A creaky old Disneyland ride littered with creaky old dad jokes isn't the most obvious inspiration for a big-budget cinematic journey, but Jungle Cruise hits on most of the classic summer adventure notes. It does so by reveling in the silliness of its source material, riffing on the ride's original source of inspiration.
Jungle Cruise stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Emily Blunt as a riverboat captain and his scientist passenger. Their old-timey riverboat quest mirrors the dynamic between Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen, a rousing 1951 adventure that won Bogart his only Oscar and gave Disney Imagineers an idea for a ride that's endured for more than 60 years.
This 1916-set adventure -- directed by Jaume Collet-Serra (who will rejoin Johnson for 2022 DC movie Black Adam) -- oozes charm right from its opening minutes, thanks to sharp writing and the charisma of Johnson, Blunt and Jack Whitehall as her hilariously ill-prepared brother. That appeal only grows once they're together on the boat and traveling down a jungle river, sparking off one another brilliantly.
Johnson has an endless supply of groan-worthy puns (echoing the silly skippers of Disney's ride) and a capacity for deception, putting him at odds with the assertive, direct Blunt. The love-hate relationship that develops is a delight to watch, with Whitehall's dry comments adding another layer of levity.
Their journey is punctuated by sharply edited action sequences reminiscent of Pirates of the Caribbean and The Mummy. The colorful, varied environments give each a distinct visual flair, with the world's lived-in quality and colorful cast of characters making it all feel tangible and relatable. (Paul Giamatti's red-faced harbormaster badly needs a dab of sunscreen, though.)
The baddies aren't quite as well developed or memorable as our heroes because the movie doesn't devote enough time to them. Jesse Plemons' German prince is elevated by a flamboyant performance and exquisite costume, but his character's motivation ultimately feels cliche.
He also shares the villainous limelight with a band of malefactors led by Edgar Ramírez, who does the best he can to bring some humanity to this group. The introduction of a supernatural menace spices up the second hour, but some slightly unconvincing shiny CGI leaves the villains feeling more slippery than threatening.
All of the groups clash in a finale that riffs hard on the first Pirates of the Caribbean. But by that point you'll care enough about our heroes' fates to forgive those similarities and some forgettable villains.
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James Newton Howard's score adds to the grandiosity of the adventure, with one orchestrated version of an iconic power ballad adding dramatic weight to a pivotal moment.
Jungle Cruise is a worthy addition to Disney's live-action adventure library, with Johnson, Blunt and Whitehall bringing suitable emotional depth and plenty of laughs. Whether we'll still be talking about it decades in the future is debatable, but it'll go down as a memorable summer romp that families can watch on a Saturday afternoon for years to come.