Whenever I talk about the movies I grew up with, the biggest thing that stands out is how many adventure-based films we had. I would go to bed yelling, “Goonies never say die!” from The Goonies. Or “snakes, why’d it have to be snakes” from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And sometimes throw in a solid, “Great Scott!” from Back to the Future. But, truthfully, I haven’t felt a movie fit into that “fantasy family adventure” genre that my family and I love so much in a very long time. Enter: Disney’s Jungle Cruise.
Based on a Disney parks ride of the same name, the film takes place in 1916. Dr. Lily Houghton ( Emily Blunt) seeks a precious artifact, an arrowhead. The arrowhead, it seems, is the key to unlocking a magical tree called the Tears of the Moon. Unfortunately for Lily, the arrowhead is in the hands of an all-men science club. Naturally, she has already infiltrated and is working on taking the arrowhead. But she’s not the only one after it. She meets the terrible Prince Joachim of Germany ( Jesse Plemons), who is also after the arrowhead. For evil, of course. After a bit of a scuffle, Lily and her brother McGregor (Jack Whitehall) meet Frank ( Dwayne Johnson), a river guide. Though not entirely trusting of Frank, they hire him to take them down the Amazon river.
They have a good reason not to trust Frank; he definitely hides a few things from them, including the fact that he owes a lot of money to someone. And that he’s a lot older than he looks. But he knows his way around the river and knows many of the native communities that live there as well. But, with a growing number of enemies after the trio, will they make it? Or will someone else beat them in the race to the Tears of the Moon?
Admittedly, the first 20 minutes or so, I was pretty doubtful of Jungle Cruise. The CGI is not up there with Disney’s best, and some of the humor in the first few scenes fell pretty flat. But, once Blunt and Johnson meet, the adventure truly begins. The A-list talent both have impeccable comedic timing, and their chemistry is delightful. Throughout the entire film, the sparring between The Rock and Blunt is a highlight. Plus, both actors are just so damn charming, it’s hard not to enjoy anything they do.
The set is enough to make your childhood imagination come soaring back. For me, I felt the influences of The Mummy (1999, of course), Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail, and yes, even a little Pirates of the Caribbean. Those influences are heavily felt, so much so that I threw on The Mummy for a rewatch right after it. While that film isn’t really for kids under 12, Jungle Cruise is made with the entire family in mind. The story and the adventures within enchanted even my horror-loving teenager.
For fans of the parks who have ridden the actual ride more times than they can count, some dialog will make you feel like you’re right back there. Johnson offers puns resembling a lot of the jokes the guides on the ride would say. Jokes like, “we’re headed into headhunter territory, which is a terrible place to be headed.” Yes, this is an actual joke in the film. But if you’ve ridden the rides, you definitely heard that joke a few dozen times. If you haven’t, well, what harm is one more dad joke out in the world?
Are there better adventure films? Sure. But, if all you want is to escape with your family for a couple of hours, Jungle Cruise is just the ticket.
3.5 out of 5
Jungle Cruise hits theaters and Disney+ Premier Access on July 30.
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