“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” had the potential of being a bad movie. Instead of focusing on action like the original “Jumanji” movie, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” focused first on creating four flawed characters who all change over the course of the story. The story is less about the action of the game and more about the changes each character must go through.
First, there’s Spencer, a nerdy character who lacks courage. Second, there’s his friend, Fridge, a football player who no longer cares for Spencer as much as he once did when they ere growing up. Third, there’s Bethany, a pretty blonde who’s self-centered and thinks the world revolves around her. Fourth, there’s Martha, a shy girl.
To change, Spencer needs to learn to become brave and trust himself. As a result, his game avatar is a strong character.
Fridge needs to think less of himself and more about his friendship with Spencer that has deteriorated over the years. Because in the real world he’s a strong and big character, in the game his avatar is a mousy and weak character, which forces him to become more sympathetic to others.
Bethany needs to think about others so her game avatar becomes a dumpy man.
Martha needs to break out of her shyness so her game avatar becomes a pretty commando.
Once inside their game avatars, all four characters face challenges that force them to change emotionally. While the movie does provide action with wild animals running loose and villains trying to get the heroes, the main purpose of all this action is to force the heroes to change in four steps:
- First, each character has to have flaws that we as the audience can clearly recognize.
- Second, each character must face their flaws by hearing it from the other characters. As uncomfortable as this may be for each character, it forces them to see their flaws and realize their flaws are readily visible to others.
- Third, each character must show how they’re changing. To do this, they must overcome their flaws to overcome the physical obstacles in their way.
- Fourth, by showing how they’ve changed, the characters ultimately succeed and defeat the villain.
The crucial point is that the physical action in “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is never pointless or irrelevant to the characters’ flaws. Instead of showing mindless action for the sake of showing off special effects, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” makes the action subservient to the changes the characters must go through. This makes the overall story far more enjoyable than simply watching endless amounts of physical action on the screen.
This is the way screenwriters write bad movies. They focus solely on the action and think what might be interesting without regard to the story or the characters’ emotional change. This creates boring action like “Justice League” or “Terminator 3.”
The way to write good movies is to identify your characters’ main flaws, create action that forces these characters to face and recognize their flaws, then use more action to force them to change. Finally, use more action that lets us see how they’ve changed so they can defeat the villain and succeed.
The main point is to focus on character change first and action second. Bad movies focus on action first and usually forget about emotional change altogether (which is the sure-fire formula for creating bad movies).
In your own screenplay, think of the emotional changes your characters must go through. Then identify how your characters can realize their flaws and finally show how they can change. At all times, mold your action to force your characters to change.
If you don’t know how your characters change emotionally, you don’t know what action your story needs. Emotional change is the crucial ingredient to making a good story. Action is always secondary.