The Jungle Cruise: More Adventure, Less Comedyby Todd Pickering, contributing writer
D23 hosted a sold-out event at El Capitan Theatre right in the heart of Hollywood. I have said time and time again if you have never seen a film in this classic movie palace it needs to go on your popcorn bucket list. (Warning: there will be puns) The room was filled with Disney enthusiasts and nary a Jungle Cruise attraction reference was lost upon this crowd. There were lots of laughs and applause and a good time was had by all as the saying goes. But this reviewer was left a little weary from his tour down the Amazon.
Since we here at MousePlanet cover the theme parks the most burning question that all Disneyland and Magic Kingdom fans have is: Did it live up to the classic attraction? For the beginning of the picture it most certainly did. We meet Frank, played by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who is taking tourists down the Amazon and staging fake scenarios and pushing puns in the year 1916. No spoilers here but there were well over ten references to the Jungle Cruise attraction and the D23 fans were eating it up. You really cannot take The Rock's popularity for granite. Um. I mean for granted. He is charming and smooth and full of warmth the entire picture.
Emily Blunt as a smart as a whip botanist in pants (trousers) along with her frightfully spoiled and nebbishy aristocratic brother, played deftly by Jack Whitehall, hire Frank's service to take them down the Amazon River. Their quest is an ancient tree with magical petals. Up until this point the film is full of fart jokes and potty humor. Nods to such classic Disney animated films as the Lion King, Tangled, and Mr. Toad abound. There is a feeling that this is going to be a very kid friendly film, but once we get down the river it gets much darker and downright scary and creepy. The audience was mostly full of adults and your pre-teens will enjoy this film but the little ones should not attend.
This is where the tone of The Jungle Cruise feels like we have skipped over to another franchise and that would be The Pirates of the Caribbean. There are curses, swords, and killing sequences. The pirates are replaced by cursed Conquistadors that are quite terrifying in that overly-CGI style. Save for some monkeys in the beginning of the film all of the rest of the animals are CGI animated within an inch of their lives and the jungle and sets feel the same. It doesn't really feel like anyone is actually in a jungle like in the film Romancing the Stone. The villain is a German prince intent on getting the magical petals to win the war. When two snakes poke out of the eye sockets and mouth of the frozen Conquistador you could hear in the back of your head Harrison Ford saying "Snakes? I hate snakes." But in Raiders of the Lost Ark all of the snakes were real and the terror was palpable in the actors and audience alike.
In the eleventh hour we get thrown one more bone to the attraction and actually meet Trader Sam. It is delightful to find out that Trader Sam is a woman. And speaking of inclusivity it is lovely to have a gay character also prominently displayed in this film but it seems wedged in there and a bit odd for 1916. It didn't feel organic or part of the story and was still followed by some crass gay jokes which would probably be more correct for the time period.
These negative points really have me between a Rock and a hard place. All of the actors give it their all and turn in earnest and energetic performances. While the animals may seem overtly animated the scenery CGI is beautiful. The port town on the Amazon is absolutely gorgeous and feels like it was designed by Imagineers. One truly wants to visit this place. The lights in the trees of the Amazonian native village are magical and the final temple and the magical tree are just stunning. The film is always delightful to look at. The sub-title font when the characters speak German and Spanish is the best I have seen. The score by James Newton Howard is lush and dramatic and really adds to the excitement. This is a feel-good movie that we really need at this time so this is probably going to be big hit with any Disney fan and anyone seeking Adventure.