Jungle Cruise might not quite live up to the emotional highs of the films it draws inspiration from, but it’s an entertaining ride nevertheless.
There’s no question that Disney’s recent live-action outings have received particularly mixed critical response, with movies like The Lion King (2019) and Dumbo (2019) receiving a 52% and 46% on Rotten Tomatoes respectively. But with their latest release, Disney has crafted an original story of action-packed adventure, based on their famous Jungle Cruise ride from Disneyworld. The ride, a riverboat expedition across exotic landscapes, has become famous for its atmospheric story and awkwardly comedic ‘Skipper’, who elevates the journey beyond its somewhat slow pacing. Thankfully, Jungle Cruise takes all the best parts of the ride and makes for a much more engaging experience for its target audience.
The film takes the simple narrative of the original ride and crafts it to fit the strengths of its all-star cast and high-budget visuals. Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt shine as the wonderfully charismatic duo of Frank the Skipper and Lily, a botanist searching for a mysterious plant with unknown healing powers known as the ‘tears of the moon’, conveniently located in the deepest depths of the jungle. The duo, alongside Lily’s amusingly awkward brother Macgregor (Jack Whitehall), are faced with danger after danger as they journey further into a jungle that bites back – with the overarching threat of German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who will stop at nothing to get to the mystical flower first. Jungle Cruise makes the most out of its charming ensemble by playing on the chemistry between Johnson and Blunt in almost every scene – but surprisingly underuses the fantastic Jesse Plemons, whose performance as Joachim is one of the highlights of the film. His presence is often limited, and his appearances don’t always achieve much other than establishing the central conflict of the narrative.
Still, Jungle Cruise’s star-studded cast is definitely its best feature. Opening on a brilliantly directed action sequence that almost feels like Emily Blunt’s audition for Indiana Jones, we’re instantly drawn into these characters and their journey. Every moment between the main cast is gripping and easy to watch, even if the dialogue sometimes relies too heavily on quips and jokes that can get repetitive pretty easily. Regardless, the emotional moments between these characters often work well, and the action sequences are definitely enough to entertain the family audience that the film is catering to. It’s quite simply everything you’d expect from a typical Disney movie – fun characters, engaging set pieces, and a deep-rooted message of friendship and teamwork that children should be able to take something away from.
That being said, Jungle Cruise is definitely one of Disney’s more child-exclusive movies. The main plot itself may be a little one-noted for older audiences, with the whole film driven by the search for one item that is only really explained through long, overdone sequences of exposition that may easily lose your attention if you’re not already locked in for the ride. Naturally, the inclusion of these scenes makes certain moments drag on a little too long, and brings the film to an unnecessary runtime of 127 minutes that could easily have been cut down. The mix of special and practical effects in the set pieces can also be quite distracting sometimes – not to mention the overreliance on CGI for all of the non-human characters. Whilst it’s easy to dismiss these criticisms in a film that’s pandering to younger audiences, Disney has managed to overcome these issues easily in the past by blending exciting, layered stories with impressive visuals and a deeper message, so it should definitely have been possible here.
Despite a few technical criticisms that bring the film’s quality down, Jungle Cruise is still a fun family flick that harks back to a classic era of adventure movies without feeling like a complete copy of them. A great nostalgia trip that elevates above its source material and makes for a suitable return to theatres for families this summer. The story manages to be uniquely entertaining despite its restraints, and it’s worth watching if only for the talent on screen – it’s not Disney’s next masterpiece, but it shows a promising return to form for the studio.
Jungle Cruise is now available to watch in select cinemas worldwide and on Disney+ with Premier Access.