A few decades ago, people balked at the idea of Disney making movies about rides. And you know what? I get it. But then Pirates of the Carribean (at least the universally beloved first film) changed everything. Jungle Cruise isn’t going to have quite the same impact, but the film is fun enough to justify its existence.
Very loosely based on the simple Disney riverboat ride with silly skippers, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is tasked with transporting two siblings down deep into a jungle, on a quest to locate the Tree of Life. Kind of like a modified version of the fountain of youth, the tree has monumental healing powers so it’s kind of important that someone finds it: predictably, a rival crew is looking for it too.
“Through the gargantuan efforts of Blunt, and eventually Johnson, Jungle Cruise takes a decidedly cheery tone, to the point where you’re rooting for these characters most of the time.”
You can kind of see where this is going on so many levels (and in a few ways, it even openly apes Pirates), and I’ll spare you even theorizing in case I spoil a plot point or two. It even kicks off with the “these explorers are laughed out of the adventurer’s club” trope! But suffice to say, you really want to ensure that the performances in this are top notch to kind of superglue and patch the holes in the script.
We’re immediately introduced to Emily Blunt’s Dr. Lily Houghton in that same moment as the aforementioned opener, and some is forgiven. Through the gargantuan efforts of Blunt, and eventually Johnson, Jungle Cruise takes a decidedly cheery tone, to the point where you’re rooting for these characters most of the time.
It evokes memories of Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy, with a good deal of CG creatures and silly action sequences, which oscillate between harrowing and goofy stakes. There also aren’t many supporting cast members that phone it in, and at worst, they’re forgettable.
Jungle Cruise is a tough film to rate, because there really isn’t much to it. Yet there’s a degree of purity afoot, amid some lovely and varied setpieces, that gives it an endearing popcorn quality. Jungle Cruise isn’t going to win any accolades at…pretty much any award show. But as someone who has ridden the Jungle Cruise ride at Disney World many times, it’s great to see some of the quippy humor intact, and the two leads are a joy to watch.