately why this R Rated auteur had suddenly track-jumped from the edgy, in-your-face humor of Swingers and Made into the more youth friendly films Elf and Zathura.
Elf was a huge success for Favreau. He turned what could have been a juveniles only picture into a true classic. At just a few years old, Will Farrell's Elf is already a Holiday staple, resting up along side A Christmas Story and It's a Wonderful Life. Ebert said so himself, and if you can't trust him, who can you trust?
While Elf appealed to both adults and children on the same level, Zathura is turning into a darker film. Though, one Jon's four year old can still enjoy. It has its scary parts, but aren't the best children's fables supposed to be a bit scary?
Right off the bat, Jon wanted us to know this film's somewhat misunderstood history, and exactly where it fit alongside Jumanji as a sequel…
"That Jumanji thing has been the strangest thing. They literally handed me the script, and they really wanted me to do it. This was a really good one, and it was with Sony. I had heard such good things about them. They passed it too me and said, ‘This has nothing to do with Jumanji.' Which is a very strange thing to say when handing someone a script. Its like, ‘Hi, I'm not gay.' I wouldn't have thought to ask you, but since you're denying it right off the bat, it makes me curious as to why you bring it up in the first place. The first thing I asked for was a copy of Jumanji. They didn't want to give me a copy of Jumanji. They said, ‘This has nothing to do with it.' So, of course I wanted to see the movie now. And sure enough…They're both games they play. They're both based on the same author's books. There was a Jumanji sequel being produced. It was about Jumanji in the White House. Which is a very strange thing. It sounds like something from Entourage. They developed, and developed, and developed with a capital D. As that was being developed, the author said, ‘I'm going to write another book.' That turned out to be Zathura, which essentially has a game that takes this family's house into space. This was a fresh piece of material."
Favreau continued to compare the two films…
"Getting back to the Jumanji of it all, we did it. And it very clearly has a similar genre as Jumanji. Just as Daredevil and Spider-Man are similar. It has two guys, something nuclear hits them, their family gets killed, and they avenge crime. The Marvel stuff is very closely related, but they're not sequels. We found ourselves in a similar situation. So, initially, they didn't want to say that it had anything to do with Jumanji, because it's not a sequel. And we don't want to mislead people. That film was ten years ago. But then we showed it to a test audience, and they were like, ‘You're ripping-off Jumanji.' If the pendulum swings too far one way, people are going to be expecting a sequel. But that's not what they're going to get. One takes place in California. There's no Robin Williams. Any of that stuff. But if you go all the other way and separate, they feel like you're ripping-off a movie that they really like. So, the marketing department came up with ‘It's a new adventure from the world of Jumanji.' Which tells that it's from the same author's game driven set of sci-fi books. Hopefully, people won't be confused by that. That's my marketing story."
Jon then went on to praise the two young actors that star in the film…
"The kids have been great. I've been very lucky with this cast. They make me look great. I've been very diligent about who I hire. But, more than that, I write the scripts around the people I cast. The kids were very natural, and wonderful. When you have a small cast like this, you really rely on everybody."
As far as being a father, and if it helps directing these types of films, Jon said…
"Yeah, sure. Because somebody once said they saw Citizen Kane six times in their life, but they saw The Incredibles 50 times. And it's very true. You see these movies so much nowadays, on DVDs, that you really appreciate when it's not a parent punisher. And people get away with a lot of crap. It's like anything else. If you're a musician working as a bartender in a blues club, you're going to play the blues. It's what you immerse yourself in. If you're an usher in a movie theater, you're going to be influenced by what you see. And put a comment on it. You don't get away from movies, now. At home, the kids have their portable thing on, playing it. They watch it, and they have Tivo. They don't watch something once. They watch it over and over again. It's not like Sesame Street where it comes on one time a day. It's just there. Then you get in the car, and there's a screen behind your head while you're driving. I mean, I know Sponge Bob. I can do all the voices. You start to say, ‘I can do that. I can do better than that.' It also affords you more freedom as a filmmaker. You are going to make your money back. If you deliver it in time and within budget, you can do whatever you want when working on a family film."
Does Jon think he'll go back to more adult oriented material after this?
"Yeah, I think so. It depends on the material. I didn't think I would be doing this thing. When you're a director, you have to be able to envision the movie. This was a chance for me to work in really nostalgic science fiction. It really does become about the material. I want to do a film about the early days of hotrodding. It's a little pet project of mine. Right now I'm acting in a movie Vince Vaughn is producing. It's called The Break Up. We're both in a weird position. Before, we couldn't get films made. Now we can."
How does Jon balance making a kid's movie while still creating something that appeals to adults?
"I look at the films I grew up with. E.T. is scary. Snow White is scary. They're not graphic. I don't see nipples. I don't see blood. I see and hear language that is inappropriate for children. The intensity of filmmaking is something that is confused with making something graphic or inappropriate for children. Children experience fear more than we do on any given day. When making a movie, you have to deal with everything they have to deal with. It's the comfortable with the scary. You have to treat a child like you do with an adult. You have to scare them. Then relieve them. If you make a movie you like, kids will dig it. Kids are very, very smart. My kid watches this movie. He gets it. He thinks it's cool. He was scared the first time, he had to hug mommy. You have to explain to him what it is. Now he's not scared by it. He's compelled by those things. As long as you're not doing things that are irresponsible for children, you have to treat them almost like they were an adult. You have to be really responsible in the way you solve things. Thematically, you can't show something that teaches them the wrong lesson. I try to be very responsible. You have to take them to a dark place. You have to make it scary. You have a group of adults watching a 7 and an 11 year old for the entire duration of the film, but they're never watching a kid's movie. That's just a matter of making a film that I like, for me. There are some things you have to do. A few graphic moments you have to pull back on here or there. But it's more in the tradition of the movies I grew up with."
Have Jon's kids help shape the movie in the editing room?
"What's interesting is watching when he just locks in. The problem with testing movies is that they ask the test audience what they're thinking. And that's a misleading avenue to go down. Seinfeld said something interesting off the air, ‘People don't always want what they thing they want. People think they want me to come back for another season, but if I did, they'd tear the show apart.' Some people say they want it, but they really don't want it. When you ask someone how to improve a film, they say some things that they don't really know. You have to read an audience by how they react to things. They always say the same thing, ‘I don't really like that bad guy.' So the studio wants to make the bad guy likable. That's a horrible thing. When I look at my kids, they're coming from an emotional place, not an intellectual place. When that robot comes on screen, and they both, the two year old and the four year old, look at the screen, and their jaws are open, and they're watching…In this world of Tivo, they both turn to me and say ‘Again.' I was never able to say ‘Again.' The Count would be done counting on Sesame Street, and then it would be time for Cookie Monster. Now you can watch the Count over and over again. Those kids want to see that same sequence over and over again. And you can see where you're hitting the mark. Oddly enough, it's usually the scary stuff that they become the most infatuated with. They want to make sure everyone's okay, and that they pull through it. This has really helped me to understand what was iconic and universal about the movie.
What about those kids being able to breath in space?
"I wanted to follow the rules of what people thought space was like before they knew. If you look at some of the old paintings, the spaceships had fins on them. They thought there was aerodynamics. I wanted to use storybook rules. I mean, we have a couch burning in space. They're not breathing in space, but they're not exploding either. We tried to use old fashion notions of what space was like. It's almost like a children's book version, it's mythologically based. The porch has a force field, it has gravity."
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Dont't forget to also check out: Zathura