PG-13 for some playing up of stereotypes, spooky action, and lo-key sexism. If you are looking for something comparable, I'd look at Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of both tone and appropriateness. I'm actually going to be making that comparison a lot throughout this blog entry. I watched it with my kids and they were fine with it. I'm actually very comfortable with a lot, but it does toe on some pretty uncomfortable material. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jaume Collett-Serra
If you ever wanted to see me have an unabashedly good time, completely free from those stressors that overwhelm me on a daily basis, take me on the Jungle Cruise ride at Disney World. We went the January before Covid broke out and that was my first time on the ride. It was always one of those experiences that I skipped. But my wife had never seen me laugh harder. Maybe I'm just wired for dad humor, because I loved it. Now, I have this story as a means of juxtaposition to the next statement. I don't love the trend of Disney making these movies based on their rides. It's all a bit silly and I'm going to lump Pirates of the Caribbean in with that.
So how do I go into a movie about a ride that leaves me in stitches when I don't like the transition to films? The result is a watered down version of something joyful. I was warned to stay away from Jungle Cruise. But to those people, I should a loud "Aw, have a heart." This is the movie you thought it would be, right? I mean, there's not much that is all that surprising about the final product of Jungle Cruise. I decided to talk about this film with my film class and they all went berserk when I dropped my Pirates of the Caribbean references. But I'll spell the movie out and you can straight up agree with me. (Trust me, there's no disagreeing with me on this one.) A bunch of conquistadors looking for the secret to eternal life are cursed after making some poor choices. They become a threat to the main characters, who make foolhearty choices, despite being adorably flawed individuals. The ghost thing alone should earn it full-on Pirates of the Caribbean status. Heck, I'm 90% sure that is just the plot of On Stranger Tides.
I think a lot of my positive opinion about the film comes from the fact that I'm not obsessed with the Pirates movies. See, everyone in my high school class finds these movies to be untouchable, with the possible exception of On Stranger Tides. This was their nostalgia trip. I had one student actively disagree with me on this theory (which, despite my earlier comment, is completely reasonable) stating that she had only viewed them a few years ago. But this is the film series that these kids first discovered PG-13. These movies were special. God, I can imagine what it might be like to watch I Know What You Did Last Summer right now, thinking that the movie was great. That was my first R-rated movie in the theater and I felt like such an adult. But for them, those Pirates movies were sacred. For me to make a comparison between Pirates and Jungle Cruise seems like modest heresy to them.
I will say that the twist caught me off-guard. For all of my ho-humming about this movie, I have to say that there was a round of applause for when Frank's back story was revealed. I mean, it is absurd. It is completely bananas and outside the realm of anything relatable to have one of the protagonist go from the everyman character to someone with a deep supernatural background. But the movie completely foreshadows it! I mean, it really almost nailed me in the head with that answer without me ever getting it. Despite the fact that I teach writing, there's always going to be a sense of imposter syndrome to me unless I become a published author. I don't know if it is good writing or a cop out to pull what Jungle Cruise did with its reveal. Jungle Cruise lays heavily into archetypes and tropes. If anything, it uses the Disney ride reputation as a cover to do something absolutely insane. Dr. Lily Houghton is the adventurer archetype, fighting the patriarchy to metaphorically and literally to gain a sense of a respect in a world that ignores self-actualized women. Frank Wolff (now realizing that this might be a play on "Wolf in sheep's clothing") is the same archetype as Bogie in The African Queen (A movie that I should be mentioning more in this blog entry).
But when Frank flips the script on the everyman trope, the movie gets a bit bizarre. And I don't hate that, but it also is this moment in the film where the story becomes almost unrelatable. This movie was never going to be my go-to film. I know that. I think this is very few people's go-to film. But what I will say is that it is a good time and with that, it should be noted that a lot of that falls on Dwayne Johnson. Johnson takes Bogie's drunken boat captain archetype and leaves that personality with him, despite the fact that he is an insanely larger-than-life character. I do feel bad for Emily Blunt's character who is just underwritten enough when standing next to an immortal river god. (Okay, that's me being flippant, but it also solidifies my point.) I really wanted this movie to be Lily Houghton's movie because her story is the one that drives the story forward. Frank almost co-opts her narrative because it is the Rock playing the part. It's an odd bummer, but it is also true.
I will give points to Disney about their portrayal of the indigenous peoples in this movie. The travel film always deals with a problematic trope, the civilized interacting with the savage. Over time, we realize that this has become the white man's justification for cruelty over the years. Jungle Cruise kind of wants to rectify this outdated story point while enjoying the benefits of the river adventure. By making these people appear to be basic while actually flouting their own savviness in the face of the white explorers, it definitely spins it on its head. But I don't know if it calls out the troubling attitudes that cause treasure plundering to begin with. On a different problematic note, the treatment of the effeminate gay man is in the film, which Disney keeps on including as a sign of being progressive. But it is an outdated trope already. It's okay to have gay characters just be people instead of being comic relief. It just feels stale. There's a moment of vulnerability, but it doesn't really sell in this situation.
Jungle Cruise is a better movie than people make it out to be. But it never is transcendent. It knows it just wants to b be a fun film, which is all it really asks to be. But sometimes, I just need a film to be more.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.