One of the more unique rides at Disney World and Disneyland involves a boat cruise. No, I’m not talking about the Liberty Belle that circles Tom Sawyer Island. Instead, the Jungle Cruise is a fast-paced tour of a tropical river, complete with waterfalls, headhunters, hippos, and a wise-cracking tour guide with a penchant for perfectly horrible puns. The ride is fun, but is the newest film from Disney (of the same name) just as enjoyable?
Jungle Cruise certainly has its moments but leaves too much of the ride’s fun out at the expense of a journey that feels forced in the second half of the film. Nevertheless, there are some good reminders of heroism, trust, and sacrifice we all would be better off talking a look at.
Since I’ve already provided most of the film’s plot, it might be wise to introduce the main cadre of characters. MacGregor and Lily Houghton (Jack Whitehall and Emily Blunt) are a brother/sister pair who live in England during WWI and are trying to seek funding for an expedition to the Amazon. Their goal is to find the Tree of the Moon and recover some petals from it for healing. (Seriously, haven’t we seen and heard this plot device before?) He shares the proposal; she uses her expert cunning to acquire an arrowhead meant for Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) that may prove to be useful. She also knows how to pick locks, and it opens a lot of doors for her.
Upon their arrival at Porto Velho in Brazil, they meet Frank (Dwayne Johnson), a wisecracking tour guide who, well, cracks constant jokes and seems to have the entire jungle working to make his rapid-fire puns work to the delight (and disdain) of tourists. He needs funds to keep his boat going or Nilo (Paul Giamatti) will take it.
Enter Lily and MacGregor. She’s an adverturer; he’s like Princess Vespa in Spaceballs, complete with tons of luggage. Frank soon learns he’s met his match in Lily (other than the fact that she’s deathly afraid of water). The journey leads to numerous confrontations with said headhunters and Prince Joachim, who makes the journey to the Amazon in a submarine (too bad it went under).
Once Frank and crew nearly go over a waterfall, the story switches from fun-loving and joking to high-stakes adventure. To accomplish this Herculean task, Frank reveals some unique aspects about himself. Lily has to get over her fear of water (and receives a few kisses from Frank in an odd manner). The tree appears, but not before Prince Joachim shows up (along with various forms of Aguirre [Edgar Ramirez]–some of which are rather creepy). The tree blooms. You can probably guess what happens next.
Does the embellishment of a 20-minute ride into a 2-hour film work? I think that if the jokes were kept at a steady stream and the adventure was more unique, it would be quite good. Jungle Cruise is not a bad film, but certain things caused my mind to wander from the plot. For example, the Disney opening has a Metallica song playing underneath it. There’s a reason for it, but I’m not sure “Nothing Else Matters” quite fits. In addition, there’s a strange mishmash of films ranging from the Indiana Jones series, The Mummy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even Beauty and the Beast (note the color of the tree petals and how the conflict is resolved in the end). It’s wacky and unrealistic, but there’s some fun—enough to justify the film’s run time of two hours.
Director Jaume Collet-Serra found two fantastic leads in Johnson and Blunt, and their chemistry is evident from the moment they lay eyes on each other. Whitehall is on the screen a good amount as well but comes off as wooden and uninspired. Prince Joachim is laughable for the wrong reasons. Outside of that, the main character of the film is the CGI. The river sequences are absolutely gorges in some places, a bit wonky in others (the waterfall sequence), and creepy when Aguirre shows up (hope you like snakes—they have a bit of a hissy fit).
I think it’s important to note that there are a number of specific themes that can be detected in Jungle Cruise—heroism, trust, and sacrifice being three of them. Another, more subtle, aspect to the film comes in the form of standing alongside those one cares about and loves. Although MacGregor and Lily are brother/sister, there’s a telling line about halfway through the movie. When Frank asks MacGregor why he is so close to Lily, he replies that she “stood by me, and for that, I would’ve followed her into a volcano.” It does have a Samwise Gamgee/Frodo feel to it, but that’s one aspect of true friendship.
The writer John Donne noted in Meditation 17 that “No man is an island, entire of itself.” (You can also translate that as “toucan do better than one can.”) It has been difficult for many people during the worldwide pandemic when physical distancing has been the norm. To that end, many have resorted to life in front of a computer, using programs like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams to create virtual community. Over time, however, the sense of unity has drifted further and further away from view, bringing some to a breaking point. My prayer is that we would take the time to communicate intentionally to those we love (even bringing back what worked a generation ago—a simple phone call) and growing those relationships. At some point in the near future, we will be able to stand by those people in real time, reminding them that friends are there in times of need (see Proverbs 18:24).
Until then, we can agree that puns are good things, the Rock and Emily Blunt need to be in more films together, and it’s okay to be there for those dear to us. If it takes Jungle Cruise to remind us, that’s perfectly fine.
Also remember that, if you feel your feet getting wet as you leave the boat, you’ve probably gone out the wrong side.
Jungle Cruise can be streamed on Disney+ or viewed at your local theater (depending on area).