JUNGLE CRUISE perfectly captures the essence of the Disney World/Disneyland ride it is based off of—a non-stop, entertaining, pun-filled adventure that will leave you with a big smile on your face. Add the always charismatic Emily Blunt and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to the mix and this movie makes for a swash-buckling summer blockbuster that is fun for the whole family. I found myself comparing the film to adventure epics like PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN mixed with the romance of THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROMANCING THE STONE.
Set in 1916 amid the backdrop of World War I, the story follows Lily (Blunt), a botanist who is seeking adventure in a world that does not take women seriously. Lily has heard stories about a magical tree residing in the South American rainforest that is able to heal any ailment. Such a discovery would change the world, especially because she could use it to heal the thousands of critically injured Allied soldiers on the frontlines. So, she uses her upper crust brother (Jack Whitehall) as a talking head to gain entry into a London-based explorer’s club, where she finds an arrowhead that will allegedly show her the way to the tree.
Of course, a quest of this magnitude always comes with competition, and Lily quickly realizes hers is German explorer Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemmons), who is seeking the tree’s healing powers for his country’s benefit in the war. When Lily and her brother arrive on the Amazon River to begin their quest, they seek a fast boat and local guide with a knowledge of the land to help them along the way; any competitive edge helps, right?
In steps Frank (Johnson), a brawny riverboat captain that makes his money taking tourists on “dangerous” (aka staged) tours of the jungle. His boat is held together by rubber bands and toothpicks, so he needs Lily’s money to help pay off the substantial debt he owes in maintenance costs. Using some sneaky tricks, Frank shows that he is the only captain for the job, and the three set off to find the tree. But Joachim is not the trio’s only problem; the jungle has hidden secrets that threaten to derail their mission altogether.
Much like Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz in THE MUMMY, or Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in ROMANCING THE STONE, Johnson and Blunt’s chemistry in JUNGLE CRUISE is the heart of the film. I was rooting for the characters’ relationship from their very first scene together, which, like their predecessors, starts off pretty stormy before blossoming into romance. I particularly loved that Frank gives Lily the cheeky nickname of “Pants,” which describes her affinity for wearing pants over dresses IN THE JUNGLE. The horror!
My main critique of the film, however, is that it relies too heavily on shaky CGI that, at times, looks distractingly fake in comparison to other recent Disney films like MULAN. For example, being a crazy cat lady myself, I love that Frank has a pet “cat”. But the animal looks so fake, it is surprising that it was even included in the movie. I also don’t understand why the great Paul Giamatti was so underused as the smarmy boat company overlord. Maybe there were more scenes left on the cutting room floor?
Still, I liked that the film’s practical sets and insanely detailed production design were made to have the same general look as the ride, which fans are sure to recognize immediately. My personal favorite was how the the film incorporated the atmosphere of the ride’s queue through the boathouse into the exterior look of the river town. And not only that, the boat is pretty spot on too (on a larger scale, of course). Just wait ’til you get a look at the true natural wonder of the world, the backside of a waterfall.
JUNGLE CRUISE fills the giant hole left in the epic adventure genre since the last good PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film, and I will be shocked if anyone walks away without having a good time. That can particularly be said for fans of the ride, who will love the familiar pun-filled, inside jokes. With the ride being recently renovated at Disneyland and Disney World, I can’t wait to see how it incorporates elements of the film to make a whole new generation of Jungle Cruise fans.
Jungle Cruise opens in theaters and starts streaming on Disney+ Premiere Access for $29.99 on July 30th!
My Review: B+