The latest in Disney’s live action releases, Jungle Cruise glided into theaters as the bigger summer release against the backdrop of the controversially received, Cruella (The Conservative Critic did not like it). Based on the beloved attractions at Disneyland and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Jungle Cruise had a high bar set to meet the standards of loyal park goers and movie lovers alike. But will viewers enjoy the ride? The Conservative Critic asks: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And most important of all, is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Jungle Cruise
Overall Rating: Good
Disney has had mixed success in the creation of films based on their park rides. The Pirates of the Carribean franchise is one of the most iconic and successful live action endeavors in studio history (setting aside the sub-studios of Marvel and Star Wars etc). On the flip side, Haunted Mansion was an absolute trainwreck and a flop. So Jungle Cruise could have gone a lot of ways.
In Disney parks, the Jungle Cruise ride is a feature of Adventure Land and is one of the original attractions with the grand opening of Disneyland in 1955. For those unfamiliar, the ride is a riverboat style which passes through animatronic animals and adventures while the cast-member/guide delivers jokes which by tradition are ad-libbed based on the 1955 script. The ride is set in the 1930s and explorers set off from a British explorers camp into what is now considered a real jungle (it’s been there so long the ecosystem is self-sustaining) modeled after Asia, Africa and South America.
The film adaptation chose South America as its landscape with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking on the role of real life Jungle Cruise guide or “skipper,” Frank Wolff, with Emily Blunt as his passenger, Lily, off on an adventure.
The film was fairly formulaic but luckily the formula was a good one and the same used in the successful Pirates franchise (not to mention Indiana Jones the Journey movies also starring Dwayne Johnson and etc). Because of how closely Jungle Cruise seemed to match the Pirates stories, instead of feeling repetitive it felt like perhaps the magic of the movies existed in the same universe. The “Disney Parks” universe of films.
Aside from the less than original formula of the basic plot, the love story between the two leads made very little sense (not to mention the total lack of chemistry) and the liberalism abounded. However, overall it was an extremely fun watch with some decent twists and unexpected developments. It was well worthy of the famous ride, truly capturing the heart and spirit of the adventure so many park goers love. It is by far the best live action release Disney studios has put out since Maleficent: Mistress of Evil in 2019.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Fun fun fun
Jungle Cruise is absolutely loads of fun. Dwayne Johnson (Ballers, Jumanji) is in his element as a campy, dad-joking, lovable tough-guy and Emily Blunt (Edge of Tomorrow, Sicario) is just nothing but charm. The viewer follows the duo joined with comedian, Jack Whitehall offering good natured comic relief as Lily’s brother and unlikely adventure partner, MacGregor, who is not exactly fit for the jungle life.
The film kicks off with conflict and thrill as Lily makes her first of many enemies along the way and must narrowly escape onto her next set of adventures. We are treated to robust antics from the wiley Lily and the scheming in Frank in a 1930’s expedition camp as a precursor to the real adventure out on the jungle river.
The explorers encounter ferocious animals, rapids, natives, and hostile Germans in a submarine all with the backdrop of the beautiful Amazon filled with, in the film, quite real magic. The mission is easy to get behind and the story has a lot of depth and many surprises to be had. Jungle Cruise fully executes on whimsy, nostalgia, heart and thrill. Fun fun fun.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Rating: Some good some bad
A well seasoned studio like Disney doesn’t have to do much to hit a good note on their production quality. Jungle Cruise has a lot more going for it than Cruella or even the live action Aladdin and loads more than Emily Blunt’s other Disney Live Action, Mary Poppins Returns. But it rests heavily on formula and shoe horns in a quite unnecessary love story which is not well flushed out.
The two best elements of the film’s quality rest in its visuals and certain elements of the storyline. The film is simply beautiful. The 1930’s british explorer aesthetic is extremely pleasing to look at and also exactly matches the feeling of Disney Park’s Adventureland. The props and sets and costumes are all marvelously out of a catalog for Bombay Company or perhaps the private collection of Colonel Mustard from Clue. There are castles and mansions decorated to mirror this precise stylish time in history and for good reason.
