What would it be like if a game that you are playing suddenly comes to life? That is the major theme of the Jumanji-franchise, which has become highly popular over the last few years. The franchise dates back to 1981, but has been experiencing a second youth since the release of the film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle in 2017. After several releases in the form of books, films and video games, Jumanji has finally been turned into a life-like experience in the form of a dark ride. Since April of this year, riders can challenge the game of Jumanji for themselves in the Italian theme park Gardaland. Team DRdb travelled to Italy to enter the world of Jumanji as well.
Jumanji – The Adventure is a brand new dark ride in Gardaland, which opened on 9 April 2022. The location of the new dark ride was previously occupied by the interactive dark ride Ramses: Il Resviglio, but that ride was completely removed to make space for the new adventure. Visitors are now welcome to explore the world of Jumanji themselves, which was a challenge that Team DRdb could not resist. We were able to visit the park on 20 June to experience the new ride for ourselves.
The world of Jumanji
Before embarking our own Jumanji adventure, let us first take a deeper look into the Jumanji franchise. Though the best-known elements of the franchise are the two latest films, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017) and Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), the franchise actually finds its origin in 1981. This was the year when American author Chris Van Allsburg published the original Jumanji book. This children’s picture book is about two kids, Judy and Peter Shepherd, who find a safari-themed board game called Jumanji. While playing, the dangers encountered in the game turn out to come to life around them: when rolling a lion, an actual lion appears, and the same goes for many other elements they roll. Things only go back to normal when they finish the game and call “Jumanji” in the end: at that point, all emerged dangers suddenly disappear and the board game gets back to the place where the children found it.
The picture book received wide acclaim, amongst others by winning the 1981 Caldecott Medal for the “most distinguished American picture book for children”. In 1995, the first film adaptation of the book was created. The film, simply called ‘Jumanji’, is loosely based on the picture book. An extra storyline was added, integrating adult characters that appear to have gotten stuck in the game years earlier. Apart from that, the film follows more-or-less the same order of rolls and elements when Judy and Peter play the game, staying relatively close to the original book. The release of the film sparked the launch of a true Jumanji-board game in 1995 (which was updated and re-released in 2017), and the start of a Jumanji animated television series which ran from 1996 to 1999.
A side-step in the Jumanji-franchise was the release of a sequel picture book in 2002, again written by Chris Van Allsburg. The book was called Zathura and involves a space-themed game, which turns out to be hidden on the same board as the Jumanji-game. Zathura was also turned into a film, released in 2005, which is a stand-alone film within the same fictional universe.
However, the most successful element of the Jumanji-franchise so far is the 2017 reboot Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which functions as a sequel to the 1995 film. In the film, the Jumanji board game appears to have magically evolved into a video game. Instead of coming to life around the people playing the game, the Jumanji video game sucks its players into the game after they choose their character – thus turning the players into their chosen avatars. Just like regular game characters, each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, each character has three lives, and losing all of them means that the person dies in real life.
Four High School students end up inside the game, where they meet with the Jumanji field guide Nigel Billingsley. Billingsley is a non-player character, able to explain the backstory of the game. It turns out that a corrupt archaeologist stole a sacred jewel from the Jaguar shrine, bringing a curse over Jumanji. Billingsley stole the jewel from the archaeologist, and now gives it to the players to return it to the shrine. Once they do, the curse is lifted, and they can call “Jumanji” to leave the game. Or, in Billingsley’s own words: “The goal for you I’ll recite in verse; return the jewel and lift the curse. If you wish to leave the game; you must save Jumanji, and call out its name.” The students eventually manage to outmanoeuvre the archaeologist and return the jewel to the shrine, after which they call Jumanji and, after a short goodbye with Billingsley, go back to the real world.
A new film was released in 2019, called Jumanji: The Next Level, being a direct sequel to the 2017 film with the same characters. The teenage students decide to go back into Jumanji and go through a completely new adventure. A further sequel is said to be in development. However, the dark ride in Gardaland is largely based on the 2017 film Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.
From game to dark ride
Though rumours circulated for a longer time, it was not until the end of September 2021 that the official word came out: Jumanji would be turned into a theme park ride! And it would not be just any ride, but a dark ride which was to open in Gardaland. The design of the dark ride was a co-production between Merlin Magic Making, part of Gardaland’s parent company Merlin Entertainments, and Futura Form, a Turkish company specialised in theming production and project management. The ride system was supplied by Oceaneering and the media for the ride was developed by Framestore.
The location for Jumanji – The Adventure already had a long dark ride history: at this spot, Gardaland opened its first dark ride called Valle dei Re (The Valley of the Kings) in 1987. The ride had an Egyptian theme and featured a large eye-catching façade, a replica of the famous Abu Simbel temple. The dark ride building behind the façade was built underground, enabled by the park’s hilly topography, making the large temple replica the only visible part of the ride. The Egyptian ride was rethemed for the 2009 season, when it was equipped with an interactive system. The new ride was called Ramses: Il Resviglio (Ramses: The Awakening), but apart from the interactive system no major changes were made to the ride. The façade was slightly altered with the addition of a robotic face to one of the figures, but the theming of the original ride largely remained. Ramses: Il Resviglio eventually operated for 12 years, closing after the 2020 season.
