The Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland is one of the original attractions from when the park opened. It is filled with animatronic animals and shows every bit of its sixty-six years. Yet, inexplicably, it always has a long wait time because, well, I’ll have to get back to you on that one. For lack of a better option would be my first guess, but I think more people ride it out of pure nostalgia than anything else. And, you can tell who those people are because they are the ones forcing their children to wait in line while trying to convince them that it really is fun and so what if Galaxy’s Edge is right over there. No, really, it is. I promise. No, it isn’t that hot standing here. Yes, the San Diego Zoo is not that far away. We’re already in line, JUST BE QUIET!!
It was only a matter of time before Disney made a movie based on the Jungle Cruise ride. Pirates of the Caribbean was a smashing success (even if every movie after the original was not worth the price of admission). The Haunted Mansion was not a smashing success, nor was it at all apparent that the writers had actually ever ridden the ride. Even Tomorrowland, while not a ride, got its own film adaptation. There have been others, but we and Disney don’t like to talk about those (ahem, Country Bears). Considering the Jungle Cruise ride is less than thrilling, it would be an understatement to say that my expectations of The Jungle Cruise film were low.
For those people excited by nostalgia, you’ll be happy early in the film. After an intro scene barfing opening narration all over us, we meet Skipper Frank (Dwayne Johnson) giving an Amazon River tour to a bunch of tourists. Frank’s tour hits nearly every beat of the Disney ride – hippos, snakes, attacks by indigenous people, bad puns. See, children? We told you it was fun.
What I like about that scene is that it gets the nostalgia out of the way right up front, then gets to the actual story. Remember that opening narration? There was something about conquistadors and magical healing leaves called Tears of the Moon. Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) has spent years researching stories about the leaves and searching for information on where the leaves’ tree can be found. She convinces her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) to come with her to South America to search for the tree. Once there, they hook up with Skipper Frank who agrees to guide them up the river, though not before attempting to talk Lily out of the expedition. You see, he’s been cruising the river for years and insists that if the tree really existed, he would have found it by now. Then again, he owes the local harbormaster (Paul Giamatti) a bunch of money, so off we go.
Every movie needs a good villain and the harbormaster is not that villain. Paul Giamatti must have been bored when he accepted the role because the harbormaster is a cartoon of a character that seems like he accidentally wandered onto the ride from another ride. He is barely in the film and, when he is, you kind of wish he wasn’t. The actual villain is Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), a German lunatic who also wants the Tears of the Moon, but in order to take over the world. He is pretty much a cartoon as well, but one that is much more fun to spend film time with. Even more cartoonish is that he is travelling in a WWI German U-Boat (this film takes place during WWI), submerged most of the time no less. Don’t think about it too much and just have fun.
That’s what I did while I watched this film. I just let myself enjoy the film. Once it became clear that Johnson and Blunt were delivering their A-games, I knew I was going to at least be entertained, if not get a really good film. The two of them played really well off each other, as well as with Whitehall, who did a great job of not hiding behind the two stars. And, Plemons was clearly thrilled at the idea of getting to play an over-the-top villain with a German accent that all but oozed schnitzel. Plus, the story was decent as well, even though it felt a lot like a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, but not sucky. Like all things Disney, there was adventure, happiness, magic, and bloodless death that tends not to really be death due to curses. For a ride as old and boring as the Jungle Cruise, this film was much better than any of us could have expected. But, I still won’t stand in line for the ride.
Rating: Make like a football coach and ask for a quarter back.