Based on Disneyland’s theme park ride where a small riverboat takes a group of travelers through a jungle filled with dangerous animals and reptiles but with a supernatural element. (from IMDB)
Following in the footsteps of Disney’s theme park rides turned into feature films – like The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean – the Mouse House brings viewers their latest action/adventure movie, Jungle Cruise. The movie, which has long been in development at Disney since the success of Pirates of the Caribbean, was set to come out in July 2020, but was one of the many movies delayed due to the COVID pandemic. Finally, a full year later, fans of Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and the iconic ride can finally experience the movie’s big screen adaptation.
From the start, director Jaume Collet-Serra does an incredible job rightly capturing a fun and adventurous tone for the film. Emily Blunt’s Lily Houghton is an interesting mix of Indiana Jones and Evelyn from The Mummy (1999), while her brother, MacGregor, played by Jack Whitehall is similar to Evelyn’s brother, Jonathan, and Dwayne Johnson’s Frank Wolff is a blend of Indiana Jones, The Mummy‘s Rick O’Connell and maybe just a dash of Jack Sparrow. In fact, the best way to describe what you get in Jungle Cruise is an intriguing cocktail made up of elements from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Mummy, Romancing the Stone and 1951’s The African Queen. It’s a charming, fun adventure that is funny and imaginative–even though it borrows heavily from the aforementioned movies.
Blunt is adorable here as Lily, and as she sneaks around a den of antiquities, winking and darting her way in and out of trouble (which is also very Jack Sparrow in nature), it’s difficult not to immediately love her. Equally, when we meet Johnson, he’s cracking corny (but funny) jokes while leading a group of passengers on his own jungle cruise (which is not too unlike the ride at Disneyland). He’s immediately likeable, and it’s apparent that Jungle Cruise is shaping up to be a great summer movie. And honestly, it mostly delivers on that, with its main faults mostly lying in its own overdependence on CGI and computer-generated scenery. The charm of movies like The African Queen – which also involved a woman using a man’s steamboat to trek down a treacherous river – is that they largely filmed on location in Africa (much to Catherine Hepburn’s delight, and Humphrey Bogart’s disgust). Much of Jungle Cruise looks synthetic and fake, which is kind of typical for today’s movies, but counterproductive in the quality department. However, what Jungle Cruise lacks in tangible locations, it makes up for in character and performances. This is Johnson and Blunt’s show, and they deliver.
While one might expect a movie called Jungle Cruise and centered around one of the less frightening Disneyland adventure rides to be more family friendly, I was surprised at how rough the movie was. Language is almost nonexistent, which is good, with one incomplete “S” word from Johnson, and one “S” word spoken in German by the villain being the height of the profanity used. Otherwise, there’s just a few uses of “Oh my G-d” throughout the film. Right out of the gate, the movie offers a good bit of action violence. Most of it isn’t lethal at first, until we meet the movie’s German villain and he quickly beats up and kills most of the men in a room who learn his true identity. Although violent – and lethal – the action is seldom graphic, however that changes when a dark spiritual element is revealed in the movie. One character, who we learn is immortal, is stabbed with a sword, and we see them pull the sword further into them as they fight another character. Later, we see the person’s bloodless wound being stitched up and briefly see a close-up of the wound. Three more characters, who are cursed but otherwise dead villains, are brought back to life but with a Pirates of the Caribbean-style twist. One is covered in swamp mud that seems to endlessly move and drip. Another man is part honeycomb, with bees crawling all over him, entering his face and flying out every time you see him. The last one is comprised of snakes that continuously writhe and move around him and underneath his skin. At times, you can see them bulging in his face or crawling out and going back in. One horrifying moment shows the man’s face open up in the middle horizontally as a snake comes out and lunges toward the camera. Again, it’s all much like the “fish people” from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, but it’s often gruesome, if not rather disturbing.
The mystical, magical elements are kind of reminiscent of the Indiana Jones world, and they’re grounds for some of the film’s main action sequences. But being that this is a jungle movie, it would seem that every single living thing represented in the movie is actually only computer generated. From ants and spiders (yes, there are some spiders for those of us who don’t like them) to scorpions, weird looking dolphins and a big tiger, all of it appears to be computer generated. It isn’t enough to ruin the film, but it’s unfortunate that not even one creature could have been used for real.
