Disney's Jungle Cruise Ride to Get a Rewrite

January 25, 2021, 3:00 PM · One of Disneyland's original attractions is getting a rewrite.

Walt Disney Imagineering announced today that it will be rewriting the Jungle Cruise attractions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom. The changes will see the addition of an animatronic Jungle skipper to the popular Adventureland attractions but will not include the stars of the upcoming "Jungle Cruise" feature film.

"As part of this story update, we’ll get to follow a Skipper and his passengers as their journey goes awry," said Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Lively - who's also a former Jungle skipper. "That’s right, for the first time ever, the Skipper role will not only be that of a live, experienced and witty guide, but also represented by a show figure within the attraction itself. In fact, the expedition will be up a tree after their sunken boat splits apart and chimps board the wreckage, with monkey business ensuing."

Getting to the point
Concept art courtesy Walt Disney Imagineering

Chimps on the Jungle Cruise

"Fans of the Jungle Cruise attraction may recall some boats that used to make their way around the river but haven’t been seen for a while —especially the Mekong Maiden and the Kwango Kate," Lively added. "Ever wonder what happened to them? Well, you might go ape when you find out. Ultimately, the jungle gets the last laugh."

With its collection of animatronic animals and natives within show scenes themed to jungle locations around the world, Disney's Jungle Cruise never had much of a narrative. It was always a collection of jokes around the set pieces - with the Skippers often going off script to write gags of their own. While Disney created an overall narrative for its Jingle Cruise holiday overlay, the new Jungle Cruise script will provide the attraction's first full-time narrative arc.

But let's face it. That's not the reason that Disney is changing this 66-year-old classic. Disney is rewriting Jungle Cruise to remove negative depictions of indigenous people in several scenes of the ride.

"As Imagineers, it is our responsibility to ensure experiences we create and stories we share reflect the voices and perspectives of the world around us," WDI's Executive, Creative Development & Inclusion Strategies, Carmen Smith, said. "With Jungle Cruise, we're bringing to life more of what people love - the humor and wit of our incredible skippers, while making needed updates."

Many fans had thought that Disney might change Jungle Cruise to add the stars of its upcoming "Jungle Cruise" movie, starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt. Disney added Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow and other characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to those attractions after the films' success. But sources with Imagineer said that the film characters will not be part of the Jungle Cruise rewrite.

Imagineering sources said that the company will reveal later more detail about the changes, which are scheduled for later this year. There are no plans to make changes at the Jungle Cruise-themed Trader Sam's bars or the Jungle Navigation Company Skipper Canteen restaurants, an Imagineering source confirmed. Nor will there be changes at the Jungle Cruise installations at Tokyo Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland.

As for other attraction changes, Disney is revamping the Snow White ride at Disneyland, which is another of the 10 opening-day rides still in operation at the park. That new version will debut once the Anaheim park is cleared by the state of California to reopen. Last year, WDI also announced that it will retheme the Splash Mountain rides at Disneyland and Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom to "The Princess and the Frog," removing characters and songs from Disney's deep-sixed, mistrel-inspired film "Song of the South."

For more on social justice in themed entertainment design, please read Can Theme Parks Get on the Right Side of History? from our 20 Great Reads for 20 Years of Theme Park Insider. And for more analysis of the Jungle Cruise changes specifically, watch for my column tomorrow in the Orange County Register.

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Replies (50)

January 25, 2021 at 3:16 PM

Fantastic news. The Jungle Cruise has been woefully outdated for years, and several of the images were are downright racist. I'll never forget the day my kids and I were on the boat with a Black family who we'd been chatting with in line, their first time at the park, and the look on that dad's face when we passed by the "headhunter." I haven't taken my kids on the ride since, I'll be looking forward to seeing the new updated version.

And great call not adding the Rock. I'm sure that was motivated by the fact that the Pirates of the Carribean now ends with a model of a drunken confirmed wife beater rolling his crazy robot eyes . . .

