Jungle Cruise becomes an inoffensive Disney romp with safe bets Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson and Jack Whitehall transforming the theme park ride into a blockbuster cash grab.
Undergoing the same treatment as Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise instead focuses on budget animatronics emerging from the depths as a dawdling shanty boat educate guests on animals to spot along the jungle river.
Translating this simple premise to last the film’s runtime of over two hours is exactly where this film fails to engage.
Mirroring the swashbuckling adventures of Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider, and The Mummy, Disney’s ride translation set in First War 1916 follows Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) pursuing a mythical Tree of Life, with its petal rumoured to bring immortality with brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) and Jungle Cruise boat skipper Frank (Dwayne Johnson) assisting the leading heroine.
An interesting enough premise, until such a point where the film introduces Spanish cavaliers who’ve been cursed by the Jungle, and a 16th-century subplot about plague and immortality.
Losing its simple narrative instead Jungle Cruise “borrows” The Mummy and Pirates of the Caribbean’s earlier success relying on mythical mystery to carry the weight of the film’s undoings. Never before has an adventure felt so dull.
Inoffensive entirely, Disney clearly felt that the story was never intended to be followed intently. Choosing instead to focus on the proven Disney-safe cast Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson and Jack Whitehall to fill the void that the story leaves.
Low Risk. High Gains.
Blunt who’s Disney credits include the recent Mary Poppins and Into The Woods, while The Mummy Returns’ Scorpion King, Johnson, has performed multiple times for The Walt Disney Company, from his debut leading role in The Game Plan to credits including Race to Witch Mountain; Tooth Fairy, and most recently Moana as demi-god Maui.
Comparably, supposed Disney newcomer Jack Whitehall may not be recognisable from a starring role from any of the Disney backlog, however, the British standup comedian previously starred in Frozen as a troll; performed a supporting role in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, alongside fellow comedian Omid Djalili, and clearly gained Disney’s attention from his significant rant on The Lion King as part of his stand up show Jack Whitehall: Gets Around.
As such, Disney most definitely picked a safe cast to bob along with the unnecessarily confusing plot. In fact, the film’s only saving grace was a short, but poignant exchange between Whitehall and Johnson wherein in traditional camp form, Whitehall openly declares he is gay, becoming the first character in a Disney film to do so.
Of course, the caveat of this declaration is that Whitehall never explicitly says “gay”, though does discuss the ostracisation he faced against his family as if this excuses Disney’s ignorance to LGBTQ+ communities under fear of alienating homophobic viewers.
Ultimately, if Disney is going to take every ride, and area, at their parks and turn them into movies like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tomorrowland, and Jungle Cruise, I pray that I never have to sit through two hours of their commercial remaster of It’s A Small World.