It’s time to break new ground here on Wandering in Disney and dive into the world of movie reviews! These won’t become the norm but the first Disney movie based on a theme park attraction in many years was cause for some novelty. This post will contain a spoiler-free review of the movie, thoughts on how it relates to the Disney Parks, and the future of theme park attractions in movies.
Disney’s history of turning theme park attractions into movies is spotty to say the least. I’m not here to step on anyone’s nostalgia but, speaking from a critical standpoint, every movie outside of the first Pirates of the Caribbean film has been a disappointment. In fact, outside of that series, it’s been a genre that Disney has largely scrapped after trying some things in the early 2000’s. That all makes sense as theme park attractions are a very unique story telling medium that is hard to replicate over two hours.
With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Jungle Cruise does two things – leans heavily into some of the tropes that make Jungle Cruise a classic attraction all while overcompensating with a very noisy plot. To be clear, one of those things makes the movie fun and interesting while the latter doesn’t help the film.
As a standalone film, Jungle Cruise pulls from other family adventure movies like Indiana Jones, the aforementioned Pirates and National Treasure. With apologies to Nic Cage and Johnny Depp, it works best when it’s following the Indiana Jones footprint. Emily Blunt plays Dr. Lily Houghton, an adventurous and independent woman who’s in search of a legendary tree with blossoms that will heal any sickness. She’s a charming character who is before her time, as the movie reminds us many times that she’s wearing pants even though it’s 1916. Blunt is great, as always, playing her version of Indiana Jones – slightly aloof, a little rugged but ultimately a character that you can’t help but root for.
Houghton and her brother MacGregor, played by Jack Whitehall, ultimately have to team up with Skipper Frank Wolff, played by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson as they go on a (cough cough) jungle cruise to find this special tree. All the while, they’re being chased by Prince Joachim, played by Jesse Plemons, who happens to be the son Kaiser Wilhelm II. To keep the Indy comparisons going, Plemons seems to be playing a goofier version of the main villain in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Oh yeah, there’s also some Spanish conquistadors from the 1500’s after them.
Jungle Cruise is at its most fun when the story centers around the cruise down the Amazon, not the convoluted backstory of its villains or Skipper Frank. There were heartwarming moments between the main characters and a surprising chemistry between Blunt and The Rock. The first half of the movie is an especially fun adventure and makes for the most successful theme park attraction film since Pirates of the Caribbean.
Connection to Disney Parks
Even outside of the obvious, Jungle Cruise does offer quite a bit of service to fans of the Disney Parks. The first 15 minutes are especially full of nods to the attraction that the film is based on as well as nods to some broader Disney characters. In the opening scene, MacGregor is pitching an idea to the Royal Anthropological and Diverse Adventures Society. Not only is this a nod to London’s Royal Society but it also seems to be a successor to Imagineering’s Society of Explorers and Adventurers. For those unaware, this made up society is full of characters sprinkled throughout Disney Parks.
While the particular society in the movie seems unevolved and unaccepting to new ideas, it’s clear there’s some connection to SEA based on a reference Albert Falls, who was the original Jungle Cruise Skipper according to folklore. Falls and his wife, Victoria, would end up building a mansion in Adventureland near the Jungle Cruise for secret meetings of the society. While this is probably the deepest reference to the parks in the film, there are certainly more.
The first time we set foot aboard Skipper Frank’s boat, we get many of the usual puns that you’ll hear on the actual attraction. Much like the attraction, they’re met with eye rolls from the guests on the boat. While the movie doesn’t choose to dive into why Skipper Frank is full of this cringe worthy wordplay, it’s fun to see them take actual references from the ride. The final sequence in the film is based inside of a temple, similar to Magic Kingdom’s version of the attraction.
As for other names that pop up, Trader Sam appears and plays a decent sized part in the story. This may not be the Trader Sam we’ve grown accustomed to though as the one in Jungle Cruise is a female. I liked the character quite a bit and was happy to see her canon grow. Throughout the entire film, there were some clear cues that the movie takes from the ride. Disney Park goers will almost certainly enjoy this movie more because of them, as they don’t feel particularly over the top (outside of the needed corny jokes) but also aren’t completely avoided.
What comes next for theme park attractions in movies?
My thoughts on this subject probably differ from reality quite a bit. Disney has long been rumored to have a Haunted Mansion film in the works that may already have a cast. I’m guessing that will have a very different tone than the 2003 adaptation. From there, I would guess that more films will be in the works with that same idea including the famed Disney mountains. While I think these have a chance to be successful, I’d like to see the company go a different route.
Pirates of the Caribbean was a success because Johnny Depp turned Captain Jack Sparrow into an iconic character. I don’t think there’s that type of cultural icon in Jungle Cruise, but I’d happily watch Emily Blunt’s character on any adventure she’d take audiences on. These movies aren’t generally working because they are set in our favorite Disney attractions, they worked because they had interesting characters to go with some nods to the attraction.
With that in mind, I’d like to see the movies dive deeper into the Society of Explorers and Adventurers. Tokyo DisneySea’s Tower of Terror tells an amazing story about one of the members, Harrison Hightower. That could absolutely be adapted into a movie because it’s a full fledged story. All of these other characters in the society have legends surrounding them that would make for interesting films. In this day and age of extended universe and so much corporate synergy, this seems to fit the bill.
Maybe it’s not a movie but instead a Disney+ series or something of the sort. Honestly, I would have mixed feelings about this whole project if it ever came to fruition. I enjoy the parks having their own thing with only slight references to them in film or shows. But I do think they would make for better movies. Instead of films based on attractions that give nods to some characters in that attraction, make them about the characters and give some nods to the attractions. Obviously, this probably isn’t as lucrative but it would make for more originality and something for park goers to enjoy at the same time.
Like I mentioned, none of this is likely. In fact, I think Disney will try to churn out movies based on attractions a couple of times a decade and most of them won’t work that well because it’s hard to base a movie just off of a setting. Thankfully, Jungle Cruise succeeded well enough! I’d still prefer a ride on the actual attraction though, even if I can’t eat popcorn on it.
Have you seen Jungle Cruise yet? Let us know your thoughts, along with any other questions you might have, in the comments below! Planning a trip to either resort? Check out our guides to get you started! Thank you for reading Wandering in Disney. If you enjoy our content please subscribe to the blog (via WordPress or email) and like our social media pages. You can find all of those things on the right side of this page. Have a great day!