Disney’s Jungle Cruise is instantly familiar, and that’s not just because it’s based on the Disneyland ride that’s been around for more than 60 years.
Set in 1916, the film stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt and feels like the grandchild of Pirates of The Caribbean–the 2003 movie, not the ride–borrowing heavily from the franchise, with a lighter, slightly more kid-friendly tone, that’s honestly just a fun, summer adventure.
Blunt stars as Dr. Lily Houghton, an over-the-top adventurer, historian, and scientist trying to uncover the secret of the Tree of Life that could cure the world’s diseases. Teamed up with her younger and hilarious brother, McGregor, played by Jack Whitehall, the two work together to nab a special arrowhead relic before travelling to the Amazon.
And that’s of course where Johnson steps in as their guide, Captain Frank Wolff. From their first scene together, Blunt and Johnson have great chemistry, and they make the gags, one-liners, and antagonism between “Pants” and “Skippy” work.
Whitehall, as the extra comic relief, is also a natural. He fits the tone of the film perfectly, and if I had any complaint, it’s just that he should have had a little more time to shine.
I’m also a fan of the way the film mocks the stereotypes and sexism of the era. Naturally, too, the film works in lots of the jokes you’d expect from the Jungle Cruise Skippers in Disneyland or Disney World, including “The backside of water!”
The only thing that I can’t quite wrap my head around is the way the film used Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” in a few key scenes. I love the song, and the mood does work, but I can’t explain why the film worked so hard to tie it in.
It’s also unavoidable, for movie fans, to miss the way the film borrows elements from Indiana Jones and The Mummy, including some special effects. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, or not, but it was a little distracting.
Jungle Cruise is a funny, fun, popcorn film, and it’s a great family adventure though. It has some clunky moments, but it still feels like a ride you’d want to try again, and I’d recommend it at home, for those watching on Disney+ with Premier Access, at the drive-in, or in theatres.
There are a number of great supporting characters, including the villain, Jesse Plemons, Édgar Ramírez, the great Paul Giamatti, and Veronica Falcón as Trader Sam.
Horror director Jaume Collet-Serra brings a fair bit of charm, wit, and thrills to make this old fashioned adventure more of a modern thrill ride with light scares and menace. It’s frankly perfect summer fare, and I imagine it will do well enough to justify launching a new franchise for Disney.
For parents wondering, kids will enjoy the film, but it’s worth saying for cautious parents that it may be a little bit violent for kids under 10.
And maybe the film will even inspire Disney to bring some new thrills to the park ride.
Jungle Cruise is out in theatres starting on Friday, and on Disney+ with Premier Access.
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