The Disney Theme Park ride film is a genre the studio has constantly been trying to get off the ground that goes as far back as 1997 with the television film 'Tower of Terror'. The first theatrical film based on a Disney ride was in 2000 with 'Mission to Mars', followed by 'The Country Bears' in 2002 and 'The Haunted Mansion' in 2003 - but all failed at the box office and were absolutely slaughted by critics. Then came the one to change everything - 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' - which, ah... broke the curse of bad Disney theme park films and created a massive new blockbuster franchise for the studio. This was the only ride-based film the studio would produce between 2003 and 2011, where the franchise expanded with three sequels. In 2015, 'Tomorrowland' was released and all signs were pointing to success, but the film disappointed and underperformed. 2017 saw at this time the last 'Pirates' film which showed the swashbuckling adventures had past their expiry date (even though there is currently a sixth film in development as well as a spinoff). Now comes 'Jungle Cruise', both as the first serious attempt at a Disney ride movie since 2003 'Pirates' and the first since then that can break the Disney's Theme Park movies curse.
Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt, 'Mary Poppins Returns', 'A Quiet Place' franchise) has spent her life trying to find an ancient tree that holds the power to heal. Along with her brother McGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall, 'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms', 'The Queen's Corgi'), they enlist Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson, 'Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw', 'Fighting With My Family', 'Jumanji' reboot) to take them down the Amazon in his boat. But they aren't alone in their quest, with Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons, 'Game Night', 'Judas and the Black Messiah') not far behind in his submarine, and Aguirre (Èdgar Ramirez, 'The Girl On The Train', 'Yes Day') a human made of snakes also hunting for the tree.
'Jungle Cruise' is a fun adventure with energetic leads and plenty of action. While the plot often gets a tad overstuffed and bloated at times, its stands on its own and manages to hit both the young adult and adult crowds.
While Johnson's charm isn't in full force here, Blunt as always shines in the role, and you can tell she is having a lot of fun playing off Johnson. Whitehall is also enjoyable, and I was worried being in a bigger Hollywood role might lead to a fate other British comedians turned actor (*cough* James Corden *cough*), but he is quite serviceable here. Both Plemons and Ramirez as the film's villains are a delight, eating the scenery perfectly for an adventure like this.
So yet again we are having Disney telling us this is their first gay character, which is the second first gay character this year alone after 'Cruella' (third/fourth if we include 'Luca'). McGregor is the queer in question, and while compared to the other first gay Disney characters it's a halfastep forward, but still nothing to celebrate. When discussing his dad's attempt at setting him up in heterosexual marriages, McGregor says that his interests lie "elsewhere". Which can easily be interpreted as a number of things, but you can tell they are lightly hinting at him being homosexual. It's better than a lot of other queer characters Disney has tackled (the only successful queer characters the studio has done are surprisingly Disney Channel-based, with 'Andi Mack' and 'High School Musical: The Musical - The Series'), but what would have been more noteworthy and celebratory if it was more explicit and the character had actually said the word 'gay', or at least 'men/man'. The character is also campy, caring about how he looks and things along those lines, which is fine, but yet again a straight man has been cast in a role that is meant to be a queer character.
The movie is very CGI-heavy and it could have held it back at times. There is also some weird framing. In our introduction to Frank, he's giving a Jungle Cruise to some tourists, similar to the ride he is telling dry jokes and bad puns as well as setting off traps. But for a lot of the scene, Johnston and the tourists on the boat are separated, never appearing in the same shot until towards the end of the sequence. It felt very off and the only logical reason I could think of is maybe this scene was reshot, but even then, it was quite strangely edited together.
While Johnson's charm isn't in full force here, Blunt as always shines in the role, and you can tell she is having a lot of fun playing off Johnson.
Quickly, this film is based on the Disney ride of the same name, and while I know very little about it having never been to any of the parks, similarly to 'Pirates', it doesn't isolate viewers who haven't been on the attraction while also clearly paying homage to certain ride elements. Most notably (at least to myself) was the first scene with Frank, as well as his a humour reminiscent of a lot of clips you see from cast members from the park ride.
The film, at this stage, is also the last film to be released through Disney+'s Premier Access fee. It's ironically been released on the same day that news broke that Scarlett Johansson is suing the studio for releasing 'Black Widow' the same way meaning she suffers a profit loss, and very quickly it was interesting that both the cast of 'Raya and the Last Dragon' and 'Jungle Cruise' were actively present on social media promoting the film being on Disney+ compared to the other films released this way. I highly recommend seeing this is cinemas if you can; if you have a 4D cinema near you, I can imagine the experience being extremely fun, but the harsh reality is if you're like myself and in lockdown, it's worth the cost to check out. Just note this is the first M-rated non-'Pirates' Disney film since 'Maleficent' (which even then was the softest M-rating), and it's not so much darker than other Disney live-action films, just more mature. There is a fair amount of death and the film does have a big supernatural element that requires a bit of focus to understand, but if you're okay with kids watching Marvel and 'Pirates', this will be absolutely fine for them. However, for the little ones, this might be a little too scary.
The film will, of course, be compared to 'Pirates' - but come on guys, this is clearly Disney's attempt at replicating the success of 'Jumanji'. If we know anything about Disney, if another studio is making money, they will do anything in their power to start a similar project and take over.
'Jungle Cruise' succeeds due to the sheer amount of fun this adventure is. While it is sometimes lacking and could be a little tighter in its narrative, it's a return to the action-adventure genre that many have been craving, and thanks to its charismatic leads has reintroduced Disney to the successful theme park tie-in movie.
Also, I find this quite interesting it's very clearly a two-lead film; Blunt and Johnston are always together in promotional material, and even arrived at the premiere together. So why did only Frank get a Funko Pop figure and not Lily?