ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

FAN EFFECT PODCAST: Fans of the ride will love “Jungle Cruise,” fans of family features will enjoy the ride of the film

Jul 31, 2021, 9:30 AM | Updated: 4:12 pm
(L-R): Jack Whitehall as Macgregor, Emily Blunt as Lily and Dwayne johnson as Fran in Disney's "Jun...
(L-R): Jack Whitehall as Macgregor, Emily Blunt as Lily and Dwayne johnson as Fran in Disney's "Jungle Cruise." Photo by Frank Masi. (c) 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(c)

The Jungle Cruise ride has earned its iconic place as one of the most beloved attractions in all the Disney parks. And, as one of the 33 original rides on Disneyland’s opening day, the cruise through the rivers of the world has seen a variety of changes and literal growth. Now, 66 years after its debut, Disney has adapted the attraction into a big-budget movie with giant stars and colorful special effects.

So I wondered — will fans of the ride be fans of the film? 

As an avid Disneylander and a blatantly biased lover of the Adventureland area of the parks where the ride is found (I literally throw a Disney’s Adventureland party every summer), I think I can honestly say “yes!”

Jungle Cruise” stars fan favorites Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt, as mismatched adventurers journeying down the beautifully dangerous Amazon river after a mystical prize and pursued by a tenuously greedy villain. The film takes us from the Post-Edwardian splendor of London’s society to the rough-and-tumble depths of the Amazonian rainforest on the edge of civilization and magic.

Botanical researcher Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) doggedly pursues an ancient tree rumored to have unparalleled healing abilities, unperturbed by the restrictive conventions of the scientific community that had dismissed her. She drags along her prim but supportive younger brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), and the siblings engage the services of a flippantly wisecracking guide, Skipper Frank Wolff (Johnson), and his derelict boat, La Quila. 

As they journey through the depths of the jungle, a mystery unfolds involving cursed conquistadors, protective indigenous tribespeople, breathtaking geography, and dangerous creatures. But Lily is not the only one in pursuit of the powers of the mythical tree. Prince Joachim of Prussia (Jesse Plemons), the youngest son of power-hungry Kaiser Wilhelm II, is trailing them closely in, of all things, a submarine. And he is willing to ally with dark forces to reach his goal.

In a race against time and nature, the fate of mankind’s future lays in the hands of the ragtag adventurers and the key to a lesser-known legend. 

As audiences follow the cast of characters deeper into the jungle, a deeper mystery evolves, as well as deeper themes of power, trust, and discovery. 

The strengths of the film lie in the stunning production design, the unraveling mystery, and of course, the charming performances of leads Johnson and Blunt. The comic chemistry in the classic troupe that “opposites attract” works well for the characters, as well as the written banter and chaotic turns that bring them closer together.

Blunt serves up intelligence and tenacity with a pleasing dollop of warmth and surprising strength in action sequences. Johnson adds humor to his action-hero reputation, while Whitehall’s performance of the bumblingly dedicated brother makes you want to see more of his acting in the future.

Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff and Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton in "Jungle Cruise." Photo by Frank Masi. (c)2020 Disney Enterprise, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff and Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton in “Jungle Cruise.” Photo by Frank Masi. (c)2020 Disney Enterprise, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Fans of the ride will delight in the peppering of familiar puns, ride references, and many easter eggs. Non-fans will enjoy a family film in a familiar genre that parents can appreciate along with their kiddos. 

The flaws of the film lie in its extensive length; at two hours and seven minutes, tightening up the pace would have added a bit more thrill to the ride and made it easier for younger audiences to pay attention. The peril of the villain could have been made more clear (and earlier in the film) to add to the suspense. And while the digital effects add to the vibrant color and texture of the film, the imagery and movement of the digital animals were less believable than the animatronics at the parks.

Also, as my cohost on KSL’s Fan Effect Podcast, Andy Farnsworth said in his review for KSL-TV, “Though at times it seemed like “Jungle Cruise” was aimed at young kids, there was imagery and violence that was way too grown up for them.” I can verify Andy’s concern.  I am prone to nightmares and did have a bad dream related to the story after I saw the film.

Jungle Cruise is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sequences of adventure violence, and I would add some warnings for supernatural chills and some light comedic innuendos. 

Honesty, the potential critical death of this film would be overcoming the desire to compare it to other comedic action adventures. While the film doesn’t quite live up to the spectacular legacy of the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” film, it far exceeds the ho-hum reputation of “Haunted Mansion.” It shines well above the current flat landscape of Disney remakes, sequels, and prequels. 

Overall I would give the film a B+ and confirm it provides a fanciful escape and pleasant distraction from the current parallels of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In fact, the film reminded me of the original purpose of the Adventureland area of the parks! 

In 1955 when Walt Disney opened Disneyland, he described the theming of each area with a unique dedicatory speech for each location; Adventureland’s area dedication is as follows, “Here is adventure. Here is romance. Here is mystery. Tropical rivers – silently flowing into the unknown. The unbelievable splendor of exotic flowers … the eerie sound of the jungle … with eyes that are always watching. This is Adventureland.

The only addition I would add to this description to summarize the film would be, “Here is also some delightfully punny humor and heart.”

“Jungle Cruise” is now playing both in theaters and available to stream on Disney Plus Premier. Meaning you will have to pay to see this film, as it is not part of your regular Disney Plus Premier. In my opinion, it is a film to see on the big screen, but for younger audiences, it might be best to view it at home where you can pause the lengthy film for breaks and forward through some of the scary situations.

The movie will be available free as part of the regular Disney Plus offerings on November 12, 2021, if you want to risk spoilers while waiting. 

KSL Fan Effect podcast cohost KellieAnn Halvorsen on Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise ride, Fall Dapper Day 2019. Photo by Lorie Halvorsen.

Did you like this review? Do you want more content like this? KellieAnn Halvorsen is cohost of KSL’s Fan Effect podcast with Andy Farnsworth. On Fan Effect, hosts share their knowledge (and arguments) of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Gaming, Tech, and more as they celebrate Utah’s unique fan-culture, bring on local guests experts to discuss their favorite fandoms and events. 

Listen regularly on your favorite platform, at kslnewsradio.com, or on the KSL App. Join the conversation on Facebook @FanEffectShow, Instagram @FanEffectShow, and Twitter @FanEffectShow. Fan Effect is sponsored by Megaplex Theatres, Utah’s premiere movie entertainment company. 

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FAN EFFECT PODCAST: Fans of the ride will love “Jungle Cruise,” fans of family features will enjoy the ride of the film