Movie Review: Disney's Jungle Cruise

July 29, 2021, 11:37 PM · 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.)

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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.

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Replies (16)

July 30, 2021 at 9:02 AM

"Evil German" stereotype? Thats racist Disney should remove that character from the movie.

July 30, 2021 at 10:00 AM

@Daniel, This is very clearly a setup. Watch Disney Animation: in a few years, by way of apology, they'll release culturally respectful Princess Movie set in Germany. After that, the new IP can profitably take over the Germany pavilion in EPCOT.

Also: this is a terrific review. I appreciate the restraint which paid off with the punch of the closing sentence.

July 30, 2021 at 10:03 AM

Surely they must have included Shirley Temple?

July 30, 2021 at 10:14 AM

Meanwhile, Disney Springs is reporting that all showtimes at the AMC are sold out for this weekend. Apparently, they were all bought out by one ticket goer. Disney was not at liberty to disclose the identify of this mysterious patron, only that his first name is Tim…

July 30, 2021 at 10:24 AM

Odd that they decided to go the supernatural route. PotC, the ride, has at least a slight nod to the supernatural with the talking skull and crossbones, so there it seemed to fit. But the Jungle Cruise ride is meant to be reality based, seems off brand to bring in otherworldly elements.

July 30, 2021 at 10:34 AM

Nice review - Thanks...

James - All AMC theaters sold out to one person - hahahahahaah....

July 30, 2021 at 11:13 AM

Took my family to see it last night…

Absolutely loved it…

It’s very much an adventure movie in the vein of the Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean so those comparisons are apt (More closely to the Mummy from my perspective)…The Rock has a tendency to suck all the charisma from his co-stars for some reason…Not on purpose but it’s just because he’s so damn charismatic himself that everybody else around him just seems lesser when sharing the screen with him…Amazingly enough Emily and Jack more than hold their own here and it really does feel like an ensemble rather than another ~here’s THE ROCK~ movie…The baddies could’ve been given a bit more screen time and Paul Giamatti’s character was criminally underused but overall it’s a great summer time adventure movie…

Sets things up for a sequel or spin-offs in this world…**SPOILER** While they don’t specifically call it S.E.A. they certainly reference the “Society” several times **SPOILER**

I really hope it does well but it feels like they spent a good chunk of change making it, and COVID won’t be doing it any favors in getting to be a big earner…If not for COVID then Disney would’ve absolutely kicked off their new big money franchise for sure with this one…Hopefully it does well enough to keep things going because this was a good one…

July 30, 2021 at 11:40 AM

I don’t think the society in the film is supposed to be SEA. (There’s a brief glimpse of a sign with the society’s name, and it ain’t SEA.) I wonder if Blunt’s character will go on to join the actual SEA in a sequel. That’s definitely the vibe I got.

July 30, 2021 at 11:49 AM

Planning to see it at my big movie house tomorrow so looking forward to it. I always like the idea of "guy does a con on tourists only to run into the real thing" storyline so this looks fun.

July 30, 2021 at 12:01 PM

I can certainly see that being the case Rob…She could decide to create her own inclusive “Society” which ends up being the SEA we’ve seen references to in the parks for a long while now…Very exciting possibilities if this film manages to be a success…Let me be the first to say that an Expedition Everest film set in this film universe and s mandatory at this point…Make it happen Disney, make it happen…

July 31, 2021 at 6:24 PM

JUst saw it and pretty fun. Some good twists on the plot and the backstory and Johnson and Blunt terrific along with Whitehall bringing more depth to a role than expected.

Now imagining the sequel, Lilly finding a clue to an ancient Viking treasure and warned "this is no Cruise...it's a Malestrom."

July 31, 2021 at 10:14 PM

I was dumbfounded that they took the "tribesmen" out of the ride to make it more inclusive, but then put them in the movie.

July 31, 2021 at 11:06 PM

Robert, you wrote, “I watched the movie tonight at D23's premiere event at the El Capitan in Hollywood, along with thousands of other Disney fans…”

How could you be sure all of those thousands of Disney fans were vaccinated as you wish Disney would require of all park guests over the age of 11 as you recently tweeted out?

https://twitter.com/themepark/status/1421237801253625856?s=21

August 1, 2021 at 6:04 AM

This movie is a little too Mummy Returns and not enough The Mummy (Fraser/Weisz not that Cruise abomination).
There is 1 part that I won't ruin (at the village) that I kind of hated, without that I think it would have been a better film, for me it really didn't fit.

It was still an enjoyable film,the cast is great, perform their roles perfectly although Paul Giamatti felt completely underused.

August 1, 2021 at 3:58 PM

@stevenz: The movie was shot two years ago, intended for last summer, long before the decision on the ride was made.

August 3, 2021 at 9:13 PM

Not perfect, but very enjoyable movie.

Incidentally, while the film has a nod to a movie influence on the ride (African Queen), I liked that the final act seemed to reference a ride influence: Blackpool Pleasure Beach's River Caves.

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