Jungle Cruise is a fun adventure film whose characters helped movie theaters recover from the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021. The film is a clever adaptation of a Disneyland attraction of the same name. I saw this movie with my family and did not expect much from it because how in the world do you effectively turn a carnival ride into a quality movie?! However, I was surprised to be absolutely blown away by the story, characters, and technical effects. It turned out to be a delightful film made in the same vein as the wildly successful Pirates of the Caribbean projects. Both Disney productions present very obvious and unoriginal stereotypes, but they excel at making them incredibly likable and entertaining. The personality and nuance that the characters of Jungle Cruise bring to bear makes its two-hour runtime an absolute joy.
The story of Jungle Cruise revolves around three central heroes: skipper Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), scientist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her brother, McGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall). These three set out on the Amazon River in search of the legendary Tears of the Moon. Tears of the Moon are flowers that possess extraordinary healing properties that Lily desperately wants to acquire for her medical research. Moreover, they’re the catalyst for a quest that reveals our heroes’ backstories, fears, and insecurities. It’s a movie that Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung would love!
And they would love it because Jungle Cruise does a really good job of parsing through its characters layer by layer. When we’re first introduced to Frank, we don’t think much of him, but learn that he has some rather mystical skeletons in his closet and that makes him an endearing member of the cast. His past and his secrets turn Frank into in interesting Jack Sparrow-type character. However, The Rock brings his trademark flair to the performance and that plays a huge part in making the movie uniquely enjoyable. While it’s certainly not The Rock’s best performance, (that title is best reserved for his roles in The Rundown or San Andreas), his range and charisma fit perfectly into the story.
The character of Lily fits less perfectly, however, despite Emily Blunt’s talent and charm. Lily comes across as just another shoehorned girl power character. Blunt does manage to bring some depth and wit to the role of Lily, but the moments where Frank jokes about her wearing pants or the times when chauvinists mock her for being intelligent undermine the worth of the character. In fairness, the film is making an earnest attempt to indict the culture of the period, but does so at Lily’s expense. It stifles the character’s potential by making her feminism and self-assertiveness feel hyperbolic and cliché. On top of all that, the script provides Lily with the least development of all the main characters. Emily Blunt does an admirable job with the role, but would be better served if the script gives her more agency.
The character of McGregor is a much brighter spot in the movie even though he ends up causing the most controversy. *Taboo Alert* The character is gay. At one point in the movie, McGregor refuses a rich woman’s hand in marriage because “his interests lie elsewhere.” He also makes it clear, several times, that Frank floats his boat if you know what I mean. The implications are courageously obvious, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the movie. I’ve seen Disney do better gay representation in The Owl House (2020-2023) and Amphibia (2019-2022), but I love McGregor as a character, as well as the humor and magnetism he brings to the movie.
Overall, Jungle Cruise is a shockingly well-made film that represents the great things Disney can do when it tries. In an era where Disney milks its most successful franchises to death and any new franchises they create get neglected and discarded, it felt great to see them take a risk with a new franchise, and, more importantly, it felt great to see Disney put some real thought and quality into a movie. On top of that, it was nothing short of impressive what Disney did with the characters in this movie, and I think Disney could take notes from these characters in the future.
Jungle Cruise is currently streaming on most major platforms.