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REVIEW – Disney’s ‘Jungle Cruise’ is a Delightful Thrill Ride

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Disney’s Jungle Cruise checks so many boxes that we need right now. First, it comes during a time when many fans who loved the Jungle Cruise ride at the theme parks haven’t had the opportunity to experience the ride in over a year. Second, it stars two of the biggest and most likable talents in the industry today in Emily Blunt (who’s having a great theatrical summer) and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (who always has a great theatrical summer). Finally, it’s the kind of fun-filled action adventure film that is sure to be a crowd pleaser; and who can’t use some pleasing right now?

Disney’s Jungle Cruise premieres in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access on July 30th! Spoilers below!

Disney's Jungle Cruise Theatrical Poster
Disney’s Jungle Cruise Theatrical Poster

Official Synopsis

Join fan favorites Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt for the adventure of a lifetime on Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” a rollicking thrill-ride down the Amazon with wisecracking skipper Frank Wolff and intrepid researcher Dr. Lily Houghton. Lily travels from London, England to the Amazon jungle and enlists Frank’s questionable services to guide her downriver on La Quila—his ramshackle-but-charming boat. Lily is determined to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities—possessing the power to change the future of medicine. Thrust on this epic quest together, the unlikely duo encounters innumerable dangers and supernatural forces, all lurking in the deceptive beauty of the lush rainforest. But as the secrets of the lost tree unfold, the stakes reach even higher for Lily and Frank and their fate—and mankind’s—hangs in the balance.

Jaume Collet-Serra directs the film, which stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez and Jack Whitehall, with Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti. John Davis, John Fox, Dwayne Johnson, Hiram Garcia, Dany Garcia and Beau Flynn are the producers, with Scott Sheldon and Doug Merrifield serving as executive producers. The story is by John Norville & Josh Goldstein and Glenn Ficarra & John Requa, and the screenplay is by Michael Green and Glenn Ficarra & John Requa.

Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily in Disney's Jungle Cruise. Photo by Frank Masi. 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily in Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Photo by Frank Masi. 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE GOOD

The original Jungle Cruise ride in Adventureland at Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955. To this day it’s a fun, family-friendly ride on a leisurely boat, with animatronic animals that the kids love, and a skipper with amazing bad jokes. The last part is what makes Dwayne Johnson the absolutely perfect casting choice as skipper Frank Wolff. Sure, any film would be thrilled to have Johnson, who is possibly the biggest mega-star in Hollywood today, with over $4 billion in aggregate box office performances. But The Rock isn’t just a run-of-the-mill action star. In fact, what makes Johnson special isn’t his physical talents, but his boundless charm and unique sense of humor. Those talents are on full display in Jungle Cruise, in the form of some wonderfully cringeworthy dad jokes and his infectious smile. Johnson plays a skipper with a mysterious past who makes ends meet by giving Amazon river tours and pulling off one con after another. As expected, Johnson oozes charisma, delivering an exciting and lovable performance from beginning to end, even as he plays a character who can’t really be trusted. It never comes off as nefarious though, and Johnson’s Wolff reminded me of another beloved scoundrel from a galaxy far far away.

Johnson’s star is so bright that it’s not easy to find a co-star who can match his lumens. Fortunately, Emily Blunt can more than hold her own in any setting, and her performance as Dr. Lily Houghton, a relentless researcher hunting for a fabled plant called Tears of the Moon, is no exception. Houghton will not be denied in accomplishing her mission and proves a match for Wolff both in charisma and determination.

Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily in Disney's Jungle Cruise. Photo by Frank Masi. 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily in Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Photo by Frank Masi. 2020 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Jungle Cruise is the type of film that knows what it is and fully embraces it. The plot is (thankfully) not overly complicated and this is a film completely built around, and featuring, Blunt and Johnson. The pair sparkle as a dynamic duo, matching each other in action, wit, and charisma. There’s an uncanny connection between the two where Houghton and Wolff feel like old friends from their first scene together. Fans of Blunt and/or Johnson will thoroughly enjoy Jungle Cruise. Even those who may not be completely on board with either star are likely to come away with a greater appreciation for their talents.

Beyond the film’s stars, homages to the ride that inspired the story are sprinkled throughout. The animatronic tiger that stars as one of the visual attractions on the ride is brought to life as Wolff’s companion Proxima. Trader Sam, whose gift shop serves as the ride’s finale, is realized by Veronica Falcón. And overall, the film’s lush Amazon aesthetics look like a perfect recreation of the ride’s setting.

Jungle Cruise feels like a ride itself, only one that’s much more exhilarating and action packed than the one in the Disney parks.

Scene from Disney's Jungle Cruise. Photo Courtesy of Disney. 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Scene from Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Photo Courtesy of Disney. 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

THE BAD

As amazing as Blunt and Johnson are, there aren’t many other characters critical to the story. Blunt’s Houghton is flanked by her loyal brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), and the trio is pursued by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a moustache twirling villain with seemingly endless resources. Paul Giamatti, who plays boat businessman Niles, is always a welcome addition to any film, but his character could have easily been lifted out without much of an impact. Edgar Ramírez plays Aguirre, a legendary hunter whose efforts to find the Tears of the Moon centuries ago serve as the basis of the film’s plot.

Disappointingly, none of those characters are given much material to work with and the performances are barely memorable. Plemons’ villainy is so intentionally over the top (Prince Joachim chases our heroes down with a machine gun firing sub-marine) that it’s amusing, but his threat is too comical to be taken seriously.

The biggest issue with the film is that the MacGuffin of the story, the Tears of the Moon, is underdeveloped. It’s never fully explored why Houghton is so committed to finding the fabled magic plant. Maybe I’m jaded, but simply stating that it would be an amazing discovery and that Houghton is a great person isn’t convincing enough. It would have been much more impactful to the story if Houghton had a more relatable and emotionally weighted motivation.

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Disney Jungle Cruise Theatrical Poster

THE POC-Y

Given that the film co-stars Dwayne Johnson, whose father was Black Nova Scotian and mother is Samoan, the diversity quotient starts strong. Disappointingly for a film that takes place in the Amazon, the rest of the main cast is not as diverse as one would hope. Edgar Ramirez, who is Venezuelan, is the next notable person of color in the main cast, but Aguirre is more of a plot point than a fully developed character. The film was also directed by Spanish-American director Jaume Collet-Serra.

It’s worth noting too that Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor Houghton is a gay character. There’s a nice scene between MacGregor and Frank where the two share a drink and MacGregor nervously shares that he is gay, to which Frank doesn’t bat an eye. It’s a small moment in the film but a memorable one.

THE RATING – 4/5 Pocky

Pocky Rating 4
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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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