Movie Review: Don’t take ‘Jungle Cruise’ for granite
It seems as though Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” was first announced so long ago, but now, as the oft-rescheduled release date approaches, fans of the iconic Disney Parks attraction can finally take a ride on this “adventure of a lifetime.”
In “Jungle Cruise,” skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) and researcher Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) travel downriver in the Amazon to uncover an ancient tree with unparalleled healing abilities — and along the way, uncover a supernatural force and political plot that has the fate of mankind hanging in the balance.
Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (“House of Wax,” “Orphan”), the film also stars Edgar Ramírez as Aguirre, Jack Whitehall as McGregor Houghton, Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim (don’t mispronounce it), and Paul Giamatti as Nilo Nemolato. Veronica Falcón also appears in the film, though if you don’t know who she’s portraying, we’ll let that be a surprise.
As a huge fan of Disney’s arguably best foray into parks-inspired feature films (and quietly appreciative of their two lesser-loved attempts), I was pretty excited to see how “Jungle Cruise” would turn out. Though I was definitely unsure about the involvement of Johnson as the lead — which is no slight to his acting, my willing suspension of disbelief can only go so far — I am happy to report that both he and Blunt shine in these roles, and their chemistry reads genuine throughout.
Originally set to premiere in October 2019, the release was moved to July 2020 before getting caught up in the COVID-19 shutdown and pushed to 2021 for a day-and-date release in theaters and on Disney+ via Premier Access. This release, however, deserves to be seen on the big screen if you can manage it.
While the film does run long at 2 hours and 7 minutes, it doesn’t waste any of it. From the expected bad skipper jokes the original attraction is famous for, to the high-stakes stunts that harken back to the days of the first three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “Jungle Cruise” almost feels like it could hold its own against the likes of “The Mummy” (1999), “Indiana Jones,” and the like; unfortunately, the occasionally iffy CGI (Proxima notwithstanding, she’s a good cat) and the choice to shoot digitally versus on film held the movie back for me.
The score, composed by the great James Newton Howard, is just gorgeous, though I felt like it was almost too present and loud in comparison to the rest of the film. There’s even a killer rearrangement of “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica, but I’ll let its appearance in the film be a surprise. I will say, though, while it does feel jarring in comparison to the rest of the score, something about it also fits the sequence in which it’s used perfectly and it works.
Those who might approach this film with a more cynical mind will immediately note the similarities to “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” including the curmudgeon seafarer, the bright-eyed youth, a physical embodiment of everlasting life, and more. While this does present “Jungle Cruise” as a formulaic attempt at recapturing lightning in a bottle, it still manages to carve out its own niche amongst the familiar.
“Jungle Cruise” is rated PG-13 and has some scary and graphic parts that could be scary for younger kids. There are no end credit scenes.
In the Parks
It goes without saying that you can experience the world-famous Jungle Cruise at nearly all of the Disney Parks around the world, each with their own terrible puns, animal encounters, and more.
At Disneyland and Walt Disney World, both the East and West docks of Jungle Navigation Co. LTD are receiving major updates to add a storyline to the attraction and update the problematic aspects that were once present in the ride. Disneyland’s version has completed the updates and is now open to guests; the version at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom remains open while changes are being made.
Walt Disney Studios’ “Jungle Cruise” premieres in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021. You can check out the trailer below: