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Review: Jungle Cruise

July 30, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Disney’s Jungle Cruise isn’t the first movie to be based on one of their theme park attractions, with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise being the most famous example, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, either.

What it is, though, is a pleasingly diverting film that seems intent to capture the feel of the real life Jungle Cruise attraction, right down to those corny “dad jokes” (“the backside of water!”) that are a known staple of the ride.

Directed by genre filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra, Jungle Cruise plays out like a mix of Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone by way of Pirates of the Caribbean, but with an even lighter touch to it. The real key to the film’s success is the chemistry between its appealing stars Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, who have an easy rapport together that makes the film a delight to watch.

Blunt stars as Lily Houghton, a female adventurer and map collector in 1916, London. She isn’t allowed full membership into the elite explorer’s society due to her gender, with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) having to present on her behalf. The opening sequence finds MacGregor begging the society for funding for their latest expedition, while Lily sneaks off to steal an ancient arrowhead from under their noses.

This arrowhead is needed to help them find the Tears of the Moon, a rare petal from a tree that grows deep in the Amazon that has magical healing properties. Enter Johnson’s Frank Wolff, a skipper with a penchant for cheesy puns who ferries overpriced tourist cruises along the Amazon River. In desperate need of transport, Lily hires the debt-ridden Frank to bring them to their destination, but the two butt heads right from the start.

Collet-Serra succeeds at crafting a family blockbuster that holds broad appeal for both younger and older audience members, delivering an easily entertaining fantasy adventure complete with booby traps, river chases, magical flowers and moments of peril. The chief villain of the film is German explorer Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons, doing a good job hamming it up and showing a sly comic side), who wants the Tears of the Moon for his own nefarious purposes. He is in hot pursuit of our protagonists, who also face a cursed conquistador (Édgar Ramírez), leading to some PotC-inspired fantasy moments.

The film has the throwback feel of an old fashioned Disney adventure, while still finding ways to make it fresh. Not only is Jungle Cruise centred around a female hero whose love of wearing pants makes her stand out in society circa 1916 (a running gag), there is also a sweet “coming out” scene for Whitehall’s Winston. While the scene stops short of using the word gay, which will seem like a missed opportunity to some, I liked the way it was written and performed and found it to be a surprisingly tender moment.

The film does feel a bit long at over two hours. The actual story beats are mostly predictable, despite a few obligatory twists and turns, and all you will likely be thinking about afterwards is how much fun you had. But this hardly takes away from my recommendation, because Jungle Cruise is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be. There is some character drama and a bit of romance that is easy to root for, but the film mostly keeps the tone light through the silly one-liners and slapstick humour, including a classic bit with ladders in the farcical opening sequence.

The feel of Jungle Cruise is light and airy, and this ability to not take itself too seriously is one of its greatest strengths. This isn’t trying to be a message movie, it simply wants to offer two hours of escapist entertainment, perfect for a summer evening with the family. It’s a movie that is simply happy to show us the backside of water, nothing more and nothing less. And it’s on these terms that Jungle Cruise modestly but pleasingly succeeds. It’s a fun ride, which is fitting for a movie based on one.

Jungle Cruise is now playing in theatres, and is also available to rent for $34.99 on Disney+ with Premier Access.

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