“Jungle Cruise is an absolute blast. It’s an action-packed and fun rollercoaster ride that’ll leave you gasping for air and desperate for more!”
Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride has been delighting audiences for well over six decades. It is part of the fabric of Disneyland itself. With its delightful theme park animals and laughably bad jokes, it has become a Disney staple. In the theme park arena, it is a recipe for success. But does its translate to the big screen under the watchful eye of Dwayne Johnson?
Of course, it does. If you were hoping for another review where I ravage another shameful cash grab (Tom & Jerry) look away now. This isn’t that kind of review. Jungle Cruise is an absolute blast. It’s a wonderful adventure full of heart, fun, action, and hijinks that will leave you craving another ride. And a sequel…hopefully!
Trying to build a story based on a theme park ride is a thankless task, but having learned valuable lessons from Pirates Of The Caribbean, Jungle Cruise nails the landing. Written by John Norville & Josh Goldstein and Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, the film is a triumph and far more layered than I was expecting. And it succeeds in harnessing the very best traits of the ride to deliver a film truly worthy of its namesake.
The adventure follows Emily Blunt‘s Dr. Lily Houghton as she strives to overcome the misogyny of the early 20th Century. Her quest to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities is ridiculed by the male-driven scientific community. So, she sets out with her charming, but snobbish brother (Jack Whitehall) in tow on an adventure to the Amazon. To find the ancient tree of life, Lily enlists the services of wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) and commissions him to take her downriver. Skipper Frank is a notorious fraud. One who takes clients along the river and bamboozles them with fake dangers, bad jokes, and the rarely seen enigma that is…the backside of water!
After experiencing one of Frank’s subpar river cruises we are introduced to Paul Giamatti‘s Nilo Nemolato, a crusty harbormaster who manages the port where Frank docks his boat. And after some hijinks in Nilo’s office, Lily ends up aboard the La Quila (Frank’s boat) and in search of the tree. However, Lily is not the only interested party.
Enter the unconquerable Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim, a deranged and ambitious German aristocrat. In a career-best and scene-stealing performance, Plemons’ noteworthy villain enters the race to find the tree. And he doesn’t care who he has to kill to get it. During a typically action-packed escape through the harbor, Joachim enters the race and attacks Frank’s rustic craft; in of all things…a German U-boat that was strategically submerged in the dock.
With Frank’s cleverness getting the better of Joachim, the La Quila escapes leaving the villain to seek the help of Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), a four-hundred-year-old cursed conquistador who agrees to hunt Lily down in exchange for lifting the curse. What follows is a rip-roaring adventure with Frank, Lily, and McGregor (Whitehall) racing to reach the tree of life, all the while being pursued by innumerable dangers and supernatural forces.
Ordinarily, this run-of-the-mill adventure plot would wear pretty thin after the 90-minute mark, but Jungle Cruise avoids this with some well-structured character development. And every character benefits from this added layering. None more so than Emily Blunt’s intrepid adventurer. Lily strives to overcome the sexism of the time and have her work recognized by her ignorant peers. Frank’s backstory is truly vital to the plot and is far more profound than anyone could imagine. And we get to explore his motives in visceral detail which only adds weight to his character. But the true moral of the story is acceptance. And the full weight of this message rests solely with Jack Whitehall’s McGregor.
During an emotionally impactful scene with Johnson’s Skipper Frank, McGregor describes his persecution after coming out as gay. It’s a poignant moment reflective of the attitudes of the time. But it is handled most beautifully and reinforces the message of acceptance which we can all take something from.
For Jungle Cruise, Disney needed the right talent to bring the adventure story home and they delivered big time. Johnson, Blunt, and Whitehall are perfectly cast and their rapport on the screen makes the movie a genuine treat. Johnson is having a blast as Skipper Frank, and Emily Blunt delivers a typically solid performance. Jack Whitehall is one of the shining stars of the film and his witty one-liners help to keep the film light and fun. Paul Giamatti’s role amounts to little more than a glorified cameo, but when he is on screen, he delivers a typically commanding performance.
Edgar Ramírez delivers a menacing performance as the cursed conquistador Aguirre, but his lack of screentime prevents him from reaching the heights of the best Disney villains. But the real star of Jungle Cruise is Jesse Plemons. His performance as Prince Joachim stands head and shoulders above the rest. His quintessential German aristocrat is ironically played for laughs, but Plemons delivers a career-best performance that outshines them all. And will be remembered long after the credits have rolled.
And finally, a notable shout-out goes to Proxima, the adorable CGI jaguar. The comical cat is a delightful addition to the cast and kids are going to adore her. She commands the screen and enhances every single scene she is in and becomes a hero in her own right. It isn’t often that a computer-generated creature impacts the movie in this way. And despite the CGI being a little lacking at times, Proxima will quickly become a beloved addition to the Disney ranks.
ANIMATION & CGI
Speaking of CGI, Jungle Cruise has its fair share of Computer Generated shots, and not all of them live up to Disney’s high standards. For the most part, the animation is on point, but it fails to live up to the hyper-real effect delivered by Jon Favreau’s Jungle Book or The Lion King. But thankfully, these moments are few and far between and do not detract from what is a thrilling two hours and change.
Another tick in the plus column is a typically noteworthy score from James Newton Howard. His soundtrack is jam-packed full of memorable themes and the unlikely collaboration with Metallica on an instrumental version of “Nothing Else Matters” delivers an epic theme that will have fans rolling in the aisles.
Where other studios would have failed, Disney has delivered a solid win with Jungle Cruise. After building a solid franchise in Pirates Of The Caribbean, the house of mouse knows better than anyone how to turn its theme park rides into blockbusters. And Jungle Cruise is no exception. Under the solid direction of Jaume Collet-Serra, Disney has delivered the perfect family summer blockbuster. It’s an action-packed and fun rollercoaster ride that’ll leave you gasping for air and desperate for more! And that is a rare thing.
Disney’s Jungle Cruise sails into cinemas and onto Disney Plus Premier Access from July 30.
Feel the Force on Social Media.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!