Sadly, Disney also continues to push their own agenda on their audiences, needlessly halting the film’s main storyline so that Lily’s brother MacGregor could admit to Frank that he’s gay. The filmmakers tiptoe around just how to have the character “come out” without using precise phrasing, and they opt for having the largely effeminate and dainty character tell the manly skipper that a few engagements with women hadn’t worked out because his “interests lay elsewhere.” Upon realizing what MacGregor is implying, Frank raises his flask and toasts “to elsewhere.” Given today’s social climate, this sequence is clearly an attempt to push the inclusivity of this lifestyle in a continuing attempt to normalize it. And with the movie taking place in 1916, a time in which, no doubt, this lifestyle was even more so frowned upon, it feels even more out of place to stop the movie to focus on it. The implications of how it’s told will probably soar over the heads of any little ones daring to watch the PG-13 movie, but for anyone else, it’s tough to miss.
Otherwise, Jungle Cruise really has a lot going for it by way of entertainment, likeable characters, a fitting score from composer James Newton Howard, and plenty of action (and even surprises). It scratches the itch for anyone who’s a fan of any of the aforementioned films with similarities, while delivering truly memorable performances from the main cast. I doubt they could pull off another “Jungle Cruise” plotline for these characters to return, but I would definitely like to see Johnson and Blunt’s characters again.
It seems tough to find movies these days not trying to push some kind of agenda that polarizes audiences. We’re living in increasingly sensitive and touchy times when it comes to social issues and lifestyles, and our entertainment is no longer serving as a means to escape from it. Jungle Cruise is mostly good escapism with a lot of humor and heart, but it does fall prey to pushing some of these sensitive issues. Many viewers will shrug it off (or even cheer it on), but for this reviewer, it definitely hinders the movie overall.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/30/21)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Jungle Cruise is currently still in theaters but is also now available via digital retailers. Along with the feature film, the iTunes digital copy of Jungle Cruise includes the following extras:
Jungle Cruise: Expedition Mode – This allows you to watch the full-length movie with pop-up trivia, fun facts, and Easter eggs about the film.
It’s a Jungle Out There: Making Jungle Cruise (12:59) – This is the overall making-of featurette for the movie. Here, the filmmakers talk about getting each of the cast they had hoped for, while Dwayne Johnson says playing in a film about the famed Disney ride is truly a dream come true. (He also mentions that the very first boat captain ever for the ride was Walt Disney himself when it opened in the 1950’s!) The featurette also covers the costume design, story and themes of the movie.
Dwayne and Emily: Undoubtedly Funny (5:10) is about their chemistry and how well they play together. We see a few extra outtakes here, and they speak very fondly of each other and how they became good friends while working on this movie.
Creating the Amazon (15:15) – This featurette focuses on the special effects and settings of the film. It starts by discussing the making of and designing of Frank’s boat, and how it’s an extension of who Frank is. They reveal here that the boat was largely filmed in a water tank against a blue screen (Sadly, this was very obvious to me while watching the movie). However, for the town featured at the beginning of the movie, they actually built the sets and marketplace for that. The tree village shown later in the movie was constructed on a set in a studio, too. They also reveal that the jaguar, Proxima, was played by an actor whose performance was then erased and replaced with a CG cat. The featurette then continues to cover the conquistador villains and the technology they used to create their cursed monster variations using computer animation.
Once a Skip, Always a Skip (14:00) is not about Frank’s character, but is actually about real life skippers who guide riders for the different Disney Park Jungle Cruise attractions. Here, four real skippers past and present talk about their jobs and experiences as a boat skipper. They talk about how it’s (positively) affected their lives, and then offer advice for new skippers.
Outtakes (2:25) – This is a fun little collection of goofy moments, line mess-ups and laughing on the set of Jungle Cruise. The gang clearly had fun while making this movie (1 “Oh my G-d,” 1 “bugger,” and some bleeped-out language).
Deleted Scenes (16:18) – There are 11 deleted scenes, featuring many unfinished effects, viewable separately or with a Play All option. “MacGregor Drives the Boat” (0:51) is just a little moment where he struggles with piloting the ship around the bay. “MacGregor Water Skis” (1:24) isn’t quite what it sounds like. He falls out as they’re shot at by the sub and he’s reeled in by Lily (and for a split second is kind of up like on water skis). “Joachim and Nilo on Dock” (2:30) shows the villain talking to Nilo on the dock after the sub crash where Nilo demands restitution. “Frank Talks to Proxima and Lily’s Nightmares” (1:13) shows him talking to his jaguar and then there’s a creepy nightmare about Aguirre screaming with snakes wrapping around his face. We then see Lily waking up in a fright. “Sub Gets Stuck” (1:24) shows Joachim and his crew getting their submarine caught in vines. Inside, Joachim is painting, and when a crewmember walks in to deliver bad news, he shoots him (and then wants to add that image to the painting). It’s an oddly violent and darkly humorous scene. “Proxima Surprises MacGregor” (1:30) shows Lily brushing her teeth while a wet Proxima walks over to MacGregor and shakes herself off on him (to his disgust). In “Frank Gets the Cold Shoulder” (1:54), Trader Sam and Lily talk about Frank, and as Lily walks by him sitting alone, she just ignores him. “Trader Sam and Lily Walk in the Jungle” (0:38) is a little walk-and-talk scene about Frank. “MacGregor and Trader Sam Say Goodbye” (0:49) is a brief moment where Sam takes MacGregor along with her and they both say goodbye to the others. “Frank Makes Tea for Lily” (1:43) is a weird little moment where she complains about the smell after he hands her a cup of tea (and he says it’s the smell of the jungle). “The Backside of Water” (1:32) shows the boat going under a waterfall and Frank watches in awe before he declares proudly, “The backside of water!”
