So how much like Disney's Jungle Cruise is Disney's Jungle Cruise?
Disney's latest attempt to turn one of its beloved theme park attractions into a motion picture franchise hits theaters and Disney Plus Premier Access this weekend. The word on the theme park attraction long has been that your ride will be as good as your skipper. With Dwayne Johnson at the helm of Jaume Collet-Serra's film, we should know that we're in for a fun time.
(I watched the movie tonight at D23's premiere event at the El Capitan in Hollywood, along with thousands of other Disney fans, clad in Jungle Cruise skipper hats and noshing on Dole Whips. After a live pipe organ mini-concert of Disney tunes, Disney CEO Bob Chapek appeared to thank fans and introduce the film. See some photos on our Instagram.)
But we don't see Johnson right away. Emily Blunt gets to launch this adventure, playing Dr. Lily Houghton, a botanist obsessed with finding the Tears Of The Moon - the miraculous healing petals of a legendary flowering tree that has been luring explorers to their demise in the Amazon for centuries. With her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) serving as decoy to distract the members of a stuffy turn-of-the-20th-century British scientific society that can't be bothered to listen to a mere woman, Blunt takes the film's first set piece - a swashbuckling theft from the society's archives of the artifact that's key to finding the long-lost tree.
That scene also introduces our Big Bad - the German Prince Joachim. Played by the wonderfully twisted Jesse Plemons ("Breaking Bad," "Game Night"), Prince Joachim gives us a World War I-era version of the "evil German" stereotype. He's after the same petals, both to help Germany win the war and to help him rule Germany.
After introducing the Houghtons and our villain, we then get to meet Johnson's Frank Wolff - skipper of the Jungle Navigation Company's La Quila. On board sailing the Amazon, Johnson wastes no time riffing into dozens of well-worn Jungle Cruise jokes that will be familiar to frequent Disney theme park visitors.
And yes, they do the "backside of water" gag - even before we see the movie's title on screen.
The Houghtons soon arrive in Brazil, and after a few more set pieces in a long first act, 45 minutes into the film the Houghtons and Skipper Wolff set sail on our adventure. At this point, classic movie fans might be raising an eyebrow. A jungle skipper taking a brother and sister up river with Germans on the hunt? Yes, you are getting strong "The African Queen" vibes here - as you should, as that 1951 film much influenced the look of Disneyland's original Jungle Cruise ride.
The Germans disappear for much of the second act, during which we meet the film's version of the natives that Disney recently dispatched from the theme park rides. Except that here, they're in on the con - playing the savage role for gullible tourists that Wolff brings up river. There's a point to be made here about first-world visitors' expectations in a remote land, but don't waste time waiting for the film to pull on that thread. This is very much a cinematic carnival ride - one emotional trigger after another, all to leave you entertained while giving your brain a much-needed rest.
The Germans return for the third act, in which Jungle Cruise goes full-on "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." In fact, we've got a blend of Pirates of the Caribbean with "Avatar" here, with a dash of - I kid you not - "National Treasure: Book of Secrets"' finale thrown in just to complete Disney fans' movie-reference Bingo cards.
The resolution is a cheap and corny as the jokes on a typical Jungle Cruise ride, which I suppose is what we deserve for climbing aboard this two-hour trip. Even Blunt's Dr. Houghton gets to crack a Jungle-style joke during the final scene, which creates plenty of room for the sequel that Disney surely hopes a big box office weekend (and Disney Plus order) will justify.
Overall, "Jungle Cruise" (the movie) delivers laughs, action, and enough in-jokes to satisfy any dedicated theme park fan. And if you don't believe me... you might be in de-nile.
Sorry, I couldn't resist.
* * *
We wanted you to read this article before we make our newsletter pitch, unlike so many other websites. If you appreciate that - and our approach to covering theme park, travel, and entertainment news - please sign up for our free, three-times-a-week email newsletter. Thank you.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.