January 25, 2021 at 3:11 PM

This is really good news! I'm stunned they have the restraint to not add The Rock, but (happily) not disappointed!

January 25, 2021 at 3:12 PM

An Animatronic Skipper? Eww! I hope the "Only" part means they aren't ripping the soul out of this thing.

January 25, 2021 at 3:36 PM

I'm okay with this as the ride has needed such updating for decades and this sounds much better than other shifts. Remember, they used to have the lions feasting on a zebra which was a bit much for little kids so not the first time it's been altered.

It reminds me how the Western River Expedition would have had Native Americans with literal red skin and huge noses doing rain dances and scalping. Just imagine how that would have gone down years later...

Frankly, sounds much better than, say, audio-animatronic Dwayne Johnson put in to tie with the movie so looks good.

January 25, 2021 at 4:30 PM

I love when Disney keeps things updated and interesting. I may be 65 years old but I'm no stick in the mud when change comes calling. All is ask is that they incorporate the "backside of water" into the new script.

January 25, 2021 at 4:37 PM

Actually, I feel like setting the over/under on "backside of water" jokes in the new version at four.

January 25, 2021 at 4:56 PM

Pitchfork? Check.
Torch? Check.

January 25, 2021 at 5:39 PM

What bothers me about this idea is that the skippers will be locked into a script with little or no room for adlibs. The unapproved jokes that came from the skippers emerged organically. The presence of a locked-in story shuts down any chance for the skips to drop Adventurer's Club level humor. No way a sparkly of WDI writers is gonna type up the funny (probably giving the allegedly humourous lines to the robot) as good as something a skipper on his 100th trip of the week comes up with off the cuff.

No way.

"... and chimps board the wreckage, with monkey business ensuing"?

Really?

As for Carmen Smith (WDI's Executive, Creative Development & please reference the back of this business card to read the remainder of this corporate title) yeah, there is plenty of inappropriate material. So fix it. And while you're at it improve the landscaping. Add animals. Improve lighting and sound systems and boats.

But screw that "we're gonna re-write the story." Tell Lively to get back on the boat and give the skips a green light to cut loose. You'll get better material in a week than you will sitting in a cubicle hacking away at MSWord.

"Monkey business"? So stupid. So VERY stupid.

Sidenote: It's a pride of lions. A murder of crows. A sparkly of Imagineers.

January 25, 2021 at 5:36 PM

Looking forward to this The times, they are a’ changing.

January 25, 2021 at 6:04 PM

I think it's going to be similar to GMR, a live skipper interacting with preset show. Plenty of room for ad libs.

January 25, 2021 at 6:35 PM

Interesting that they chose to revamp this ride over Peter Pan. I guess it'll be easier to change out scenes on an outdoor attraction that can just be covered with scrims.

January 25, 2021 at 11:06 PM

If Skippers are included, maybe and hopefully there will be a connection to the Society of Explorers and Adventurers!? Then SEA can come to Disneyland in a big way besides just the Tropical Hideaway next door.

January 26, 2021 at 5:45 AM

"Take a look at those butterflies, folks. Don't they look amazing. Well you can pick them up at Wal-Mart for $12.95 apiece. Which means they're available for $49.50 at the gift shops here in the Magic Kingdom."

Do think Mr. Lively's team is gonna take the dialogue in that direction?

January 26, 2021 at 9:41 AM

Sadly, Disney has left themselves no choice but to formally script the Jungle Cruise. They have made diversity/inclusivity a Key, and the cultural stereotypes and humor derived from them throughout the Jungle Cruise are at odds with that Key. Disney can no longer give Skippers the leeway to adlib their jokes that could cross the line between what is considered "funny" and what is considered "offensive" by today's standards. Even if animatronics and scenes are stripped of culturally offensive imagery, the Skipper could still inadvertently stumble upon a reference (either one from years ago or one they invent on the fly) that could get them into trouble. Only a fully vetted and "approved" script can work now that Disney has drawn this line, meaning that Skippers putting on impromptu stand-up routines will be ancient history.