The native peoples and the jungle itself is also a colorful star with a spot-on blend of natural surroundings and CGI magic. Sometimes the CGI was a bit overused but it wasn’t as bad as the “live action” Lion King or Jungle Book movies.
The storyline outside of the formula was in and of itself unique and interesting. Viewers will be genuinely surprised by its twists and genuinely delighted by its many, diversely motivated villains including German Prince Joachim played by Jesse Plemons (Fargo, Game Night), Egar Ramirez (Resistance, The Undoing) as Aguirre and Paul Giamatti (John Adams, The Ides of March) as Nilo. The writing team made the fantastic choice to have true villains without complicated emotional baggage making them sympathetic which is truly bold in this day in age where every villain can and should be redeemed.
Unfortunately overall the film followed an extremely familiar formula which when set in the Amazon is so similar to Indiana Jones (complete with German foes) it might as well be part of the same franchise. ‘Do-gooding academic adventurers enter the jungle and go up against ne’er do-wells to reclaim some world saving artifact” is the plot line of not only hundreds of films but also several already famous franchises beyond just Indian Jones (think Tomb Raider, Journey, Jumanji etc). And the storyline itself, though enjoyable and full of fun villains, was actually so similar to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, that I can hardly point to a significant difference. The formula does work and escapism is a valuable commodity in entertainment, but it was lazy.
Finally, there is a love story between Blunt and Johnson’s Lily and Franky and it just does not work at all. Not only do they have no chemistry at all (I cringed when they kissed) but it also felt very rushed and underdeveloped. They go from basic witty repartee and universal distrust to “I will die from you” in about ten seconds.
Overall the film had good and bad artistic elements but its greatest weakness was its lack of originality even within its own studio.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Unbelievably, Jungle Cruise manages to have fairly significant liberal propaganda. Not only does the film sport anti-capitalist values, painting the town’s primary cruise boat operator, Nilo, as a money grubbing villain (so sorry for being successful and operating delightful river cruises I guess) but it’s also anti-colonialist but without much consistency. The big bad evil conquistador Spanish villains are portrayed as blood thirsty heathens with no regard for human life while the poor innocent natives simply try to protect the jungle and help do-gooders. As if native peoples and Spanish peoples do not have equally complex motivations and justifications and aren’t equally capable of resorting to violence to fight for what they believe in.
Further there is a very odd animal rights undertone where the main character Lily is appalled at the treatment of animals at the village where her cruise launches. So she runs around setting them free from their cages because they are set to be stuffed. While poaching is a terrible practice which the United States is almost exclusively responsible for eradicating through our prolific game hunting programs which fund anti-poaching initiatives across the world, at that time and place Lily might as well have stolen food directly from the mouths of the children those animal merchants were trying to feed. Leave it to a liberal to totally erase consequences and context from their actions and justify themselves as morally right with no holistic picture of impact. Not to mention the fact that later in the movie she is perfectly fine with Frank having a domesticated wild animal which is pretty hypocritical.
Finally, one of the characters is revealed to be gay which in and of itself is not liberal or proagandistic but I found it to be a little insulting to audiences because there was really no reason for the character to be gay. The character is a gentile type who doesn’t like to get dirty and enjoys tea and fine things and one might assume based on stereotypes and illusions that he was gay but since he has no love interest in the film it doesn’t seem important and it seems more like the studio sort of shoved it in to appease the left demographic without actually committing to do right by a genuinely well flushed out gay character.
The film would have been much more harshly reviewed by The Conservative Critic if not for how extremely fun it is. Despite its lazy writing and liberal agenda, Jungle Cruise brings charm, zeal and vintage Disney Park nostalgia to life and is worth a trip to the movies with the family.