JUNGLE CRUISE – Review by Susan Granger
Encouraged by the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Disney launches this new fantasy/adventure, based on the popular theme park attraction.
It begins in 1916 London, where intrepid botanist/explorer Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) sneaks into a snobbish science society to steal an arrowhead thought to be the key to finding the Tears of the Moon, a sacred tree hidden in the Amazon jungle whose petals have miraculous healing powers.
Under armor-clad Aguirre (Edgar Ramirez), Spanish Conquistadors once sought after it, betraying its indigenous guardians who saved them from the menacing jungle. Now Germany’s evil Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) covets the mythic arrowhead totem that’s in Lily’s possession.
When feisty, feminist Lily and her fussbudget brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) arrive in Brazil, they hire huckster Capt. Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to transport them upriver on his beat-up steamboat. Frank wears a hat like Humphrey Bogart’s in “The African Queen,” while Lily wears Katharine Hepburn-like trousers.
She calls him “Skippy” and he calls her “Pants,” cueing the effervescent romantic comedy aspect. Like Indiana Jones, she’s the swashbuckler; he’s often the comic relief. Their charismatic, odd-couple chemistry is somewhat reminiscent of Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone.
This film also marks the emergence of Disney’s first openly gay character. As McGregor, British comedian Jack Whitehall is hilarious.
Working from a sprawling, overly complicated script by Glen Ficcara, John Requa & Michael Green, it’s helmed by Spanish director Jaume Collet-Sera (The Shallows), along with VFX supervisors Jim Berney & Jake Morrison, who make Frank’s pet jaguar, Proxima, uncannily real.
Disney’s Imagineers have already incorporated playful new scenes and culturally diverse characters into its Adventureland ride at Disneyland and Disney World, while removing racially insensitive tropes. Gone are the tribal headhunters, shrunken-head salesman and negative depictions of natives. Remaining is an abundance of corny jokes/bad puns about elephant trunks and hippo ears, related by various skippers.
On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, Jungle Cruise is an escapist, slapstick 7, viewable either in theaters or on Disney+ with Premier Access.