After years and years of chugging through development, then reshoots, then delayed releases due to the pandemic, JUNGLE CRUISE has finally sailed into theaters and onto Disney+ with Premier Access today. Does it live up to the silly, adventurous spirit of the beloved attraction that has been enchanting Disney park guests since 1955? Are there dumb jokes? How do you turn a 10 minute ride into a feature length movie?
There are some really dumb jokes, and Dwayne Johnson capably delivers them with dad-like deadpan to a boat full of increasingly disgusted paying guests. A charter skipper in the Amazon, Johnson plays Frank, whose dilapidated boat relies on tricks and gags to entertain (and shake down) his guests. After nicking a priceless artifact in London, botanist Dr. Lily Houghton (the always delightful Emily Blunt) arrives on Frank’s dock with her more genteel brother MacGregor in tow, on the hunt for the legendary “Tears of the Moon.”
I’ll spare you the details (don’t miss the first 90 seconds of the film….if you’re late, the background exposition will be missed and you will be quite lost later on), but Lily’s quest entangles her in a web of lies, curses, and in some rare cases, even death.
Johnson is perfect for this, building on his extensive resume of family blockbusters with what will surely be a new franchise if enough money is minted. He’s charming, gigantic, funny, and endearing. Blunt proves to be a perfect foil in this odd couple situation. They’re certainly not two stars one would think of together, and yet they have genuine chemistry that spills off the screen.
Blunt was wooed by the film’s director, who hand delivered the script to her in Brooklyn. She purposefully played “hard to get” and Johnson recorded a personal video from her from the set of his current film, essentially begging her to sign on. According to Johnson it was 10 minutes long, Blunt says 25…we may never know, but regardless, the video prompted a meeting. Blunt mentioned that being married to a large famous man (John Krasinski) she’s used to not calling attention to them, but admitted that she was so excited to meet Johnson she yelled “heeeeyyyyyy” in a crowded restaurant when he arrived, promptly pulling every eyeball in the room onto Johnson’s huge frame.
Supporting the A listers are some excellent character actors, among whom Jack Whitehall will stand out as new to most American audiences. Whitehall is a British comedian and actor whose previous Disney work includes one line in FROZEN that was unceremoniously cut before release (and without his knowledge). Here he plays Blunt’s brother, a suspiciously foppish rich boy who reveals his sexuality later in the film and the hardship it has caused him (the story is set in 1916). There have been a number of “first gay Disney characters” in the past few years, but MacGregor beats them all so far by virtue of actually bringing it up instead of just being coded/obvious.
Jesse Plemons is a joy as the Kaiser’s immortality-seeking son, Prince Joachim. He devours entire chunks of scenery every time he hits the screen and it’s just perfect. Paul Giamatti appears as a sun-beaten tour operator, and Edgar Ramirez is suitably evil as cursed conquistador Aguirre (and ironically, terrified of snakes in real life). I won’t spoil Veronica Falcón‘s role for you here, but she is a delightful surprise.
During a press conference broadcast from Disneyland earlier in the week, we learned that Blunt and Ramirez had never been on the ride until just this week. Blunt found it “whimsical” and Ramirez was especially pleased to experience the backside of water in person. Johnson talked about riding it as a child, and his attachment to it is what drew him to this project in the first place. His genuine enthusiasm is fun to behold – he appears to be all but cynicism-free, which is certainly refreshing.
Jaume Collet-Sera‘s cut of the film is a little long at just over two hours, but the action rarely lets up, the jokes are plentiful, and the visuals are sumptuous. Can’t really ask for more from a family summer adventure movie here as kids will like the slapstick and adults will enjoy the layered humor (one stick-biting joke provoked gasps and guffaws at our screening). Of course the big screen is the best place to take in a spectacle like this one, but Disney Premier Access is an excellent options for families who don’t want to drop $100 on tickets and popcorn while also exposing unvaccinated children to crowds.
Like CRUELLA in May, JUNGLE CRUISE is a pleasant and diverting surprise. If only we could all have Dole Whips while watching it!
See it for Yourself
JUNGLE CRUISE is in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access today.