Steampunk + Bad Jokes = Jungle Cruise
When I first heard that Disney was planning a movie based on the Jungle Cruise ride, I was not hopeful that it would be a Hollywood blockbuster. Growing up in southern California, my family went to Disneyland once a year. I’ve probably ridden the Jungle Cruise at least twelve times, maybe more. Even as a child, I thought making it an E ticket was more than it deserved. (Yes, I’m dating myself.)
As I watched the trailers, my hopes grew. A, Dwaye Johnson’s acting and his ability to select good scripts have improved over the years. B, the more I saw, the better it looked. My prediction, based on the trailers, was a combination of steampunk and bad jokes.
My distinguished colleague, Gareth von Kallenbach, reviewed the movie for SciFi.radio. Here is my review. I shall attempt to avoid spoilers, even though that means I can’t write about some of the best scenes.
Emily Blunt is not Katherine Hepburn. Dwayne Johnson is not Humphrey Bogart. But together, they are good. And after seeing Jungle Cruise, I would like to see The African Queen again.
Dr. Lily Houghton is a tomrig and a rumpscuttle. (Her doctorate is in botany, by the way.) Her father was an explorer. She wants to find the legendary pink-petaled flower called the Tears of the Moon. The flowers are alleged to heal any illness or injury, and being 1916, Lily thinks they would be a major help in the war effort. Her brother MacGregor (who is hinted to be Gay - strongly hinted) makes a speech to a scientific association, asking them to either go looking for the Tears of the Moon or finance his search. As he is laughed out of the assembly, his sister Lily sneaks into backrooms and archives where she shouldn’t be and steals male garb and a South American artifact that holds the clue to finding the Tears of the Moon.
Lily and MacGregor are not the only ones looking for the pink-petaled flower. A German prince is after it, too. And not just any German princeling. Naturally, the Kaiser’s son is also desirious of finding a magical herb that can help the German war effort. I don’t think his great-grandmother would approve of his actions. Centuries ago, Spanish conquistadors went after it. They were cursed and for 400 years they have been trapped in the Amazon jungle. Rather like the crew of Davy Jones’ ship in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest where the cursed pirates literally become part of his ship, the conquistadors become one with the jungle. (Very successful special effects for this part.)
Frank Wolff turns out to be more than he seems. What he seems is a charming rogue, the kind of low-brow survivor who cheats to survive, drinks beer and eats greasy hamburgers. He turns out to speak Latin and subscribe to high-brow British magazines. He has other hidden depths which would be telling to give here. To quote River Song, “Spoilers, Sweetie.”
Frank owes money, and harbormaster Nilo Nemolato confiscates his boat’s engine as collaterol. Nilo is Frank’s business rival as well as the harbormaster. Frank must re-acquire his engine so he can earn the Houghtons’ money by taking them down the Amazon River.
Remember Trader Sam on the Jungle Cruise ride? He was having a two-for-one sale. Two of his (shrunken) heads for one of yours. In the movie, Trader Sam is short for Samantha. Played by Veronica Falcón, she is an old friend of Frank’s. He had arranged in advance for her tribe to frighten his passengers so he could heroically rescue them, and when he took Lily and MacGregor on their expedition, he either forgot or didn’t have time to cancel the headhunters’ attack.
Frank has several similar tricks up his sleeve: traps set waiting to be sprung, artificial animals to attack the boat for him to shoot, etc. Frank is perhaps, a tad duplicitous about some things.
Frank proves he is capable of real bravery. Lily is strong and determined. Even the foppish, effeminate MacGregor “mans up.”
It was a fun movie, but not an Oscar winner. Like the ride itself, which as a child I considered a C or a D ride, not an E-ticket ride. Gareth von Kallenbach gave it four out of five stars, I’d call that a fair assessment. Fun, but not an E-ticket film.
Steampunk + bad jokes + supernatural + two hours in an air-conditioned theater = Jungle Cruise. But then, I always thought the Jungle Cruise ride was like the Country Bear Jamboree: a chance to sit a bit, rest your feet, laugh at bad jokes, and cool down — jungle breezes on the Jungle Cruise, air conditioning in the Country Bear Jamboree. My husband and son enjoyed the movie, but my son thought it didn’t have enough bad jokes.