Disney Movie Review: Jungle Cruise
Imagine if you could take eight movies that you like, stick them in a blender, and create an entirely new film that way.
Well, that’s pretty much what Disney has done with its latest release.
Here’s my review of Jungle Cruise, which offers few new ideas but copies the homework of other films to create a genuinely charming viewing experience.
The Story of Jungle Cruise
Given my introduction, I think it’s only fair to talk about the broad strokes of Jungle Cruise.
Yes, this film functions as the cinematic adaptation of the beloved Jungle Cruise attraction at Disney theme parks worldwide.
However, as a movie, Jungle Cruise works as more of a spiritual successor to a legendary title, The African Queen.
That’s fitting because Walt Disney and his Imagineers drew inspiration from that movie in creating the Disneyland ride. So in a way, Disney comes full circle here.
Realistically, this story borrows from a more recent film franchise, The Mummy.
Those Universal stories involve a bungling lunkhead male lead, a spunky and brilliant female lead, and her somewhat incompetent brother.
That trifecta anchors Jungle Cruise as well. However, this tale also cheats off the homework of a previous Disney release, Pirates of the Caribbean.
As easily the most successful film adaptation of a theme park attraction, the Jack Sparrow tales provide a blueprint that Jungle Cruise follows almost too closely.
I cannot expand on the details without going into spoilers, but you’ll definitely know what I mean when you reach those points in the film.
So, the “story of Jungle Cruise” is more about a slightly modern update on the previous concepts, albeit with delightful leads. We’ll get to them in a moment.
However, in the broadest strokes, Jungle Cruise involves the search for a tree named Tears of the Moon.
This tree possesses mythical healing powers and is effectively a Fountain of Youth.
The siblings want the leaves from this tree and must travel to the heart of the jungle to find them. To get there, they’ll need a skipper…
The Characters of Jungle Cruise
Disney’s thought process all along is that story proves secondary relative to casting.
You’ll want to watch this movie because of its leads, bona fide superstars The Rock and Emily Blunt.
Dwayne Johnson has earned the title of the highest-paid actor in the world multiple times, including in 2019 and 2020.
Emily Blunt first turned heads in her future film debut, My Summer of Love.
She quickly expanded her resume with dazzling performances in The Devil Wears Prada, The Adjustment Bureau, and Edge of Tomorrow.
I’ve just listed four of the best movies of the past 15 years, which is fitting. A hallmark of Blunt’s career is her ability to pick the perfect project.
Disney already admired the actress enough to cast her in Mary Poppins Returns as the most iconic of Disney live-action characters.
So, the characters of Jungle Cruise are really Emily Blunt and The Rock, who play heavily to type in this film.
Technically, she portrays Dr. Lily Houghton while he’s Frank Wolff. Jack Whitehall plays Houghton’s younger brother, MacGregor.
Also, Paul Giamatti occasionally appears as comic relief. He’s basically a wealthier version of his Private Parts character, Pig Vomit.
One performer does deserve special mention, though. Jesse Plemons, an actor of seemingly limitless range, is having the time of his life in Jungle Cruise.
The Breaking Bad villain/Friday Night Lights hero takes on the role of villainous Prince Joachim, the antagonist also searching for the mystical tree.
Plemons has the time of his life in chewing scenery here. He seems to think he’s in the reboot of Top Secret! rather than a serious film. And it works!
My Review of Jungle Cruise
I think you can tell from the tone so far that Jungle Cruise isn’t a movie that you should take seriously. It doesn’t want that!
In this manner, the film perfectly embodies the spirit of the attraction, a fun but instantly forgettable boat ride.
On Jungle Cruise, you sit down, the Skipper tells puns for 10+ minutes, you laugh six to eight times, and then you leave.
When you first meet Frank Wolff, he’s transporting guests via boat, entertaining them with his unique brand of “wit.”
Yes, in a thematically fitting way, this film’s first act includes Skipper spiel. It’s silly and perfect and proudly corny.
However, you shouldn’t expect the same from the entire film. Instead, it takes several turns along the way.
In fact, there’s a rather clever twist that I never saw coming. I don’t get surprised much in cinema these days. So, that was a welcome turn of events.
Still, Jungle Cruise hinges on the chemistry between Blunt and Johnson. It’s a romantic comedy set deep in the jungle.
So, if you don’t care about them, you may root for Trader Sam instead. Yes, Trader Sam appears! But I digress.
The point is that Disney has made a film that feels like it just have easily could have been a reboot of The Mummy, only swapping out Brendan Fraser for The Rock. Who wouldn’t make that trade?
You can probably tell from the commercials that Blunt and Johnson seem genuinely fond of each other.
While that doesn’t necessarily have to translate onscreen, I’m happy to report that it does.
I care about the characters and even the hapless brother, whose story arc isn’t as easily dismissed as I had expected. Somewhere, John Hannah’s pretty jealous.
One other aspect of this film deserves special mention. James Newton Howard, who has scored movies all the way back to Pretty Woman (!), finally lives out his dream.
Howard scores this arrangement:
No, your ears aren’t playing tricks on you. That’s the Metallica song Nothing Else Matters, receiving an update that fundamentally changes my perception of it.
The last cover that blew my mind to this degree was Johnny Cash’s take on Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.
You may wonder why I’m mentioning this in a film review, but it comes up a lot. The song underscores several moments from the film, greatly enhancing them.
If Howard doesn’t finally win an Academy Award for this – he’s a nine-time nominee – the Academy got it wrong. This is his masterwork, and it improves Jungle Cruise.
Overall, that’s the story of Jungle Cruise as a feature. Its quality kind of sneaks up on you.
About 90 minutes into the movie, you’ll realize that you’re really enjoying yourself but may not be able to explain why. It’s like your most comfortable pair of jeans.
Like Jungle Cruise the ride, I plan to experience it over and over again. I give it a very pleasant A-.