Disney looks once again to start a new franchise from one of their theme park rides, but ‘Jungle Cruise’ fails to thrill us.
Disney’s latest live-action outing comes to us inspired by a theme park ride. Jungle Cruise has finally arrived on both silver screen and streaming services despite years of sitting in pre-production hell and a year-long covid delay. Boasting a star-studded cast and something different for the viewers to sink their teeth into, Jungle Cruise has a lot to live up to in the eyes of an audience deprived of cinema for an entire year.
Set in 1916, Jungle Cruise promises to be a fun adventure for the family. The story follows Emily Blunt’s plucky scientist Lily Houghton and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) as they go in search of a mythical tree, “The Tears of the Moon”. The tree is said to be able to heal any ailment and break any curse. After stealing a prized arrowhead which is said to be the key to finding the tree, the pair find themselves in South America. Having made an enemy already, they quickly but reluctantly team up with steamboat skipper Frank Wolff, played brilliantly here by Dwayne Johnson. The group endure challenge after challenge as they head down the Amazon, pursued relentlessly by Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). The film takes its fantastical elements up a notch by adding seemingly unkillable cursed Spanish conquistadors to heighten the danger.
This isn’t the first time Disney has built a film, and later franchise, off one of its rides. Pirates of the Caribbean was a highly successful adaptation of a ride into a franchise. This puts a lot of pressure on Jungle Cruise to deliver something just as brilliant, especially for the big names and high production value it brings. For the most part, the film does well to almost live up to the expectations. Leads Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are safe hands, the two give comedic back and forth while effortlessly pulling the plot along with them. The pair definitely work well together but unfortunately, their efforts aren’t enough to push the film into the territory of a Disney Classic.
You can’t help but feel everyone is holding back slightly, the stakes never seem that high with main villain Prince Joachim failing to feel like more than a caricature. The thick, stereotypical German accent and vague military costume feel a bit overdone. There’s something tiresome about a glaringly obvious German villain, especially in a film set during WWI. Sadly, the overall effect was that of a pantomime villain. To make Prince Joachim slightly more menacing, Edgar Ramirez and Aguirre’s crew of cursed conquistadors come in to kick the tension into high gear but they don’t do much other than ransack a village and look gross.
As with most Disney films of the past few years, there were announcements made about how Jack Whitehall was going to play the first out and proud gay character. MacGregor is a convincing posh imbecile but his much-discussed coming out lacks any real emotional depth. Whitehall fails to bring any true connection to his role and it is glaringly obvious. In the much-discussed scene, he sits with Frank and tells him how his entire family disowned him for his interests lying “elsewhere” when faced with marriage. The hesitant language and alluding to queerness is actually less of an issue than the way it is used to add layers to Blunt’s Lily rather than Whitehall’s MacGregor. It is a discussion to show how kind and loving his sister is rather than the impact being abandoned by his family had on him, furthering the growing and predictable romance between Frank and Lily. At its core, the scene fails because Whitehall just wasn’t believable, there is no emotional weight and it feels more of a diversity checkbox exercise than anything powerful. Understandably, many LGBTQ+ fans were once again left disappointed by Disney.
There is nothing deeply wrong with Jungle Cruise but by the same token, there is nowhere that it excels. This will likely be forgotten in a few years until the inevitable sequel is given the green light.
Jungle Cruise is about as middle ground as an adventure film could be. While Blunt and Johnson do an admirable job of providing this lacklustre film with some moments of levity and humour, this isn’t enough to pull it out of the realm of a basic adventure tale. It’s a shame that Disney’s big return to cinema was this forgettable. This is the sort of film that years ago would have been straight to video, and perhaps it should have been straight to streaming without the cinematic release. Ultimately, Jungle Cruise is an adventure you might want to miss.
Words by Danni Scott
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