Courtesy of Walt Disney Studio Pictures

Disney’s tackling of bringing their rides to life for the big screen has been a trial and error journey, to say the least. With 1997’s The Tower of Terror film (you know, the one starring Kirsten Dunst) kicking things off, there were more misses than hits until Disney struck gold with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The film’s success is arguably what pushed Disney to further invest in their ride-related IP. Now, Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE has been tapped with the movie stick, and, for the most part, the film works. Mind you, the film isn’t perfect and does require more suspension of disbelief than POTC. But the chemistry between the leads feels like gold and, while the film does drag slightly in the middle, JUNGLE CRUISE is fun and a film meant to be enjoyed for the family on a big screen.

Jaume Collet-Serra directs the film, which stars Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji: The Next Level), Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns), Edgar Ramirez (Point Break) and Jack Whitehall (“Good Omens“), with Jesse Plemons (“Fargo”), and Paul Giamatti (“Billions”).

Inspired by the famous Disneyland theme park ride, Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE seems to take on the spirit of The Mummy, or even Dwayne Johnson’s first leading man film, The Scorpion King, with an influence of POTC thrown into the mix. Viewers are introduced to Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), who is hoping to find the elusive petal from an ancient tree that resides in the Amazonian jungle. While many who know of its existence write it off as a legend, Houghton thinks otherwise. This leads Lily to travel to the Amazon, with her posh brother (Jack Whitehall) in tow, where they then must find a skipper.

Enter bad-pun delivering skipper, Frank (Dwayne Johnson). After a series of events throw them together, with Lily begrudgingly agreeing to hire him for his services, the trio traverse through the Amazonian jungle where they encounter wonders little-seen, all sorts of danger from both natural and unnatural forces, and much more. Along the way, they learn more about the legend surrounding this ancient blessed tree and soon learn that there is much more at stake than what appeared to be a simple botanist exploration. No, mankind is at stake.

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in JUNGLE CRUISE

As per the Disney style, the film opens with an explanation of the legend that will serve as the motivator for most of the characters’ actions throughout the film.  It thrusts us into intrigue immediately after as we are introduced to the Houghtons. The flow of the introduction then takes us to Brazil, where fans of the titular ride will have a field day with the references in Frank’s introduction. The pacing of the film holds out, but JUNGLE CRUISE does lose some steam around the halfway point as the focus on building the connection between the Houghtons and Frank unintentionally makes the film lose momentum. A major plot twist revealed as the film enters its third act may rankle some viewers. It will require some suspension of disbelief but, for this viewer, it felt like an interesting way to enhance the mythos already established earlier on.

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are the clear draw onscreen. Their chemistry is magnetic and the two work well off of each other as their characters begrudgingly embark on this adventure together. There are moments, though, of awkward line delivery from Johnson. But, in all honesty, that may have more to do with the dialogue provided than the direction at times. Jack Whitehall’s MacGregor provides comedic relief much in the way John Hannah provided comedic relief in The Mummy franchise. A brief moment where we learn more about why he’s there will provide the internet much to argue with. An unintended highlight was Proxima. While not an actor, this particular CGI-ed character had plenty of personality and oomph. This will be an element that kids (and myself) will love and adore long after the credits roll.

Jesse Plemons’s Prince Joachim is a villainous delight onscreen, but isn’t featured as much as viewers might be expecting. Joachim sets up the creepy introduction to Edgar Ramirez’s Aguirre and his fellow conquistadors but, given the story that we come to learn onscreen regarding these particular band of human-turned-jungle monsters, there was a lack of memorability to what they gave outside of the CGI-induced creature design. A true surprise was Veronica Falcón’s Trader Sam. Part of this is because the character of Trader Sam is a legend within the realm of Adventureland and JUNGLE CRUISE. But also, for the brief time we do get her onscreen, she grabs your attention with her subtle performance. Paul Giamatti is there and is criminally underutilized.

Emily Blunt in JUNGLE CRUISE

One of the elements that did distract was the CGI and the distraction was not for the greatest of reasons. With how many of us have been raised on cinematic servings of CGI, it becomes more apparent when the transition between CGI and reality clashes. And, for this viewer, this was most apparent when we were introduced to the monstrous conquistadors. While children may not notice the obviousness, certain climactic moments in the film were hard to take seriously as more attention seemed to focus on the detailing in the individual conquistador soldier than making action sequences flow smoothly. And, to clarify, this is not to say that the actual creature designs were bad. No, they were actually quite creative. But I wonder how well the elements could have landed if there might have been more practical rather than digital effects in play.

Overall, Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE is a fun adventure film. It’s not without its bumps, however. With a middle half that drags and elements that may take viewers out of the film, this film will not resonate for some. However, it’s difficult not to look away as we watch Dwayne Johnson’s Frank and Emily Blunt’s Dr. Lily Houghton interact onscreen, especially when they really get going with their witty sparring. It’s difficult to say if fans of the ride will be all in on the film. For this fan, there were numerous easter eggs from the ride to make me giggle. But it may depend on the individual viewer.

As a final round of notes, for those with younger children, there are moments that may frighten them. However, take it from this horror gal, they’ll be fine if they watch it. And lastly, there are moments where characters speak in languages outside of English where no translation is provided. If you’re not a fan of that, this is your warning before you head in.

Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE releases in U.S. theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021. All images courtesy Walt Disney Picture Studios.

Sarah Musnicky
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