Another Disneyland ride gets the feature film treatment

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | August 12, 2021

Jungle Cruise
Now playing
Theatres, Disney+ (Premier Access)
2.5 out of 5

Four-quadrant movies these days are reaching peak constraint levels. You can forget any semblance of “edginess” thanks to the fear of cancel culture and bad publicity (The Goonies would’ve never been greenlit today). International markets, particularly China, must be okay with the content or it’s goodbye to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Nevertheless, even though there’s a particularly glaring example of trying to appease everybody (you’ll know it when you see it), Jungle Cruise does a fairly good job keeping things entertaining, mostly by relying on the utterly charming Emily Blunt, and Dwayne Johnson.

A combination of The Mummy (1999) with pieces of the Indiana Jones saga set in the early 20th century, the film follows the pursuits of Lily Houghton (Blunt), a British socialite with a philanthropic streak and an adventurer’s soul. In pursuit of a mythical tree with healing properties said to be in the middle of a family-friendly Amazon jungle, Lily hires a riverboat captained by Frank (Johnson), who can barely keep his business afloat. Cue callbacks to the Disney parks ride.

The mismatched couple (she’s intrepid but clumsy, he’s wary of the jungle but good with his fists) turns out to be the ideal combination to fend off a greedy German prince (an amusing Jesse Plemons) and undead conquistadors, because why not.

There’s a dash of Aguirre, the Wrath of God in Jungle Cruise which is never a bad idea (also, Paul Giamatti looks like Klaus Kinski in Fitzcarraldo), but for the most part, every set piece is run-of-the-mill, the stakes are mild at best and the whole thing goes on for way too long. There’s not much chemistry between Blunt and The Rock, although both are good sports.

The most puzzling part is how Jungle Cruise — a movie with state-of-the-art computer effects and considerable budget — fails to be better than a similar movie: the more modest yet more satisfying The Mummy. How is that possible? My money is on the script. While Jungle Cruise feels like a bunch of action sequences stitched together (much like the ride that inspired it), The Mummy has a simple, yet propulsive storyline that peaks at the climax. It’s scriptwriting 101.