The Eighth Wonder of the World: Live-Action Remakes
Updated: Apr 10
Reviewing Disney’s latest film release: Jungle Cruise.
~Mild spoilers ahead~
Disney movies based on attractions have historically been a mixed bag. Take 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean. It was a film so popular that it spurred four subsequent movies and changes to the attraction in the Disney parks. Conversely, the 2003 Haunted Mansion film, starring Eddy Murphy, was considered a flop. Having both these films in the back of my head, I was apprehensive when starting another ride-to-movie adaptation: Jungle Cruise. And the $30 price tag for premier access on Disney+ didn’t help.
The film stars Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, a plant biologist determined to find the “Tears of the Moon.” This legendary but undiscovered plant is rumored to be found deep within the Amazon and has the power to cure any ailment. She’s escorted by her brother, McGregor (Jack Whitehall) who is not nearly as adventurous and would be more comfortable on the golf course than in the jungle.
Once in Brazil, they need a skipper familiar with the area to guide them down the river. This is when Dwayne the Rock Johnson’s character Frank comes in. The siblings are apprehensive about hiring him, but Frank assures them he knows the jungle better than anyone. Narrowly escaping some ruffians, they take off on their quest down the river.
The film is full of dad jokes just like you’d expect from the the ride. Johnson’s delivery is impeccable, and you soon realize no one captures the spirit of the ride as well as him. There’s also a montage of tie-ins from the attraction, such as the boa constrictor, hippos, floating trunks (that were just added), and of course, the Eighth Wonder of the World: the backside of water. If you’re familiar with the ride, you won’t miss these details, but it also doesn’t feel forced if you’re not. I appreciated the film’s ability to organically weave in the original story from the ride while also refreshing it for 2021, such as making Trader Sam a woman.
Throughout the film, there is also a series of heartfelt moments, including McGregor alluding to being gay and his subsequent exile in high society because of it. He tells Frank that even though he would rather be anywhere else, he would follow his sister “into a volcano,” for standing by him. Lily talks about her desire to see everything and save everyone in the world, seemingly unaffected by the blatant sexism and lack of opportunities for her at the time. She’s even nicknamed “pants” because of her refusal to abide by the expected dress code for women. And Frank may seem like a deceitful coward, but there are many layers to him. You learn he has endured quite a lot in his life that actually makes him incredibly selfless.
Overall, the casting was on point, and our protagonist trio have banter that will keep you laughing throughout the film. At well over two hours, it’s a little longer than necessary, and cutting some scenes wouldn’t have taken away from the story. For example, there are two sets of villains also trying to find the Tears of the Moon; this includes a German prince (played by Jessie Plemons) who wants to win World War I and a group of Conquistadors looking to break a hundred-year-old curse. The true villain is lost on the audience, but I have a feeling this was done to differentiate between the Spaniards and Barbosa’s crew in the first Pirates film: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
Lastly, the backgrounds in some scenes look so fake, which is ironic for a company known for its animation. It’s almost distracting, especially when back-to-back with realistic CGI, such as in the scenes depicting London in 1916.
In the end, the organic storyline and strong acting make Jungle Cruise a delightful watch. With over $90 million in revenue worldwide, it sets a precedent for ride-to-movie adaptions to continue. I won’t be disappointed if that’s the case, even if live-action remakes can be lazy storytelling. As long as the film can stand on its own, it’s an interesting genre to explore. Contrary to when Lily, Frank, and McGregor get trapped in headhunters territory, this is not a bad place for Disney to be headed.
Jungle Cruise is available on Disney+ and for purchase on Amazon.
Score: 4 wishes out of 5