Disney has an uneven record when it comes to ride-to-film adaptations. For every Pirates of the Caribbean, there’s a The Country Bears to remind you they are anything but infallible. There was no reason to assume a Jungle Cruise-themed movie would be a slam-dunk, but the studio threw all of their resources into giving the film the best possible shot.
To that end, they enlisted the always charming Dwayne Johnson as the riverboat captain Frank “Skipper” Wolff and loaded his dialogue with enough dad jokes to make any past or present skipper on the Disneyland ride proud. Emily Blunt portrays Lily Houghton, the botanist who hired Frank as her guide through the Amazon. She hopes to find a tree whose flowers have extraordinary healing powers. While we should be getting some African Queen-style antagonistic chemistry from the pair, they come off as snarky platonic friends instead.
Their journey faces great peril, as all good adventure film journeys do. The danger comes in the form of German royal Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), determined to claim the tree for himself, and some cursed conquistadors who had once attempted their own quest through the Amazon.
The Jungle Cruise ride has its share of hard-core fans, and the namesake movie clearly wants to make them happy. All of the silly jokes and puns are there, densely stuffed into the first act of the film to set the tone. The movie happily and smoothly goes along on that ride-themed path for a while, but veers sharply off course when it tries a more fantastical storytelling path. The poorly rendered visual effects and muddled storytelling when it comes to Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez) and his band of cursed conquistadors distract from the silly charm presented earlier in the movie.
Everything feels a bit “adventure movie paint by number” while watching, and nothing will come as much of a surprise to viewers. Things even end with what feels like the assumption a sequel, a sure sign the filmmakers think they have the next Pirates on their hands, and not the next Mission to Mars. They may be right. While this ship never manages to steer totally back on course, there is enough warmth and nostalgia to make it perfectly acceptable family fare.
You can catch Disney’s Jungle Cruise in theaters and streaming on Disney+ with Premiere Access beginning on July 30, 2021.
About Jungle Cruise
Rating: PG-13 (Adventure Violence)
Runtime: 2h 7m
Inspired by the famous Disneyland theme park ride, Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE is an adventure-filled, Amazon-jungle expedition starring Dwayne Johnson as the charismatic riverboat captain and Emily Blunt as a determined explorer on a research mission. Also starring in the film are Edgar Ramirez, Jack Whitehall, with Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti.