Jungle Cruise takes audiences on a journey to the Backside of Water as the Disney ride comes to the big screen in this action-adventure.
Fans of the attraction will certainly be pleased. Dwayne Johnson is no stranger to the wonderful world of Disney and his performance in the film does right by anyone who has ever skippered the Disney attraction. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the ride, let me suggest tuning to Behind the Attraction on Disney+. Trust me when I say that you won’t regret it. In fact, I find it very complementary to the film. If not for Marc Davis, one of Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men and a Disney Legend, this film wouldn’t be as punny. It was Davis that brought the wit to the skipper scripts on the attraction. Prior to his contribution, the ride felt like a documentary. Anyway, many puns are in the film including the infamous backside of water.
Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), a British scientist, journeys from London to Porto Velho, Brazil with her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), in 1917. It’s there that they hire skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), head of the Jungle Navigation Company, to lead them down the Amazon on Frank’s boat, La Quila. Carrying nothing but an arrowhead neckless and a map of the Amazon and its tributaries, they don’t have a clue about what lies ahead. They’re searching for a tree in hopes of changing the future. It’s the story of legends. Little does she know what she’s in for as the journey gets under way. Better to keep all arms and legs inside the boat because you never know what’s lurking along the riverbank.
With both riverboat operator Nilo (Paul Giamatti) extorting Frank and the villainous Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) chasing after them, it becomes urgent that they leave quickly. Wild animals are not the only threat facing them on this jungle cruise. No, the threat of the cursed conquistadors Captain Aguirre (Edgar Ramírez), Sancho (Dani Rovira), and Melchor (Quim Gutiérrez) is also looming as they journey deeper into the Amazon. Scenes involving the captain may be a bit on the scary side for younger children. If they don’t make it to this ancient tree, there’s no telling what will happen. It’s like we’re right there on the ride with them as they journey through the Amazon. In the meantime, Trader Sam (Veronica Falcón) gets a reimagining as she comes over from the Disney attraction.
I don’t know yet if a sequel is in the cards but Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt’s chemistry on screen made for an entertaining film. The duo are perfect for a film with a throwback feel. After watching Blunt take on the role of Mary Poppins, it’s fun to watch her revisiting the early 1900s in a very different Disney film. Is it a cliché to say that she was born for this role? The other thing I love about this film is that Proxima steals the show-even if they used an on-set actor only to be replaced later by CGI! Hours after watching the film, I already want to revisit these characters. Maybe it’s the throwback feeling or just wanting to go on an adventure? I mean, factor in the pandemic and this film was like a vacation!
Meanwhile, MacGregor Houghton is the reason why there are so many comical moments in the film. With his stylish wardrobe, he’s like a fish out of water on this jungle cruise. I mean, who packs that many suitcases?!? Another thing I need to note is his character is LGBTQ. The film implies this during one heartfelt scene when he’s discussing marriage. He doesn’t necessarily outright say it because it’s 1917 and being LGBTQ wasn’t popular during that period. As far as I know, Whitehall is also straight until I hear anything differently. But more importantly, they do not treat the character’s sexual orientation as a joke. Unfortunately, the scene is still short enough to where other countries could censor it and it would not remove anything from the main plot.
Indiana Jones certainly could have a rival in an adventurer like Lily Houghton. It’s funny to think about because the Disneyland attraction actually predates the film from George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. In fact, the original ride was designed with John Huston’s 1951 classic film, The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn as an inspiration. Years later, you can’t help but see the comparisons between the films. Why not look to the classic as a guide for the film? They already inspired the costumes for the original attraction. Both films take place during World War I so that’s one thing that they have in common! Jungle Cruise feels like a throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood. In another decade, maybe someone like Huston or Michael Curtiz would have directed the film?
Say what you will about Disney’s decision to release the film in both theaters and Disney+ Premier Access but I think it’s the right call. I always value the theatrical experience but between the highly transmissive Delta variant and anti-vaxxers, it’s better to be safe than sorry. This is a film that’s fun for the whole family so again, it’s the right call in this changing cinematic/streaming landscape. Watching at home certainly hurts theaters but with as much as tickets cost today, it’ll be cheaper for families in the long-term. The film runs 2 hours, 7 minutes as an FYI, not the 2:38 as suggested by Google. As of last night, producer Beau Flynn was trying to get the run time fixed on Google.
Behind the camera, Jaume Collet-Serra takes the helm. He’s directed a number of horror films as well as a few action thrillers starring Liam Neeson. But anyway, there is a lot of pressure on any filmmaker to direct a Disney film let alone one based on a fan-favorite attraction! Ultimately, his style really works with the film. I can’t wait to see what he does with directing DC’s Black Adam starring Dwayne Johnson.
That production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos was able to build up Porto Velho from scratch is very impressive. It’s a massive set but it’s hard to see how they could even consider substituting for a soundstage. Sometimes, you just can’t substitute authenticity when it comes to the magic of filmmaking! The filmmakers manage to beautifully recreate the jungle on soundstages in Atlanta. Meanwhile, La Quila is a character in and of itself. The boat isn’t the best thing to look at and it’s falling apart from wear and tear but it’s Frank’s baby.
Visually, ILM’s work never ceases to amaze me. They do it again here with how the conquistadors came to be. I’ll say little because of spoilers but it’s Oscar-worthy work.
James Newton Howard contributes neoclassical score worthy of a throwback feature. such as this one There’s a few themes here including the Jungle Cruise fanfare, Frank, and one for Frank and Lily’s continuing relationship. Meanwhile, the composer also incorporates Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” into the score.
I think back to some of the films based on Disney attractions over the years. Pirates of the Caribbean spawned a franchise while both The Country Bears and Tomorrowland flopped. Jungle Cruise may just be Disney’s best attraction-based film to date. There’s just so much fun to be had! It’s exactly the right type of swashbuckling action-adventure audiences need as society hopes to come out of a pandemic. I honestly feel that Walt Disney himself would be proud of the final product.
Jungle Cruise does what it needs to do in providing thrilling entertainment as a throwback feature while simultaneously making fans of the Disney attraction happy. The film is fun for the whole family whether you’re watching on the big screen or at home on TV.
DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra
SCREENWRITERS: Michael Green and Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
CAST: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, with Jesse Plemons and Paul Giamatti