JUNGLE CRUISE is more of a ride than a movie. So be it, since this megabucks ticket was scalped from Disneyland’s beloved Adventureland attraction that’s been charming boatloads of passengers by the thousands since 1955. Well into the next century, when this 2021 opus sailed down a CGI Amazon, Walt’s inspiring theme-dream of boundless imagination morphed into a ream-scheme of endless revenue, the spark of originality blown out by boiling the memories of Mary Poppins, 101 Dalmations and Dumbo into warmed-over gruel, festooned with all the visual assaults and noise tests that retinas and eardrums can withstand. Sorely lacking is old-fashioned Lincoln-log fuel for the noggin and vanished Pollyanna sweetness in the heart department. How many kicks in the crotch constitutes a different rating?
1916. Forthright British botanist ‘Dr.Lily Houghton’ (Emily Blunt, smooth as silk) and her markedly ‘fastidious’ brother ‘MacGregor’ (Jack Whitehall) venture to the Brazilian Amazon and enlist wiseacre skipper ‘Frank Wolff’ (Dwayne Johnson, polished rock) to guide them on a hunt for the legendary Lágrimas de Cristal Tree and share its healing powers with mankind. Also after the floral magic is a ‘kwazy’ German aristocrat, equipped with a submarine. The ghostly, rotted spirits of venal conquistador Aguirre and his men show up, then the fussy brother admits to something that must now be part of every family film, and Frank has secrets of his own to share. And there’s a friendly jaguar, because…jaguars are friendly…
The Jungle Cruise at the theme parks is (or was) fun because (1) it was pretend exotic (2) the skippers did/do a running monologue (3) they ‘shot’ a hippo and (4) it was relaxing.
The jokey attitude is still present in the script concocted by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, but they lay in too many subplots, and “relaxed” is nowhere to found under all the tumult orchestrated by director Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows), lavished without letup until you’re wondering if you’re still in this ride/movie or are stuck on a merry-go-round of The Mummy, ‘Pirates’ and ‘Raiders’. All the effects and hoopla cost a whopping $200,000,000 to make, with a further $162,000,000 gorged on advertising. To break even this needs to take in, one way or another, a half-billion. Are those pistol shots coming from the VPs office?
Struggling for footing under their makeup are Édgar Ramírez (his decayed Aguirre a long way from his dynamic Simon Bolivar of The Liberator) and the formidable Veronica Falcón (here allowed humor denied her in Queen Of The South), while Paul Giamatti labors under what’s supposed to be a Brazilian/Portuguese accent: not a career high point, his character just feels like a tacked-on distraction.
Further tacking the deck is the baddie played by Jesse Plemons, the script blatantly ripping off the real-life personage of Prince Joachim Franz Humbert, the youngest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and demented to boot. I guess the studio felt that losing a portion of the German audience (likely so tired of being Hollywood’s go-to bad guys forever that they’re ready to take up arms again and invade California) was okay since they were allowing gay character MacGregor to “come out”. That then, in true Wokasunder fashion, backfired, with activists (not paying attention to actual planet-imperiling issues) complaining that he wasn’t played by a gay actor (Whitehall cursed by being straight). Perhaps Spain and Portugal should sue (for a share of the gold, not principle, get real), since Ramirez is from Venezuela, Falcón is from Mexico and Giamatti is from New Haven, Connecticut.
So, is it FUN? In fits and starts, thanks mainly to the game work from Johnson and Blunt, who play off one another expertly. The sets and makeup are impressive, and the CGI rendering of London in the opener is remarkable. Like too many of these action fests, it goes on too long, bludgeoning out to 127 minutes when 90 would have sufficed. Another thing Walt had: editors.
* When will they ruin Swiss Family Robinson with a woke remake; they already violated the Treehouse. Of course, Disneyland/s have been scourging anything that could possibly cause offense (or legal action) from their rides (adios, Americana), and while the Jungle Cruise hasn’t been as emasculated as Frontierland (name to be changed to Apologistan), it’s been shorn of thorns, so to speak, to avoid hurting the feelings of…..anthropologists? cannibals? giraffes? Since they won’t do the merciful thing and make it disappear, how about an apt update of “It’s A Small World”? Call it “It’s A Dying World”, and have rapt raftloads of the geography-illiterate float by vivid cameos of what’s actually going on in all those colorful locales: environmental devastation, slaughtered wildlife, death squads, squalor, starvation, abject misery. Lyrics by Ted Nugent.
OK, okay, sorry all over the place for the soapbox rant (and padding a review of a basically harmless movie), but this politically correct stuff (when the goddam ship’s going down) is enough to gag a maggot.