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/1/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: MacGregor laments to Frank that he had a few failed engagements to women because his “interests lay elsewhere.” Frank realizes meaning that MacGregor, who is very effeminate, is telling him he’s gay, and Frank raises his flask and toasts “To elsewhere.”; MacGregor, when Frank is in pain, offers to let him “bite down on my stick,” which he says while pointing to a large walking stick, and Lily disgustedly says no, and he clarifies again that he meant his walking stick; A man and a woman kiss underwater to transfer air from one to the other.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 incomplete “S” word, 1 “S” word in German, 1 “H*ll,” 1 “Oh G-d,” 3 “Oh my G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: There is some drinking throughout the film. People drink in the bar at the port; Frank is seen drinking from a flask a few times; a tiger drinks up a spilled bottle of wine. Frank then finds him after he falls over and exclaims that he is drunk; While tossing MacGregor’s many luggage trunks overboard, he decides to keep the trunk with liquor in it.
Blood/Gore: We see Lily and MacGregor vomit over the side of the boat; We see a view above a tiger as it vomits on the deck of the boat and then falls over; MacGregor has bad sunburn on his face and hands; We see a character stitching up a wound on a man through a tear in their shirt. We then see another view of the stitched-wound (with no blood); We see small bite marks on a man’s neck and torso; A couple dead and cursed characters have missing parts of their bodies. One has snakes that make up their body, another seems to be made of mud that is constantly moving, and another man is made up of honeycombs and a swarm of bees. The man with bees has bees coming out and going into his skin, while the man with snakes has the snakes visibly moving under his skin – sometimes looking translucent. In one scene, his face rips open in the middle to shoot a snake out; A flashback shows a wounded man with some blood on him and his hand; A character has some blood on the side of his head.
Violence: Lots of action/adventure and fantasy violence; We see a spider attack an ant and then get scooped up by a bird; A man fights and kills several people in a room, stabbing and hitting them; We see a tarantula and a scorpion fighting in a bar (where people are taking bets on them); Frank tangles with a tiger in a bar, as it menaces other patrons. It bites his arm, he flips it over and it jumps out the window; Frank and Lily fight some men in a market, and she punches some of them. She accidentally punches Frank in the face; Some men grab Lily and throw her into a cage with a bunch of toucans; A submarine chases after Frank’s boat, and shoots a torpedo at them; A torpedo blows up a large building; The submarine crashes into a dock, destroying other boats; After some rough water sailing, several characters throw up over the side of the boat (and a tiger throws up on deck); Some natives shoot several characters in the neck with darts and they fall over; Lily grabs a spear to threaten the natives; MacGregor accidentally punches Frank in the face; A character is stabbed in the heart with a sword. We then see them fall from a great height and hit multiple trees on the way down as they fall into the water below; An extended sequence involves trying to pull a sword out of a person’s body (MacGregor then faints and falls backwards); A man angrily swats bees on a table (we see them flattened and twitching up close); We see a couple flashbacks of some men traveling through a jungle and getting rescued. One of them attacks a tribe of natives and kills some with his sword. We then see the man being cursed to not leave the jungle and engulfed in vines; We see a flashback of more people fighting and one person is stabbed and left for dead; A man is seen getting attacked by piranha underwater; A character is seen struggling for air underwater and passes out; A couple dead and cursed characters have missing parts of their bodies. One has snakes that make up their body, another seems to be made of mud that is constantly moving, and another man is made up of honeycombs and a swarm of bees. The man with bees has bees coming out and going into his skin, while the man with snakes has the snakes visibly moving under his skin – sometimes looking translucent. In one scene, his face rips open in the middle to shoot a snake out; A flashback shows a wounded man with some blood on him and his hand; A person shoots another person twice. The victim them falls from a place of height; A ship explodes when it crashes into a wall. And lots of other action/adventure and fantasy violence.