James Jay Edwards

Adventure and Dad Jokes Power Disney’s Jungle Cruise

(Jungle Cruise, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

James Jay Edwards reviews Jungle Cruise, a Disney film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra and based on the theme park attraction. (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures


What Disney can do with its properties is nothing short of amazing. Not only can the company build amusement park rides to cash in on the studio’s movies, but, as The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean have shown us, the studio can make movies (or even franchises) to cash in on their amusement park rides. And they’ve done that again with Jungle Cruise.

Jungle Cruise is about a British researcher named Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt from the A Quiet Place movies) who is searching for a sacred tree called The Tears of the Moon that is said to be located somewhere on the Amazon River. She and her brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall from Good Omens), hire a boat tour guide named Frank Wolff (Rampage’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) to take them upriver to find it. But there’s also a German submarine captain named Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons from I’m Thinking of Ending Things) who is searching for it as well (yes, in a submarine in the Amazon River—you read that part right). And those are not the only two parties who are interested in locating the fabled tree.


(Jungle Cruise, theatrical release poster, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

For Jungle Cruise, Disney tapped director Jaume Collet-Serra, a director primarily known for horror movies like The Shallows, Orphan, and House of Wax and, with the spookiness of the Amazon Forest setting, the choice works. The screenplay, written by Disney’s usual army of screenwriters which this time includes Glenn Ficarra (Bad Santa, I Love You Phillip Morris), John Requa (Ficarra’s writing partner, who also did Bad Santa and I Love You Phillip Morris), Josh Goldstein (Sweet Valley High), Michael Green (Logan), and John Norville (Tin Cup), embraces the supernatural elements of the mysterious jungle, complete with horrifying headhunters and ghostly conquistadors. The expedition is up against more than just nature in its quest for The Tears of the Moon.

While it may have horror elements, Jungle Cruise is above all an adventure movie, sprinkled with comedy that constantly reminds the viewer that, yes, this is suitable for children. There are chases and fights that are breathtaking (yet not too brutal) throughout the movie, and slapstick comedy combined with Johnson’s horrible dad jokes (“We’re heading into headhunter territory, which is a terrible place to … be headed …”) keep things light and hilarious.


(Jungle Cruise, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

In the Disney tradition, Jungle Cruise’s visual effects are stunning. The cinematography of Flavio Martínez Labiano (who has shot other Collet-Serra films like Unknown and The Shallows) is beautifully dark. And the score, courtesy of James Newton Howard (The Hunger Games, The Sixth Sense), is bombastic and adventurous, even though it does inexplicably seem to morph into an instrumental version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” every so often (a google search has confirmed that, yes, Metallica signed off on it, so Howard didn’t just rip them off). From a technical standpoint, it’s the kind of slickness that people expect from a Walt Disney Studios release.

Story-wise, it’s simple but very effective, with a quest that falls somewhere between Romancing the Stone and The African Queen. The trio of Emily Blunt, Dwayne Johnson, and Jack Whitehall have great chemistry, which is important when the journey is essentially as one-dimensional as the one in Jungle Cruise is. There are a handful of great twists and turns along the way but, mainly, the real joy is watching the ensemble work its magic. Disney knew was it was doing putting Blunt and Johnson together, and Whitehall is the perfect straight man to their comedic sparring. Everyone else in the cast—Jesse Plemons, Paul Giamatti (Sideways), Edgar Ramírez (Gold)—is just icing on the cake.


(Jungle Cruise, courtesy Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

If Jungle Cruise teaches us anything, it’s that Disney will exploit any of its intellectual properties to make a movie. Which is good news for those of us waiting for a Matterhorn movie about the Abominable Snowman. Let’s just hope they let a horror guy like Jaume Collet-Serra direct it.

Jungle Cruise will be in theaters and on Disney+ with Premium Access beginning Friday, July 30th, 2021.



Check out the podcast Eye On Horror for more with James Jay Edwards, and also features Jonathan Correia and Jacob Davison.


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