When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in 1955, the premier ride, the main attraction of the entire park, was a water tour ride called “Jungle Cruise.” The ride enabled park attendees to pretend to visit exotic regions around the globe from the safety of a manned boat, helmed by a knowledgeable skipper. According to “Once A Skip, Always Skip,” one of several included featurettes on the home release for Jungle Cruise, the latest ride-turned-movie from Walt Disney Studios, the creator himself, Walt Disney, was the first skipper to serve on the boat ride and it’s a torch that’s been passed down to thousands of skippers since. Like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) before it, Jungle Cruise borrows from the original ride to form a skeleton (no pun intended) that houses a swash-buckling adventure spanning several countries which audiences haven’t been privy to in some time. Now available on digital to own and coming to shelves in physical formats November 16th, new and old audiences alike can not only join Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) and Dwayne Johnson (Faster) on an excursion to down the Amazon, they can dive into bonus features that will expound on director Jaume Collet-Sierra’s (House of Wax; The Shallows) mystical tale, exploring the technical and historical elements which make Jungle Cruise such a fun experience.
In search of a mythical tree that might change the healing sciences as humankind knows them, doctor Lily Houghton (Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) journey to the Amazon River in hopes of securing safe passage for their exploration. Looking for a way to finance the repairs he needs on his boat, Frank Wolff (Johnson) takes on the Houghtons, though he doesn’t trust their motives. As the trio makes their way down the river, the legends Lily’s learned of the protections around the river become the least of her concerns as the equally interested German prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons) stalks them down the river, intent on reaching the tree for himself.
If you’d like to learn about Jungle Cruise without spoiling the experience, I recommend jumping over to the initial theatrical/Disney Premier+ review. Moving forward, there will be spoilers.
In my initial review I made comparisons to other films and I stand by them on a rewatch. It’s not that Jungle Cruise is uninspired, it’s that it possesses the energy that made films like Romancing the Stone (1984), the Indiana Jones films, and The Mummy (1999) so much fun. One never senses that the main characters are in any danger, though the situations they are placed in are dangerous; the chemistry between the leads is palatable (though I liked Jungle Cruise better when it didn’t get romantic (felt unnecessary to the stakes of the story)); and it’s presented in a way that stokes the imagination. My favorite thing, if I may, is how the Indigenous peoples/tribes, the Puka Michuna, from the ride were represented and that they were treated with respect by the good guys and (even if only moderately so) by the bad ones. Too often the leads are the white savior-types, coming in to bring about prosperity on the backs of another culture. Jungle Cruise gets close to this when it’s revealed that Frank is an immortal, cursed just like the conquistadors we learn about in the movie, because he is one of them, making his character arc less about righting a wrong and more about self-preservation up until he meets Lily. Her motives are entirely altruistic, not desiring fame or fortune for finding the mythical tree, but seeing it as an opportunity to help others, willing to do the work necessary to get to the tree, maintaining respect for the community who cares for it at every step of the way. This is in stark contrast, of course, to the conquistadors lead by Aquirre (Edgar Ramirez), who only sought the tree to heal his sick daughter, willing to destroy everything in his path to get it. Yes, he’s guided by love, but it’s a twisted one. That the film can balance all of these things — love, hate, selflessness, greed, reality, and fantasy — fairly well is impressive and is the main reason Jungle Cruise delights. In all cases, from where the story begins to where it ends, the Puka Michuna are not presented as less intelligent or less civilized as is often the case in swashbuckling story, nor are they included merely to be saved by the heroes. They are intermediaries, to be sure, between the characters and their motivations, but none of the Puka Michuna are reduced in order to uplift another character or aspect of the story.
Of course, the things that bothered me in the initial release continue to do so. Rather than rehash all of that, you’re welcome to go back to the original review to see where Jungle Cruise left me high and dry.
