Finding the Spirit of the Original Ride in ‘Jungle Cruise’

Disney’s Jungle Cruise is not only their latest live-action outing, but the most recent in a growing list of theme park ride adaptations. Like Pirates of the Caribbean before it and a new Haunted Mansion on the horizon, Jungle Cruise attempts to envision a whole world around a singular iconic Disneyland attraction. This, of course, is the element at the center of the story and took center stage at the international press conference for the film’s release. 

From the very beginning, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, one of the film’s stars, knew that Jungle Cruise was ripe for cinematic stardom. “The script was in a really good place, and I immediately saw the potential of the opportunity,” he said. “And that opportunity was to take a beloved and iconic Disney ride since 1955 when the park opened [and make it into a movie]. This was Walt Disney’s baby.”

But even before he signed onto the film, Johnson had a deep affection for the ride. “I had ridden the ride when I was a kid,” the actor recollected. “Many moons later when I went to Disney World for the first time, I rode [it] then too as well. So [the film] had a nostalgic element to it when it was first presented to me.” Moving forward from that point to assemble a cast and crew that could bring the ride to life resulted in the hiring of director Jaume Collet-Serra. “He is a romantic,” Johnson explained. “He is a world-builder. Since then, Jaume has edited, cut this movie, and Black Adam as well. We feel like he’s Hollywood’s best kept secret.”

Emily Blunt & Dwayne Johnson in ‘Jungle Cruise’ courtesy of Disney

With an ensemble cast that included Emily Blunt, Jack Whitehall, and Edgar Ramirez, making sure to be faithful to such an adored attraction was a top priority. “To be in a movie that is based on the most iconic attraction from the most iconic entertainment universe in history such as Disney, it’s so special,” said Ramirez, who plays the film’s villain Aguirre.

Emily Blunt, who co-stars as a “female Indiana Jones” besides boat skipper Frank (Johnson), had never even stepped foot on the ride. “I only rode the Jungle Cruise ride two days ago at the premiere for the first time,” she admitted at the international press conference. “I loved it. I thought it was whimsical and sweet, and I could see the elements from the ride that have made it into the film.” Of course, Jungle Cruise couldn’t pass up the opportunity to include some of its world famous jokes and puns. “The backside of water is gonna stay with me forever,” teased Ramirez. “It’s not that funny, but it’s super funny.” And a lot of other people think so, too. “That got a big laugh at the premiere. People cheered,” Blunt recalled.

Besides incorporating classic jokes, nailing the spirit of Jungle Cruise involved a lot of interconnected pieces – many of which were ripped directly from the ride itself. Actor Jack Whitehall, Emily Blunt’s on-screen brother, spoke to this point; “The element of the Jungle Cruise ride that I like the most is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I think that is definitely something that we took over into the movie. It has such ambition and scale, and it’s beautiful, and the sets are incredible, and the set pieces and the action. It’s got all of that, but at the heart of it, it’s not a movie that takes itself too seriously.”

Ramirez shared a similar sentiment, noting the light atmosphere of the ride. “It was simple, it was cute, it was tender, and it was silly,” he said. “I can see why it’s become so iconic for so many generations. I think that the movie took it to the next level and really rescued that delicious silliness that is so refreshing. In life, we need that.” Emily Blunt also pointed to a number of movies that helped direct the film’s tone. “I just loved Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone, African Queen,” she explained. “Like, they are just joy bombs, and they’re nostalgic, and I think we just needed to pierce people’s hearts directly with the spirit of those films that we all loved as children.”

Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, & Jack Whitehall in ‘Jungle Cruise’ courtesy of Disney

With so many pieces to incorporate, things were not so simple for the cast and crew of Jungle Cruise. When taking on such a big project, it’s go big or go home. “You go in the park and there’s so much to do in the Disney parks, then you get on this ride and it’s almost like you can exhale and just really enjoy the simplicity of the ride,” Johnson said. “But our movie is anything but simple.”

Roaring river rapids, fight sequences in the Amazonian canopy, and thundering waterfalls are but a few of the more spectacular moments in the film. “It’s like you have all these fantastical elements, and that’s what I go to the movies for,” Ramirez stated. “I want to be on a journey. I want to be disconnected from reality and be able to dream of fantastical places and fantastical characters and creatures.”

If escapism is what you’re after, Jungle Cruise is right up your alley. With a boldly charismatic cast and its fair share of exciting action sequences, Disney’s latest is sure to entertain. Jungle Cruise’s tone lies somewhere between Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean – the kind of tongue-in-cheek swashbuckling adventurism that the original Disneyland attraction tries to showcase, albeit with a tinge of darker flavor.” If the success of this film is any indicator, then Disney might finally be approaching the streak of theme park adaptations that fans have been waiting for.

Jungle Cruise hits theaters and Disney+ Premier Access July 30

Follow writer Chris St. Lawrence on Twitter: @ey2studios

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