After the wild success of five movies based on the “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride that collectively earned over $4.5 billion at the global box office, it shouldn’t be surprising that Disney would adapt more of their famous theme park attractions for the big screen.
When I first heard that they were going to make a movie out of the Jungle Cruise ride that began in Disneyland back in 1955, I was extraordinarily skeptical. It wasn’t until I saw the first trailer that I started to get intrigued at what they had done.
It all starts with director Jaume Collet-Serra, who has previously made several horror and suspense films like “House Of Wax” and “The Shallows.” He’s managed to take what could have been a rather boring idea and infused it with the kind of wild adventure spirit that harkens back to the Indiana Jones movies and “Romancing The Stone.”
Our story begins rather surprisingly in 1917.
Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) is a scientific researcher in an age when women are not even given serious consideration in the field (or any other, for that matter). Her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) is far more high society than explorer, but he reluctantly agrees to assist her on a trip from London to South America with a mission that involves a dangerous journey down the Amazon River.
Frank Wolff (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) is the captain of a dilapidated boat named La Quila that gives tourists trips on the River filled with makeshift stunts and very bad jokes. Despite her misgivings, Lily hires Frank to take them on her quest to find a an ancient tree that she believes has healing capabilities. If she’s right, she may change the world.
These beliefs, Frank is quick to point out, are the stuff of legend and he keeps expecting her to be willing to turn around and go back as the trip becomes more dangerous. But Lily is more than ambitious – she is determined and won’t let anything stop her even if faced with supernatural threats, wild animals, or life-threatening river rapids.
As our intrepid leads, Blunt and Johnson have a dynamic chemistry that gives off classic screwball comedy vibes. It helps that the supporting cast is also having a lot of fun. Whitehall plays his role prim and proper without coming off as a stereotype while Jesse Plemons and Paul Giamatti chew up the scenery while taking their roles just shy of the deep end.
The visual effects work is pretty stunning on the whole with a few notable exceptions. Is there a rule that every Disney live-action movie has to have a computer generated big cat of some sort that just never looks real in the slightest? This one, who has a recurring role, is particularly egregious.
Building up towards the final act, I was surprised at just how invested I had become in the story. This quickly goes beyond what could’ve just been a silly advertisement for a theme park and becomes an action-packed cinematic ride that doesn’t even need that Disney connection to work.
For family viewing, be warned that it truly earns its PG-13 rating. There are jump scares, some fairly strong violent sequences, and a whole lot of snakes.
I went into this a serious skeptic and walked out ready and willing for the inevitable sequel. For big summertime fun at the movies, this fits the bill and then some.
“Jungle Cruise” opens in theaters nationwide this Friday and is also simultaneously available for at-home viewing for $29.99 with Disney+ Premier Access. The film will be available free for all Disney+ viewers on November 12.