It's unfortunate that society has come to this point where we cannot laugh at each others' differences, but that's where the world is going. What used to be one of the most unique and entertaining jobs in the theme park industry will soon become just like all the rest because the world is incapable of laughing at itself.

January 26, 2021 at 10:21 AM

100% agree with Russell here...

For me the draw of the ride has always been the unique ride experience between each “Skipper” simply because the improv routines varied by the individual...Change the scenes, I’m perfectly fine with that...Seeing a group of white hunters run up a tree by a rhino rather than a group of indigenous hired guides does exactly zero to change the ride experience for me...

To have the CM’s all work from a script draws them closer to the ride experience the Great Movie Ride offered...Which to me was always clearly scripted, even with the occasional ad lib here and there...In short it felt inauthentic...

It is what it is at this point and even though I’m generally fine with updates to reflect modern society (The Splash Mountain re-theme gets two thumbs up from me for example), outside of changing some scenes, this one feels wrong...

January 26, 2021 at 10:32 AM

Oh Joy! While I agree that some storyline references are inappropriate and need to be scrapped, the vast majority (>99%) of material that the skippers used is appropriate. Now we’re getting rid of any character and uniqueness the ride had in favor of a excessive politically correct, sterile corporate script.

January 26, 2021 at 12:39 PM

I won't judge this until I experience it myself (if I can ever travel again!) but PC rewrites are seldom an improvement. Heaven forbid someone is "offended" and lodges some self rigteous complaint...

January 26, 2021 at 12:46 PM


More PC BS from Disney. I am surprises that they will continue to have human being as an operator. There is nothing like the greed of Disney. I figured that they would solely use an animatronic guide.

January 26, 2021 at 1:22 PM

Russell: "Sadly, Disney has left themselves no choice but to formally script the Jungle Cruise."

Me: They absolutely have a choice. Tear the attraction out and build a 'Moana' family themed coaster or dark ride. The Jungle Cruise takes up a big chunk of valuable real estate and The Rock won't care because he's in both flicks.

Russell: "Disney can no longer give Skippers the leeway to adlib their jokes ..."

Me: Disney doesn't give them leeway to adlib anything. The skippers already have a spiel. All content has to be run through WDI.

January 26, 2021 at 1:29 PM

@Russel Meyer: Actually, the "ad-lib" aspect has been almost dead for Jungle Cruise for years. Read David Koenig's excellent "Mouse Tales" books, they detail how Disney had Cruise captains stick to a script and even memos on "no non-1930s references" in the late-90s. Sure, the occasional bit for a certain guest on board but as TH Creative says, all jokes have to be run through the bosses to get the okay.

Even the old Adventurer's Club had to stick to much the same spiel night after night with only light alterations and nothing really crossing the line. This idea the captains make scores of this stuff up on the spot is just pushed by Disney to make it sound more spontaneous than it really is.

January 26, 2021 at 1:39 PM

The Jungle Cruise has been tightly scripted for ages. Skippers who dared deviate from "approved" spiels were always taking a chance. Sometimes it worked out, sometimes it didn't. This is no different.

I absolutely LOVE that skips aren't just telling the story, but are part of the story in this new version.

And yes, I'm glad that the whole "people of color about to be gored by a rhino, with a white guy on top in safety" thing is not being removed, but replaced with the same gag without the racism. I'm hoping that the "native uprising" scene is being replaced, and that the "new animated skipper figure" that is mentioned will replace Trader Sam.

The times, they are a-changing. And Disney needs to change with them. I have loved the Jungle Cruise for decades, but it's time to make a change. Disneyland should not be a museum for past prejudices. And I absolutely love the direction that Imagineering is taking with this change (and I'm also very glad that they are introducing a new storyline instead of shoe-horning the Jungle Cruise movie into the attraction like they did with Pirates of the Caribbean).

I am a definitely a fan of this update as described, and as I hope the things not described fall into place to match the announcement.