That said, there’s one thing that continues to strike me as odd when one considers the bonus features included with the home release: the rather unfinished look of the special effects. Watching the film the first time was via a digital screener that failed to include subtitles versus the theatrical version which did, so the obviousness of CGI environments and effects could be chalked up to the quality of the screener provided. But not now, even as we learn in “Creating The Amazon” and “It’s A Jungle Out There: Making Jungle Cruise” about working with the same team at WETA who worked on the Pirates films (whose first film continues to holds up now), it’s hard to figure out what exactly went wrong. Evidently Collet-Serra insisted on using practical effects as much as possible, including building a large water tank to help with the boat scenes, but the use of blue screen around it made any wide shots so obviously fake that the illusion of the journey continuous broke. Same for when there was any extended use of CG (such as in the conquistador attack on the Puka Michuna tribe or the final confrontation at the tree), the believability dropped considerably compared to sequences which utilized reduced-to-no CG at all. Perhaps it’s because I watched Dune (2021) after rewatching Cruise, but Villeneuve managed to incorporate a variety of elements so smoothly that you’d believe you’re watching a documentary of the year 10191 and not something compiled via the layering of live and digital components.
If tidbits like learning about the water tank or who worked on the digital effects is your thing or maybe you just want more history on the ride, then the home release does have all you could want. There is a combined one hour or so of featurettes, outtakes, and deleted scenes to extend your entertainment. Want to see how well Blunt and Johnson got along? Start with the five-minute “Dwayne and Emily: Undoubtedly Funny.” So much of the marketing was focused on these two play fighting and you can understand why after watching this featurette or the brief two-minute+ outtakes. Want to get a better sense of the technical aspects? Head for the two aforementioned featurettes “Creating The Amazon” and “It’s A Jungle Out There: Making Jungle Cruise” which, for close to 30 minutes, will give you a great deal of insight into the creation process of the film from the acquiring of the cast, costumes design, make-up (particularly important when presenting the Puka Michuna tribe), as well as all the technical aspects that made the fantasy of the film a perceived reality. If you’ve ridden on Jungle Cruise at any of the applicable Disney parks, or perhaps worked on one yourself, then the 14-minute “Once A Skip, Always A Skip” is a must watch. I found it fascinating for the history I didn’t know about the ride and it helped to clarify that Frank’s terrible puns are just part of the job.
If all you’re looking for is some fun, family-friendly entertainment, then Jungle Cruise is a fairly safe bet. Do be mindful that the film features cursed individuals that are made up of snakes, mud, bees/honey, and more, so there are a few frightful moments, but if you think the Pirates movies are safe, then this film is likely going to be received just as well. And as the warm seasons turn cold, who couldn’t use a little warm adventure?
Jungle Cruise Special Features
- Jungle Cruise Expedition Mode – Climb aboard a ramshackle tramp steamer (or your own couch) to learn fun facts, discover Easter eggs and catch some pop-up trivia throughout the movie. (2:07:19)
- It’s A Jungle Out There: Making Jungle Cruise – Director Jaume Collet-Serra, the cast and crew discuss the importance of the film’s elements, from casting to makeup to the use of an ancient indigenous language, in creating the world that honors one of Disneyland’s most beloved rides. (12:59)
- Dwayne and Emily: Undoubtedly Funny – Go on-set with the two stars, whose newfound friendship helped them project a natural onscreen chemistry. Although their characters challenge each other throughout the film, the actors make each other laugh. A lot! (5:10)
- Creating The Amazon – Explore the cinematic artistry involved in creating the world of “Jungle Cruise,” including how Frank’s boat coursed “dangerous” water in a tank in Atlanta, how a town was built in Kauai, and how a ferocious jaguar came to life, among other amazing effects. (15:15)
- Once A Skip, Always A Skip – Join a panel of “Skippers” at the Disneyland Resort as they reminisce about the rewards, challenges and surprises they’ve experienced while helming the world-famous “Jungle Cruise” attraction, and hear their advice to aspiring skippers everywhere! (14:00)
- Outtakes – Step behind the scenes of the production to catch the cast in a series of flubs, falls, foibles — and a whole lot of laughter. (2:25)
- Eleven (11) Deleted Scenes (16:18)
- MacGregor Drives The Boat
- MacGregor Water Skis
- Joachim And Nilo On The Dock
- Frank Talks To Proxima & Lily’s Nightmares
- Sub Gets Stuck
- Proxima Surprises MacGregor
- Frank Gets The Cold Shoulder
- Trader Sam And Lily Walk In The Jungle
- MacGregor And Trader Sam Say Goodbye
- Frank Makes Tea For Lily
- The Backside Of Water
*bonus features vary by product and retailer
Available on digital August 31st, 2021
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD November 16th, 2021.