By: Kayla Caldwell
Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE is big The Mummy (1999) vibes. I’m talking, an adventurous, intelligent British woman (Emily Blunt) who is on a treasure hunt of sorts, despite the risks. I’m talking the posh, younger [still British] brother (Jack Whitehall), who would rather relax at home than trek through the dangerous Amazon, but begrudgingly comes along for the ride for the sake of his sister.
Cut to Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who makes the connection between the plot of this live-action film and the beloved Disney ride. He takes tourists on a cheap, jungle cruise tour that is as full of puns as Disney fans will remember. The ridiculous dad jokes paired with The Rock’s confidence really pull off the famous cheesy one-liners, like, “the eighth wonder of the world… the backside of water!”
I really liked the way they took the cheesiness of the Jungle Cruise ride, and turned it into a believable DIY tourist trap for a hustler of a skipper. Much like in the Jumanji movies, Johnson’s character is a casual showoff the entire time, and I loved every minute of it.
I was surprised to see Paul Giamatti in this film, as Nilo, an Italian businessman who happens to own all of the best tour boats in the area… and some of the worst. It’s not the longest cameo, but Giamatti’s commitment to this goofy role brings to mind Hugh Grant in Paddington 2, or even Giamatti, himself, in Big Fat Liar. It’s quite fun to watch.
In a move very reminiscent of Evie (Rachel Weisz) from The Mummy, Lily (Blunt) starts out the film by causing quite the commotion at a stuffy, male British society club. Oh, she also steals a precious artifact to help guide her way to the supposed Tree of Life. So people are constantly after them, including a very luxe-looking, German Jesse Plemons as Prince Joachim. He also looked like he had a blast portraying this larger-than-life character.
There are scenes in the market before our brave and beautiful leads hit the waters that give off big Indiana Jones vibes, so essentially, if you like classic action-adventure movies, you will probably enjoy JUNGLE CRUISE. Lily needs a boat and a skipper who is not afraid to take her deep into a dangerous part of the jungle so that she can find the Tears of the Moon, a legendary tree from which one petal can heal anything.
Lily admirably wants to use the tree to change healthcare forever. Frank jokes she wants to be “the Darwin of flowers,” and wonders why she would risk her life to save people she doesn’t even know. “I don’t have to know someone to care,” Lily says, in a moment that resonates harder than one from an action-adventure moved based on a theme park ride ever should.
In quite a shocking move for Disney, MacGregor (Whitehall) is suggested to be a gay man. I say, "suggested," because even though he briefly mentions being discriminated against because of “who he loved,” they never come right out and say it. They do, however, manage to squeeze in a hearty helping of gay double entendre. The moment with MacGregor is really sweet, because even though it’s not pushed as far as it could have been, it is nice to see how supportive Lily is of her brother, even at that time (set during WWI). He follows her into the dangerous jungle, because she’s always been by his side when he needed her. (More sweet The Mummy vibes!)
Another surprising thing about JUNGLE CRUISE? There are some fairly frightening monsters. The effects are actually really cool, like a statue with snakes crawling out of the eyes and mouth, or an ancient warrior who looks like an optical illusion as he frees himself from a tree, the branches that have become a part of him, coming across like the bones of a skeleton. There’s also a really cool bee-type warrior who reminded me of my favorite photo I managed to snag while running through Knott’s Scary Farm’s Wax Works maze from 2019.
Some moments in the film seem so far out they might make you laugh, like the moment that prompts one of Prince Joachim’s men to utter the words, “We’re taking orders from a bee.” However crazy, one thing JUNGLE CRUISE is not, is boring. Even if you’ve had a few cocktails or some other substance, and you can’t quite understand what’s happening, it’s still going to be pretty, funny, and able to hold your attention.
JUNGLE CRUISE also has a talking parrot who puts Frank’s dirty laundry on blast, monkeys, an adorable jaguar, and a female Trader Sam (Veronica Falcón). She’s brave, bold, and hilarious, and even ditches one of the leads just as the villains arrive because, “I don’t take lifts from strangers.”
Once we really get into the jungle, things get a tad complicated. Some may not want to follow the somewhat-complex plot, but it’s not that crazy. We’re not talking about Tenet here. What JUNGLE CRUISE lacks in brevity, it makes up for in tough women, stunning visuals, fairly progressive dialogue, and The Rock being charming as hell. It also finds “Pants” - as Frank calls Lily - and the Skipper following a riddle, kind of like in National Treasure or The Da Vinci Code.
JUNGLE CRUISE is perfect for fans of Emily Blunt and The Rock, the Jungle Cruise ride, and/or adventure films like National Treasure and The Mummy. It’s a rollicking good time the likes of the (first) Pirates of the Caribbean film. Like that movie, it takes the memorable elements of the beloved ride, and uses them as a jumping off point for a fully fleshed-out story.
Johnson is as charming as ever, and Blunt as Lily is the bad a** female lead we wanted in the 2017 The Mummy, where instead we got Tom Cruise. She’s brash, doesn’t care what others think of her, and speaks her mind freely. She wears pants, because they are more practical for an expedition, despite the fact that Frank mentions them about every 30 seconds. She’s quick on her feet, and is nobody’s sidekick.
Whitehall’s MacGregor is stylish, and comically ignorant of what is in store for him, to the level of Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie on The Simple Life, thinking Walmart is where you buy walls. Like The Mummy’s Jonathan (John Hannah), he may not be the most researched traveler, but he certainly has heart. Edgar Ramírez’s man of legend, Aguirre, will set your heart racing from fear… and perhaps other things.
JUNGLE CRUISE grabbed my attention from the very beginning, and managed to hold it for the next two hours. That’s a pretty impressive feat for a work-from-home climate in which it suddenly feels criminal to take even a moment’s break from working or staring at our computer screens.
JUNGLE CRUISE is available in theaters and on Disney+ (for an added fee) starting July 30.
Note: It is a Premier Access title, so Disney+ subscribers will have to pay an additional $29.99 (on top of subscription) to watch. It will be available for no extra cost to Disney+ subscribers on November 12.