January 26, 2021 at 1:43 PM

Really, the one time I remember big ad-libbing on Jungle Cruise was in 1992 when a cold snap had temps in 40s and skipper going "Welcome to the hot...steamy...humid...blazing jungles." And I'm sure even that was already a scripted bit they just pull out on cold days.

Otherwise, I can easily see which jokes are coming on the ride as it doesn't deviate as much as some act like it does.

January 26, 2021 at 1:49 PM

I'm with Kenny--since when were the skippers allowed to go off script? When did any of them tell racist or inappropriate jokes? I've been at Disneyland at least twice every year for the past decade and all I've ever heard are a bunch of bored teenagers reciting the same tired jokes, usually in a monotone voice that sucked any remaining life out of the experience. A change to that is more than welcome, and if an animatronic captain adds more technological pizazz to the ride it can only benefit it.

As for this comment section: Watching people lament the rise of equality and inclusiveness--as if it's a zero sum game and white people are somehow going to lose something unless they're allowed to put down other people--is just one more depressing sign of the times. It's whitey's last angry gasp, the ultimate 'take your ball and go home' crybaby nonsense. Either go raid the Capitol with your other racist buddies or please, shut it.

"Disneyland should not be a museum for past prejudices." 100% that.

January 26, 2021 at 1:57 PM

With all the cuts at Disney, I suspect it will be years before this sees the light of day. Disney still has a whole attraction to retheme (Splash Mountain) that was announced last year already.

And James Trexen...if both these changes do actually happen, then Peter Pan will be next.

January 26, 2021 at 2:12 PM

You can find a ton of skippers adlibbing on Youtube. Funny stuff.

And TwoBits nails it with the Splash Mountain reference. I strikes me that Disney is trying to get ahead of the inappropriate stuff before October 1st.

Man, that 50th anniversary celebration has turned into a huge disappointment.

January 26, 2021 at 2:13 PM

Kenny Vee: "I absolutely LOVE that skips aren't just telling the story, but are part of the story in this new version."

Me: They were always part of the story.

January 26, 2021 at 2:28 PM

I guess "ad lib" wasn't the right term to use, but from reading stories from CMs that have held the role of Skipper, there is some freedom to develop new jokes and lines that are eventually incorporated into the "script" (more like an encyclopedia). It's a collective effort that has created an ever-evolving book of jokes and lines that skippers use. Yes, those lines are vetted and "approved" through supervisors, but it's typically been a bottom-up process where the Skippers develop ideas that are based directly on guest impressions, and not the top-down approach that sounds like will be the path moving forward.

Also, maybe I've been duped, but I've been on a JC trip (at Disneyland - the WDW version definitely is a more constrained script than the original version) where a second Skipper was on board and the lead Skipper explicitly stated to the crew that they're trying out new lines/jokes, many I had never heard before (including current pop culture references that could have never gone through vetting beyond operational staff in the days since the reference became relevant).

January 26, 2021 at 2:30 PM

Ad-libbed yes but still pre-approval so they don't say stuff Disney doesn't like to hear. And recall again how for the '90s they insisted on "always pretend it' the 1930s' to tie into the Indiana Jones ride, Disney has always pushed major creative control on the spiel.

January 26, 2021 at 2:40 PM

Attraction scripts don't go through ops or supervision. Scripts go through WDI.

Kenny Vee has it right: "The Jungle Cruise has been tightly scripted for ages. Skippers who dared deviate from "approved" spiels were always taking a chance."

January 26, 2021 at 2:58 PM

The more I look at this the more it looks like window dressing.

The Jungle Cruise has needed some love for a long time but a story (which we can only HOPE will be coherent) and a robot skipper seems unnecessary.

At WDW do the thing with the chimps in the boat. There is a perfect space just past the scene where the gorillas have raided the camp.

Change the figures in the rhino scene to make them look ... Whatever.

Lose the boat full of skulls (if it is still there) and wall off the dancing guys. Remove the attacking guys (which are lame to begin with) and maybe add a pop-up figure (not too late to change your mind and write a check to The Rock and Ms. Blunt).