The closure of Ramses: Il Resviglio cleared the way for the construction of the Jumanji – The Adventure. This time, most of the ride was removed, leaving only the façade and queue line intact. With the announcement of the new ride, Gardaland already revealed that riders were to board off-road SUVs that would transport them through a jungle environment. Throughout the following months, the park slowly revealed more information, such as the development of the animatronic of a rock giant at the production site of Futura Form. This animatronic is a true eye-catcher during the ride, measuring 6 metres high and wide. Next to the head, also the giant’s hand was produced, being 3 metres wide. This rock giant would only be one of many figures that riders would meet in the jungle of Jumanji, some of them are created as animatronic, others appearing on projections in large projection domes.
According to Aldo Maria Vigevani (CEO of Gardaland), all ages were kept in mind while designing Jumanji – The Adventure. “We believe that this new dark ride for families and teenagers will be welcomed with great enthusiasm.” With a budget of € 20 million, the ride is the most expensive dark ride that Merlin Entertainments ever built. The ride seems to fit in a series of IP-based dark rides the company opened over the last few years, such as Ghostbusters 5D (Heide Park) and Gangsta Granny: The Ride (Alton Towers), although all these rides feature completely different themes and ride systems. The ride system for Jumanji – The Adventure was delivered by Oceaneering, integrating a sophisticated motion-based system which enables a truly wild ride. The vehicles were accordingly shaped as off-road SUVs, as the park revealed in January 2022. The complete ride eventually opened to the general public on 9 April.
The adventure begins
For riders willing to defy the curse of Jumanji, the adventure starts at a place which still looks very familiar to frequent visitors of Gardaland. The park decided to re-use the immense façade of the Ramses-ride, although lots of new theming was added to hide the Egyptian temple-style. Most noteworthy is the large hippo head right above the entrance, opening its mouth towards the entering visitors. Moreover, large tree trunks and vines were added, together with a series of bushes overgrowing the temple front. All of this was melted together by adding green paint, making the façade look like a mossy jungle temple. This jungle setting marks the start of the adventure through the world of Jumanji.
Once inside, the jungle make-over is dropped immediately. The queue area, large enough to host a queue of approximately 45 minutes, is virtually unchanged since the Ramses-era. Walls are painted with hieroglyphs and columns are decorated accordingly. In-between, some boxes with Egyptian statues can be found, indicating that there is an archaeological excavation going on. This feeling is enhanced by the addition of humorous posters with ‘dig site safety’ in both Italian and English. For the Gardaland-fans, an extra reference to the previous Ramses-ride is added, in the shape of a map of the former ride lay-out. The queue line eventually leads towards a grouper room, from where people are let into the shack of the archaeological supervisor.
The shack looks like what you can expect from such an office: along one side wall, we see a small table, a lot of boxes and other stuff, and a tv screen. Once all visitors are inside, the tv screen starts playing. However, it does not play any archaeological video, but it starts the Jumanji game: in a classic 80’s vibe, with bright colours and low resolution, the game introduction starts playing. A hand is seen, taking the sacred jewel from the Jaguar shrine, which a monstrous rock giant comes to life. Then, at the point where the game asks to choose a Jumanji character, the screen starts to flicker. Suddenly, the light from the screen seems to spread through the entire shack, and after a flash of bright light the whole room becomes dark for a few seconds. When the light re-appears, all office furniture is gone, and instead visitors find themselves in the middle of the Jumanji jungle, where they are welcomed by Jumanji field guide Nigel Billingsley (re-enacted by an Italian actor).
At this point, there is no turning back. Just like the High School students in the 2017 film, each of the visitors becomes a Jumanji character, with its respective strengths and weaknesses. Grouped in vehicles of six characters, they will travel through the Jumanji jungle. Their mission is also the same as in the film: they are to return the sacred jewel to the Jaguar shrine. All other important notes mentioned by Nigel are also similar to the film: each of the characters has three lives, and once the jewel is returned, calling out ‘Jumanji’ lifts the curse and enables players to leave the game. As a reference to the film, Nigel uses the exact same verse to explain the visitor’s goal.
The ride through Jumanji
After the welcoming words by Nigel Billingsley, visitors leave the shack through another door and find themselves in the jungle, where an abandoned gramophone plays a message welcoming them to Jumanji. Going around the corner, visitors end up on the bazaar of an extensively themed Indian-looking jungle town, including the market stalls that can be expected at a bazaar. This is the ride’s boarding station, with a short queue line to split the group from the shack into 6-person groups to board the vehicles. Along the way, riders are introduced to the six characters with their strengths and weaknesses, each taking one of the seats of the vehicle. One of the bazaar stalls includes screens, cleverly integrated in the mirrors that are ‘for sale’, depicting the Jumanji characters. These are re-enacted by Italian actors, looking like the American characters of the 2017 film. Another market stall, selling fresh fruits, is designed to hide the operator space. Meanwhile, the SUVs are running along, each taking six new passengers on their adventure.
