As one ride ends, another begins. It might be the cousin wanting to line up for the Mad Tea Party after disembarking Splash Mountain. Or, in this case, it might be Disney handing its flagship action-adventure attraction-based baton from Pirates of the Caribbean to Jungle Cruise, at least for now. Until the next bringing of the horizon is here, assuming you’re waiting for it, it’s wise to take the ride on the river. The salinity is considerably lower, but there’s plenty of swashbuckling charm and loaded spectacle to soak up — maybe even guide the vessel away from the rockier bits.
While not a live-action Disney Renaissance picture, Jungle Cruise ignites its engine with a narration — later revealed to be a presentation to a scientific society — about a cure-all variant of the Coralita flower called “Tears of the Moon” deep in the Brazilian Amazon and four mercenaries, led by Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez), forever cursed for seeking it. Sorry, no Anacondas sequel tie-in here. Due to the times, it’s a man on a lectern addressing mainly to older men, the dandy brother indifferent to the legend instead of the botanist sister all-in for it. McGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) for Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), if it can be mistaken for a particular Jonathan doubling for a particular Evelyn. Perhaps rein in the gotchas since Jungle Cruise isn’t being clueless here – it knows who is moving its parts and strives for vibrancy, even while acknowledging those it is indebted to. The essence of The Mummy would stretch all the way to the fracas in the archives, even if it proves the botanist is much more adept at handling ladders — and that Kaiser Wilhelm II’s son, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), also has special interest in the pink bloom. The match-smash gag from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and improvisations evoking the smarts of Tintin in the animated series also make an appearance here. Before all of this, though, look at the Drew Struzan-inspired poster.
These many “greatest hits” doled out at once? It’s a decision that endangers screenwriters Michael Green, Glen Ficarra and John Requa, but only initially. Jungle Cruise, surprisingly, is as driven by dialogue as it is by the grand — if inconsistent, — visuals, so to employ propulsion for the expositions, (pun-rich) banter, translations and voiceovers is a wise move. It feels like people, (meaning us and the characters) are always express-passed to the next happening, the next plunge into river-bound myth. The fun factor is, thus, genuine and tangible, if at times it also scars the cruise with marks that will demand more-than-usual elbow grease from Skipper Frank (Dwayne Johnson). The normally small world of the ride is expanded to a jaw-dropping degree, but the matter of enjoying can be difficult – Joel Negron’s editing caters to the frenetic as much as, surprisingly, the direction from Jaume Collet-Serra, whose past works have always had a hyper-organised sheen. That same latter detail is also responsible for cracks in the endearing and spirited bond between Frank and Dr. Houghton, or slick sailor-capped Maui and uber-collected English version of Jeanne Baret. And from that chemistry do we sense the studio’s (yet another) well-intentioned but downright quarter-baked attempt at increased representation through McGregor, a gay character.
But there’s still a high chance you’ll be pleased with Jungle Cruise, especially when we have long-demanded a mainstream expedition packed with derring-dos, romantic brushes, lampooned villainy, breathtaking falls and hidden settlements like those in the past. Once it’s over, though, let’s make a note and see if the end of the cruise will mark the beginning of a journey where focus is as in-the-sights as the fireworks.
Jungle Cruise will be in theatres and on Disney+ with Premier Access on July 30, 2021