Jungle Cruise (2021) — A punny ride into the Amazon

“First of all, let me congratulate you on your excellent choice of skipper. Of all the jungle cruises you could take in the Amazon, this one is undoubtedly the cheapest. But also the most thrilling.”

Justin’s rating: All aboard!

Justin’s review: The Jungle Cruise ride is one of the dorkiest and most personable attractions at the Disney parks. Despite taking a boat ride on what is no more than four feet of water through a fake canopy that features barely moving animatronics, it never fails to evoke imagination and a spirit of fun. Plus, the skippers’ nonstop litany of puns is just as enjoyable — if not more — than all of the rest.

The ride is actually a perfect source of inspiration for a movie, provided that the filmmakers could replicate that tone of pulp adventure and dumb dad jokes. I’m happy to say that this is what Jungle Cruise does exceedingly well — in fact, far better than I had anticipated. It’s Pirates of the Caribbean by way of Indiana Jones, done sincerely if a bit tongue-in-cheek.

It’s the early years of World War I, and wanna-be explorers Lily (Emily Blunt) and her brother MacGregor (Jake Whitehall) have trekked down to Brazil to search for some mystical tree with flowers that are squeezed to make those little red healing potions that you’re always quaffing in video games. There they commission skipper Dwayne “The ‘Frank’ Rock” Johnson to take them deep into the uncharted territory of the Amazon.

Along with being big enough that he functions as a flotation device for a family of four, Frank loves to pull off a good pun and push his boat to the limit. He’s going to need the latter, as the crew is being chased by a crazy German in a submarine (which never has any problems navigating this river, by the way) and some undead Conquistadors because WHY NOT. The story runs about 25 minutes longer than it really needed to because Disney always saddles these ride adaptations with convoluted mystical plots and unbelievable CGI effects that get less and less interesting the closer you get to the end credits.

In fact, I’d say that the first half of Jungle Cruise is better simply because it hasn’t unloaded this nonsense on you. Instead, it chooses to focus on a whole lot of great stuntwork and action scenes. For a good while there, this movie chains action sequences together, one after the other, in a way that feels like, well, a great ride. You get hints of The Mummy and Prof. Jones’ adventures, but this time it’s more of a pairing than a one-person show. Johnson is fine as a moving slab of granite, but Blunt gets to have a blast with all of the nutty stuff her character goes through.

And to my delight, the puns that Disney employees make a feature on the ride are all over this movie, and I loved every one of them. It’s perhaps the most that I’ve ever liked Johnson, as he’s delivering these groan-worthy lines deadpan and clearly loving the consternation that they cause. Lily and Frank enjoy a fun rivalry (he calls her “Pants” and she him “Skippy”), and MacGregor is a great comic relief in his own right.

Aside from the dumb CGI fantasy elements of the plot — which weren’t needed in the first place — the only other thing that doesn’t work well here is Johnson in this role. Don’t get me wrong: He’s really funny, and I wouldn’t tell him to his face that he’s a bad actor. He’s not. But a skipper of a Jungle Cruise boat didn’t need a giant ex-wrestler at the helm. He’s absolutely physically distracting here, all the more so when Movie Law dictates that he and Lily have to develop a romance and smooch at the end. When that happened, I actually thought for a second that he was devouring her face. It’s so not convincing that deflates the finale rather than pumps it up.

But hey, it’s an above-par effort for a Disney ride movie. It even features more of a “ride” than similar other adaptations, and I know my kids walked out of the theater bouncing in glee and saying that they had a great time. So take my criticisms lightly and my praise heavily, and if you enjoyed this, my name is Justin and this has been the world-famous Jungle Cruise review. If you didn’t, then my name is Kyle and this has been The Haunted Mansion.

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