When all riders have boarded the vehicle and taken the place of one of the six characters, the adventure truly begins. Just after leaving the station, vehicles stop at a screen where they meet Nigel again. He wants to hand the riders the jewel, but before he can do so, a monkey appears to steal the jewel from him. In an attempt to retrieve the jewel, the vehicle takes off for a wild ride through the jungle. The motion-based vehicles hump and bump through a lushly planted environment where they encounter dangerous jungle creatures, and eventually almost bump into another ride vehicle. Deep in the jungle, the vehicle eventually stops at a ruin on the edge of a cliff, a large dome projection in fact. Here, riders manage to retrieve the jewel , which now appears as a lighted element on the front part of the ride vehicle. From now on, it’s their task to bring the jewel safely to the temple. However, screens along the way show that they slowly lose some of their three lives…
Guided by Nigel, who appears on multiple screens along the way, riders move on through the Jumanji jungle. Right after retrieving the jewel, they meet with the rock giant: the large animatronic head pops up between the rocks, and it is clear that the giant is still after the precious jewel. The vehicles move on, further through dark passages and rocky environment, escaping from a group of spiders. At last, riders arrive at the jungle temple, but the giant is on their tail and they only have one life remaining. The vehicle arrives at a second dome projection, where the jewel is thrown away from the vehicle and picked up by Nigel, who is seen on the projection screen. He tries to reconnect it with the shrine while the giant is smashing the whole temple apart in a final attempt to steal the jewel. When the guide eventually manages to place the jewel in the shrine, the vehicles move away from the dome projection and start a wild spinning ride through a room where temple remnants are spinning all around. Riders are instructed to call “Jumanji”, as that is the only way to lift the curse and leave the game. Suddenly, the spinning stops, and the vehicles move calmly to a last screen. This is where Nigel Billingsley thanks the riders for completing the task and says goodbye to them. The game is over.
Once the curse is lifted…
After shouting “Jumanji” ourselves at the end of the ride, lifting the curse of the game, it is time to recap our adventure. First of all, it is clear that the ride is truly an adventure. The motion-based vehicles, combined with the clever use of both animatronics and projections (either flat or dome), make for a highly thrilling and adventurous ride. Especially in Europe, where such motion-based dark rides are very scarce, the surprise of this effect and the immersion it creates are a big plus for the experience of riders who probably have never seen anything similar before. Nevertheless, all of the thrills of the ride are dosed in such a way that the ride is still family-friendly, suitable for children with a minimum height of 107cm. Even though the ride contains some scary elements, it is definitely not a scary ride overall. IP-wise, the developing team made the clever decision to put field guide Nigel Billingsley forward as the featured character throughout the ride. He is able to narrate the storyline and explain it even to people who are not into the Jumanji-franchise, while not breaking with the idea that riders themselves are the main characters in this adventure. This enabled the team to recreate the story of the film within this 3-minute ride, which is an impressive achievement. True Jumanji-fans can even find references to the 1995-film in the ride, expressing the thorough IP-research put into the ride.
Looking at the effort that was put into the main ride, it is a downside that the queue line was were hardly adopted to match the new ride rather than the original Ramses-theme. The difference between the jungle-like front, the Egyptian queue and the Indian station is very noticable, creating a gap in the immersiveness of the ride. Another weakness in the ride’s design are some dark passages throughout the ride, which are empty parts between simply black walls that could have been better integrated in the ride. These parts could be valuable for creating more atmosphere in the ride, but in their current state they are just the in-between spaces between the scenes where the real action happens. As a last downside, the effects of the ride turn out not to be all that reliable: a ride in the evening showed two broken screens and a series of mismatches between lighting and effect, which broke the illusion of some of the effects. For a ride depending on immersion, the reliability of effects is a major point of attention.
All in all, there are some aspects about Jumanji – The Adventure that could have been executed in a better way. However, apart from the downsides, Gardaland can still be very proud of this convincing dark ride that cleverly uses a variety of techniques to truly immerse its riders in an exciting adventure. The ride moreover truly benefits from the Jumanji-IP, which is adapted in a clever way and creates a convincing storyline. It is impressive to see what Merlin Entertainments has produced with the € 20 million budget, in collaboration with Futura Form, Framestore and Oceaneering who all delivered high-quality elements for the ride. Jumanji – The Adventure is definitely a very fine example of a thrilling dark ride in 2022, which can pave the way for more of these modern dark rides to come in parks with similar budgets. We can’t wait to see more like this in the future.
Visit by Luc (20 June 2022)
Article written by Luc
Pictures by Luc (20 June 2022) unless indicated otherwise
For a more detailed look of the whole ride experience, watch our video below: