Nostalgia and pistache comes to the big (and small) screen
Review: Jungle Cruise
Starring: Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti
If there’s one thing we all need during lockdown it’s humour and escapism. And while all the serious reviews all over the internet abound about how derivative the new Disney film Jungle Cruise is, let’s stop for a minute and think about what a swashbuckling adventure should contain and the ride the film is based on.
Plucky heroine – check, arrogant smuggler/adventurer – check, humourous sidekick – check.
The film, as you will know, is based on the popular and classic theme park ride of the same name that was part of the original construction of Disneyland back in the 1950s. The ride itself is well known for the wisecracking skippers who narrate the ride with a series of dad jokes for every sighting of animal or landmark – “Look it’s the eighth wonder of the world – the backside of water!” as the riverboat passes behind a waterfall – has always been my personal favourite. And wherever you have experienced the ride (its a mainstay of Disneyland parks across the world), each skipper has a unique way of making this unique pistache of the Amazon, Africa and even Thailand (given the various wildlife on display) a quaint experience.
So it’s no surprise the film ups the ante from quaint to action-packed, and includes no less than a German submarine, a bustling port with requisite smugglers and scoundrels, a perilous quest in a boat and a search for a healing flower deep in the Amazon. Oh, and it also includes a Conquistador backstory that needs a fair bit of exposition – all the better to get audiences up to speed on the villains of the story.
The winning combination of action and humour is what made the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise so successful, even if Pirates did experience a bit of fatigue, so it’s no surprise that Disney wants to capitalise on its other famous ride in Adventureland.
But all of this would be a bit bland if it weren’t for the engaging leads. Emily Blunt plays to her strengths as the plucky Dr Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), who hires skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to guide her and her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) down the Amazon River in search of the aforementioned mythical healing tree. The chemistry and banter between the three leads is what sells the film to a wide audience. The fact that Blunt chose her characters nickname “Pants”, which is a slang English term for rubbish, speaks to how seriously all involved took the experience.
There’s absolutely no doubt at all the film recalls many other films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Pirates franchise, and other adventure comedies like Romancing the Stone. It even has an African Queen vibe for those of us who remember that classic. But like the ride itself, which basically brings every form of wildlife into a fantasy cruise, the film is an enjoyably wild pistache of adventure films we all know and love.
Aficionados of the ride will be able to spot all the dad jokes and popular stops on the way, even if the film has been spiced up the experience with impressive CGI and massive action set pieces. All the reason for Disney to upgrade this classic ride perhaps?
As cinemas are still not a possibility at the moment (at least in NSW due to lockdown) I say, sit back, dust off that Tiki mug and enjoy the rollicking adventure that is Jungle Cruise.
Jungle Cruise is available through Premier Access on Disney+ and (if your state isn’t in lockdown) showing in cinemas.