One of the original ideas for the iconic Jungle Cruise ride opened at Disneyland Park in 1955 was to exclude the twentieth century with trees bought directly from people’s prosperous yards, to stay on budget and to create a man-eating atmosphere.
In Disney’s film adaption that is inspired by the legendary cruise, the budget is not a question. With the power of the twenty-first century CGI and realistic creations for the set, the viewer is taken down the Amazon River during a period at the height of World War I, when women—excluding the main character, researcher Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt)— didn’t dress in pants and lead expeditions into the jungle.
The taunting trip takes place on a rickety tramp steamer with wisecracking and heroic Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) as the skipper.
Houghton hopes to uncover the mystery of an ancient tribal artifact that could change the fate of humanity. Her brother, MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall), jumps on the boat to help.
“‘Jungle Cruise’ is about adventure and about life, and living a full life,” Dwayne Johnson, who is also a producer on the film, noted in a press release. The film, according to Johnson, is also about “breaking through barriers by doing things beyond what people think are your limits.” “’Jungle Cruise’ is an adventure: it’s fun, it’s magical, it’s mystical, it’s dangerous, it’s exciting.”
Johnson is right: Jungle Cruise is a thrilling trip filled with twists and turns, with complications and surprises thrown in a rapid phase at the viewer; for his or hers—for the whole family’s pleasure.
Johnson and Blunt shine in their roles. While Johnson can pull off a corny joke convincingly, Blunt is like a female Indiana Jones radiating an adventurous spirit, a sparkle of vulnerability in the mix. Whitehall is great at pulling laughs with British humor.
By the river, or in the jungle, dangerous animals are omnipresent, and supernatural powers lurk in the shadows. Jesse Plemons plays Prince Joachim, one of the villains funnily but convincingly.
Jungle Cruise is director Jaume Collet-Serra’s first big picture. In certain circles, he’s best known for his horror films such as House of Wax (2005) or Orphan (2009), while action fans may have seen his work in The Commuter (2018) or Non-Stop (2014) where Liam Neeson gives bad guys a hard time. He is also known for directing The Shallows (2016) where a great white shark stalks a female surfer. Most certainly, all this experience with horror and action translates into Jungle Cruise’s gripping hold.
The story has been written and rewritten by a bunch of screenwriters, which seems to be the common practice these days. Of the group, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, for example, are Emmy-nominated for This Is Us (2016) TV series.
With that being said, Collet-Serra gave Johnson and Blunt lots of room to improvise, which most likely turned the story for the better. “The moment that Emily Blunt came into the picture, that energy was elevated. From there it was apparent that my job was just to orient the camera and get out of the way,” the director said in an interview with Variety.
The score—composed by James Newton Howard—pounds between grandiose, rhythmical and touching. And for a very pleasant surprise, without giving away spoilers, a remake of one of the all-time favorite ballads plays just in the right places to give the viewer chills. (I wonder if Johnson’s diverse musical taste had something to do with it.)
Jungle Cruise is set to take you on the most fun ride of the summer. The question is: Are you ready?
‘Jungle Cruise’ premieres in cinemas and Disney+ Premier Access on July 30.