Other than that, upgrade the skins on the animals. Improve sound systems. Upgrade the landscaping and maybe add a waterfall across from the Veldt.

And just leave the skippers alone.

January 26, 2021 at 3:01 PM

"Oh look! That family of lions is watching over that sleeping zebra. 'Can You Feel the Love Tonight?' That reminds me of my favorite Disney movie: TRON."

January 26, 2021 at 3:01 PM

It is still early stages, remember so like many planned redos, they might change it up before it reaches the final version. It sometimes seems Disney puts out ideas like this to gauge the public feeling first then adjust as it goes on so they might shift more.

I can go with some changes to animals and getting rid of the "attacking natives" (an effect that really hasn't aged well) and the chimps in the boat part is a gag so perfect I'm amazed it hasn't been done before now.

But I would say stay away from use of characters from the movie, that doesn't work out that well (see Pirates) so that's one change I'm happy Disney doesn't make.

January 26, 2021 at 3:19 PM

I totally agree with TH Creative that the "skippers" aren't telling their own stories and jokes here. They have a script that they have to adhere to. No way does Disney take a chance that a "skipper" might say something offensive. Just like they don't actually let them steer the boats either. I'm glad Disney updates their rides and attractions. Imagine how boring it would be to see the same thing over and over and over. Disney World is going to be a completely different park by the time I get back down there.

January 26, 2021 at 3:28 PM

I think it's sort of like, say, the Genie in the Aladdin show or some of the bits of Monsters Inc/Adventurer's Club, they have leeway for ad-libbing but still very strict guidelines on what they can and cannot say.

And sadly, for every skipper who can be fun like that, there can be another just sticking to the script so it sometimes depends which captain you get and how much they're into it.

January 26, 2021 at 3:58 PM

How soon after Peter Pan’s eventual changing will we see Jack Sparrow removed from PotC since Johnny Depp has had recent issues.

January 26, 2021 at 4:12 PM

@TwoBits: Actually, I've been wanting Sparrow removed for years, not for the Depp stuff just that it's way too distracting in the first place. And come on, not like Pirates hasn't been changing stuff already over the decades.

It's why I'm very happy that among these Cruise changes isn't adding anything for the coming movie.

January 26, 2021 at 4:17 PM

This certainly sounds more like a PC move than a genuine attempt at improving the attraction, but at least it seems to preserve the parts of the attraction that work. If it turns out well for the ride, great. If not, perhaps it will pave the way for a replacement. While the Jungle Cruise isn't a bad ride by any means, by today's standards it's a third tier attraction that occupies a significant chunk of land, and particularly in California where space is at a premium it may have outlived its usefulness if these changes don't increase interest in the attraction.

January 26, 2021 at 6:54 PM

@Russell What's so unfortunate about not being able to "Laugh at each other's differences"? Were there equivalent jokes and differences we could laugh at on this ride?

January 26, 2021 at 6:52 PM

Love it! Why don't they just do it all in one go instead of doing it progressively? Replace all humans with pre-programmed robots and modify all animatronics to be featureless, colourless and gender neutral.........and only serve vegan food!

January 27, 2021 at 10:08 AM

@sxcymike - That comment was more aimed at our society at large and the evolving need to view EVERYTHING through a diversity/inclusion lens, and nothing specific regarding the Jungle Cruise. Aside from the various jokes/lines in the Natives scene and Trader Sam, there aren't any other socially/racially insensitive jokes on the ride that I have personally been exposed to (I have heard of, but never experienced, certain culturally sensitive jokes/lines in the Temple scene). My comment was more geared towards the overall trend in society that seeks to neuter the art of comedy. I have often thought that comics that rely on "blue" and racial humor were being lazy, but some of the best (like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock) have used social commentary to not only elicit laughs and supercharge their routines, but to make statements about the absurdity of the world around us. Viewing other cultures and people through the lens of humor helps us to understand and relate to each other and to bring us closer as a society, but there are those in the world that seek to make people feel guilty and shameful for chuckling at a joke that has just a tinge of racial/social stereotyping.

