3 out of 5 stars
How many of you can remember going on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disney? The slow-moving trek through the jungle continues to exist and still draws the crowds, like the Tiki Room and Pirates of the Caribbean. Once again, Disney has created a film based on one of its classic theme park attractions, and who else to get this one moving than Dwayne Johnson (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle). Despite being delayed by the pandemic for a year, this riverboat journey is now available for audiences to sail into cinemas and Disney+.
Even though Disney and the production team manage to have a go at the ridiculously dated nature of the original ride by showing Captain Frank "Skipper" Wolff (Johnson) giving tourists a farcical tour of the Amazon, it helps to set the tone for the rest of the film. Set in the WWI era, his time is relegated to entertaining rich folks who merely want to see the native habitat and ‘natives’ in the jungle. Then things change significantly when Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her younger brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), ask to be taken down the river on a scientific expedition. It does not interest the less than ethical tour guide, until he realises two critical things. One, the siblings have the funds to pay him handsomely and the other is that the young doctor has a particular artefact that will guide them to the Tears of the Moon, a mythical tree of healing.
For this expedition to be successful, the unlikely trio must escape the local authorities and stay ahead of a group of mercenaries led by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). This eccentric and deranged aristocrat wants to access the unique tree for the benefit of the German army in their fight for dominance in Europe. Which all leads to a mad race up the waterways and tributaries of the famed river to get to the magical tree. All the while, they must stay ahead of the cursed Conquistadors, a band of ancient soldiers brought back to life as each team gets closer and closer to their botanical discovery.
Throughout this whole adventure, director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Commuter) pays homage to many of the great river cruise and expedition films of yesteryear. Either that or sampling from each of their familiar narratives provides a game of ‘remember when’ as audiences ride along with Johnson and Blunt. None of this is too distracting and does not take away from the experience. Still, it is difficult to miss the nods to Indiana Jones, The African Queen and even the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. It all provides a fun excursion for families to enjoy a bit of adventure and an escape from the reality that these films offer.
Does it have the same magic of these classics? Johnson, Blunt and Whitehall all do their best with the over-the-top antics and seem to enjoy diving into their characters. While Plemons does his best to make Prince Joachim as demented and diabolical as he can, but none of it really takes this into fresh and uncharted waters. Also, some of the political commentaries added to appeal to a modern audience are an unnecessary means of pandering to the current societal norms. Which does briefly distract from the high-speed nature of the storyline, but not enough to sink the production. In the end, the whole journey seems quite familiar and parochial. Yet, this long awaited movie does provide families with something to enjoy together in the cinemas or at home.
What do parents need to know about Jungle Cruise? In the same vein as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Pirates of the Caribbean, this adventure carries a certain level of imagery and violence that might scare younger ones. Some of the commentaries between the cast members are mature. Some of the dialogue alludes to sexual innuendo or modern discussion points. Still, it would most likely sail over the heads of the younger viewers. All the while providing a fun Disney adventure that the family could enjoy together which may lead to some great conversations about following your dreams or facing opposition in life.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:19-21