Do you remember the first time you rode Disney’s iconic theme park ride The Jungle Cruise?
The short, pun-filled journey down a makeshift Amazonian river has inspired millions around the world. Disney hopes a hunger for grand cinematic entertainments coupled with a charming sense of nostalgia drives moviegoers to the theaters this weekend as it drops its latest film based on a theme park attraction, Jaume Collet-Serra’s Jungle Cruise. A throwback to the swashbuckling adventures we haven’t seen in decades, the film also stuns with the high-wattage chemistry channeled by its amazing cast, led by Emily Blunt, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jack Whitehall, and Édgar Ramirez.
“That tone, to be witty and romantic and funny and snide but cute at the same time,” Ramirez raves. “That is very difficult to achieve, and [they] killed it. People think that the adventure… ‘That’s easy.’ No, that’s a very difficult tone.”
Blunt stars as Dr. Lily Houghton, a scientist searching for the legendary Tree of Life, who hires steamboat captain Frank Wolff (Johnson) to take her down the deadly Amazon River. They’re joined by Whitehall as Lily’s brother, McGregor, who is openly gay in the film. McGregor’s coming out to Johnson’s Frank provides a scene that we don’t often see in Disney films.
It was a scene that Collet-Serra, Whitehall, and Johnson knew they had to get absolutely right.
“I felt that the scene was really exactly what it was, which was two men talking about what they loved and who they loved,” Johnson explains, “and it was as simple as that.”
Whitehall agrees, sharing that the moment helps to create a deeper version of McGregor than perhaps other films would allow.
“It was a scene that we really wanted to get right. I think what’s so great about this movie is that all of the characters feel so fleshed out, and all of them have interesting backstories and are fully realized. In a lot of movies of this kind of genre sometimes, you’d have characters that are a little bit kinda two-dimensional,” Whitehall mentions. “I think it’s so great that we get to understand so much about each of these characters, and they all have reasons for being where they are, and, uh, you know, interesting and rich textured backstories. It makes you invested in them, and it makes you care about them.”
And on top of the characters and chemistry between the actors, viewers can expect a lot of puns. Many, many, many puns. Puns so awful you’ll hate yourself for laughing at them.
But filming those puns proved difficult for the cast. Emily Blunt, in particular, recalls a scene in which she and Johnson swing on a vine to escape near-death. Johnson’s Frank shares a quip during the flight, but he would not share what he was going to say with Blunt until he actually said it as cameras were rolling. Blunt couldn’t keep a straight face thanks to Johnson’s comic timing, so they had to film the sequence over and over until they came close to a take where she didn’t break.
While tightly scripted by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa, Jungle Cruise’s filming offered its cast the opportunity to ad-lib lines, giving several moments of the film a sense of genuine improv. Some of the jokes, though, definitely ended up on the cutting room floor. They would never have made it into a family film.
“The script was amazing, but then also, we were given the space to improvise and add stuff to it. These two created this environment where we were able to do that, and it felt like such a safe space,” Whitehall shares. “Some of the great moments that you see in the film are, like, genuine moments that we sort of came up with in the moment, and Jaume was so good at encouraging that as well.”
The cast laughs over a sequence in which a sword is pulled from someone’s chest, warranting the kind of innuendos that Blunt jokingly calls “appalling.”
But at the end of the day, Jungle Cruise is a loving trip into nostalgia — not only for the park ride itself (which Blunt only rode for the first time following last weekend’s Disneyland premiere) but also for the brand of filmmaking Hollywood hasn’t produced in years.
It’s one of the aspects of the film that Blunt loved the most.
“We just needed to strike a chord that was really well-crafted, and that we curated with so much love and was made in the spirit of the films that we all grew up watching,” Blunt reminisces. “I just loved Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone and The African Queen. They are just joy bombs, and they’re nostalgic. I think we just needed to pierce people’s hearts directly with the spirit of those films that we all loved as children.”
Jungle Cruise drops today in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access.