Not everyone on the planet views the world in the same way, and everyone needs different techniques to relate to cultures/people they see as foreign. Humor is an important way for us to create that connection to each other and to help cope and understand certain situations. Sometimes humor can cross lines that can make certain people uncomfortable, but that should not justify the call to stop using humor to relate to our differences. Learning to laugh at yourself is just as important as learning to embrace and respect how others are different from you.

January 27, 2021 at 9:25 AM

Thanks to my pal Russell for his thoughtful perspective. Also, Disney Springs is a theme park.

January 27, 2021 at 10:29 AM

More PC moves by Disney today, this time on Disney+:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9179987/Disney-blocks-sevens-watching-racist-Peter-Pan-Dumbo-Aristocats.html

Today it’s the under 7 crowd...eventually it will be aimed at tweens, then teens, then adults.

January 27, 2021 at 11:26 AM

@Russell my question was coming from someone who always walked passed said attraction, so thank you for that response. However, since there are those with the mindset of living homogeneously, I have no problem with such a diversified/inclusive lens.

January 27, 2021 at 1:26 PM

@Russell the obvious response is that if the jokes flowed in all directions equally, you might have a point. But the jokes inevitably flow in one direction, away from the white hegemony. It's perfectly easy for you to laugh it off because the racist imagery and "jokes" (as you call them) usually aren't directed at you.

When America is no longer plagued by its racist core, I'll join you in your "jokes for everyone" crusade. But it's not, so you can keep your "jokes" to yourself.

January 27, 2021 at 1:57 PM

Have you ever watched an uncensored Dave Chappelle routine thecolonel - most notably his most recent Netflix special? What about Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, or Larry the Cable Guy? Key and Peele aimed a lot of comedic commentary at the white middle class, and In Living Color spread the jabs across racial/social/gender lines before we even had words for the groups they were satirizing.

Laughter is sorely needed in this world, and some of the funniest situations within society occur when people of different backgrounds are put into the same setting (a priest, a rabbi, and an atheist walk into a bar...). Those "jokes" not only provide entertainment and a needed emotional connection, but help to illuminate the absurdity and silliness of what are just different ways of reacting to the same problem that make us a diverse society. If we have to sanitize and homogenize our world to the point where we cannot see the humor in our differences, this planet will become a very depressing place.

January 27, 2021 at 2:40 PM

I'm with you Russell. Perspective is everything.

January 29, 2021 at 8:45 PM

I cannot laugh with the ban of "those jokes".. The ban in itself is a new terrible witch-hunt !
All the "political correctness" of the past 2 decennia is becoming creepy ... DANGEROUS fashistoide !
Up to the point that jokes are not allowed anymore, but killing the joker (and complete social environment, such as through the Islamic terror... , example Brussels Airport attack in 2016, at 7km from my birthplace) becomes "accepted" matter in the eyes of those who reject the joking....
The morality is turned completely upside down.

ALL existed, by the way, and still exists. Head-hunting, canibalism, witch-hunting etc etc etc ... brushing images and reflexions of those historical FACTS under the table, is just as unacceptable as the denial of the holocaust (to give an example).

Headhunting!
Canibalism!
Witch-hunt!

Food for thought....
(Kudos to Russell)

January 29, 2021 at 10:46 AM

Russell, you nailed it! Thank you!

and Herwig, you are spot on!

January 29, 2021 at 10:59 AM

My two bits about the Jungle Cruise - It has needed an update for a long time. If Disney wants to get rid of what they perceive as insensitive material, so be it. As long as it is entertaining and fun, then I'm all for it.

Heck! I'd even ride it if they swapped out the Donald Trump animatronic in the Hall of Presidents with the Trader Sam animatronic on Jungle Cruise. Solve two problems at the same time, and it might make the attractions better!

January 29, 2021 at 8:46 PM

Thanks, Tim !

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