If Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt were along for the ride on my own Jungle Cruise in 1966, they would have been just two more enthusiastic passengers. Here, the pairing of these two popular and busy actors enhances the experience nicely, along the lines of Johnson and Karen Gillan in the most recent Jumanji movies. In fact Gillan could have easily played the role of Dr. Lily Houghton in Jungle Cruise, but it might have unnecessarily confused the two films. They have a quite similar feel, one that works well with Johnson’s ability to be funny and massively muscular simultaneously.
Skipper Frank Wolff (Johnson) is the victim of his own successes and failures as an Amazon River pilot in 1916, abused by Paul Giamatti as Nilo, a corrupt and competing boat tour operator in a jungle river port that looks like something straight out of Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a setting in which everyone is running intersecting scams, and the launching point for a voyage up-river to retrieve the petals of a magic tree. Myths and legends are explained in cumbersome detail when Houghton, her much less courageous brother and Frank eventually reach the source of their quest.
In Jungle Cruise, Blunt gets to speak in her natural British accent instead of that of the American Evelyn Abbott from The Quiet Place. But you do expect her to issue her patented breathy “Run!” while being chased by stereotypical jungle savages. No need, The Rock will head them off and save the clearly capable pants-wearing damsel. Really?
Criticism of the fifty-year-old Disney theme park attraction led to an update that eliminated racial stereotypes and animal cruelty. That seems to be somewhat ignored in the film, but casting the mysteriously ethnic Johnson helps balance the equation. Is there nothing this man can’t do? And if his squeaky clean (granted self-promoted) reputation can be believed, he has somehow transitioned from WWF superstar to one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, all while being kind, exposing his inner child (he loves Disneyland) and clearly having a ton of fun along the way. Johnson is Executive Producer for an excellent “Behind the Attractions” series on the Disney Plus streaming service that examines in fascinating detail the history and evolution of rides like Jungle Cruise.
Casting the always creepy Jesse Plemons as the psychotic German prince and evil protagonist works perfectly. Plemons has made his sinister mark in Fargo, The Irishman, Game Night, and a memorable Black Mirror episode called “USS Callister.” You’ll hate him here too. He is a blonde haired, blue eyed devil.
This is a very fun ride, the latest in Disney’s efforts to turn favorite theme park attractions into feature films. A remake of 2003’s The Haunted Mansion is in the works. What next? Careful Disney, remember The Black Hole? They have acquired Marvel and Star Wars. No need to dig so deep.
A warning to concerned parents, or perhaps grandparents. For a PG-13 rated film, this movie has fairly graphic violence, intensity, attacks by frightening mythical and real creatures, un-dead conquistadors and all of the expected action of a WWF body slamming skipper. But if the kiddies can handle Pirates of the Caribbean, they have been desensitized appropriately to handle this.
Jungle Cruise (2021) runs 2 hours, 7 minutes and is rated PG-13.