A film based on an amusement park ride? Not totally undoable, The Pirates Of The Caribbean films were very successful, but Haunted Mansion was pretty poor, so it’s understandable that Disney adapting one of their theme park rides into a big studio film might raise some eyebrows and might be a cause for concern. However, Jungle Cruise, Disney’s latest live action adventure, is a jolly good time with a great cast and plenty of great “bad” jokes.
Frank (Dwayne Johnson) is the skipper of a modest boat that he uses to take tourists on the titular jungle cruises. He has of course rigged the game and by cutting ropes, makes things jump out at the poor tourists, resulting in much more exciting cruises than the river would otherwise offer. Lily (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall, not as annoying as feared!) are searching for the magical Tree of Life and hire Frank to take them to the deepest parts of the jungle. Unsurprisingly, the group runs into a lot of trouble and some of it is supernatural in nature.
Yes, Jungle Cruise is hugely commercial and at times feels a little cash-grabbing, but what’s so surprising about this film is how much heart and warmth there is in the storytelling by director Jaume Collet-Serra. Much of this is thanks to his natural ability to direct actors; Blunt and Johnson are on fire here, giving loose, relaxed and dynamic performances. Collet-Serra has also plenty of experience in horror and thriller filmmaking and that experience directly feeds into the darker scenes of Jungle Cruise. While this is a family film, suitable for all, the scenes featuring the film’s antagonists go dark and might even frighten some of the younger viewers. But this is all balanced by the wonderful slapstick and hilariously bad dad jokes, delivered with relaxed wit by Johnson.
Visually, Jungle Cruise looks lush. The jungle and the river have been brought alive rather convincingly, but some of the CGI seems shoddy for a film this size. Frank’s pet jaguar Proxima never looks as convincing as it should really and the film’s supernatural element at times gets a bit silly because it simply doesn’t look the part. But the colour palette of yellows and greens looks great and Jungle Cruise is a film that looks handsome more than anything.
What holds Jungle Cruise from going from good to great is its bloated runtime. At 2 hours and 9 minutes, it is way too long. There simply isn’t enough story to go for that long and the film starts repeating itself and the jokes become old. While it’s constantly engaging and entertaining, it would have been much more effective if it was cut down to 100 or so minutes. Thankfully, the effortless chemistry between Johnson and Blunt keeps the film from dragging too much.
All in all, Jungle Cruise is much better than expected. It’s a true old-school, family adventure and feels like a film no one wants to make anymore. It’s hearty, warm, funny and thrilling. While it might never become a true Disney classic, it’s a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, getting lost in the jungle with Blunt and Johnson.
Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” releases in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021.