The Jungle Cruise ride Walt Disney World (2006)

Frequently, film adaptations of theme park rides have been awful. It is a difficult task to translate the multisensory experience of a ride into the visual medium of film. So much of what makes a ride successful includes the interactive experience of live performance, immersive environments and an onslaught of different textures and scents. Notoriously, The Haunted Mansion (2003) – an attempt to adapt the famous haunted house dark ride – featured a confusing and boring storyline that dropped the ride’s built-in lore in favour of a plot in which Eddie Murphy is a workaholic real estate agent who screams at poorly edited CGI ghosts, drops outdated pop culture one-liners, and has to learn to stop making money and instead focus on his family. Perhaps the most successful adaption is the Pirates of the Caribbean series – however, it is so divorced from its source material that it feels as though it doesn’t count, causing much of its audience not to realise its theme park origins.

This gave rise to morbid curiosity when Disney announced they would be adapting their beloved attraction, the Jungle Cruise, into a film this year. An opening day attraction, it is a famous boat ride in which guests are greeted by animatronics of different animals in lush greenery. This was important to the development of audio animatronics, a theme park staple; although Walt Disney originally intended to use live animals for the ride, they proved to be a logistical nightmare and boring for guests, as the animals would sleep for the majority of the day. While initially marketed as a more serious attraction, the ride soon developed a cult following for its popular ‘skippers’. These are the captains of your boat, ‘driving’ and giving a tour of the animals – while also, famously, making terrible jokes and puns, and insisting that the decades-old elephant animatronic with limited movement is a real, living animal in front of you. The skippers are the heart of the attraction because (as well as being my dream job) they inject personality and a repeatability to the experience. While the script is loosely the same for all, each skipper is different and able to bring their own personality and jokes to the experience, offering a unique ride every time.

"I can’t imagine many people had the same gasp reaction as I did upon hearing that the parrot was called Rosita"

While this makes for an incredible, memorable ride experience, it leaves a difficult challenge for those trying to adapt it to film. This shows, as the film feels like these references are an obligation they’d like to get out of the way as soon as possible, with the most overt mention being a short sequence in which Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson gives some tourists a boat ride, similar to the theme park ride experience, and rattles off some of the classic jokes – met with groans and eye rolls. Aside from this, the mentions of the ride are so obscure that unless you are into the theme park subculture and have too much time on your hands (like me), they would very easily whoosh by your head. I can’t imagine many people had the same gasp reaction as I did upon hearing that the parrot was called Rosita (one of the showgirl animatronic birds from the Enchanted Tiki Room who sometimes hangs out by the Jungle Cruise), or that one of the characters was called Trader Sam (the namesake of a bar in Disney’s Polynesian Resort where you can get a cocktail in a decorative flask shaped like the Nautilus).

“If you can switch your brain off, this becomes a really funny watch just for its sheer ridiculousness”

What this leaves is a confusing film somewhere in-between The Mummy and the Indiana Jones franchise, trying to hit all the beats of an action adventure, fun-for-all-the-family Summer blockbuster. However, it is just slightly off in a way that makes this a fun, campy watch. Just from the absurdity of some of the film’s concepts like the ridiculous accents, the jokes that don’t always land, and the moment where the German captain takes orders from a CGI bee – if you can switch your brain off, this becomes a really funny watch just for its sheer ridiculousness.

The film also tries to be progressive, but it feels almost as if it is ten years late. An example of this is in its portrayal of feminism: Emily Blunt, an adventurer who is also (groundbreakingly) a woman, wears trousers. This is so remarkable a feat that The Rock calls her ‘pants’ as a patronising nickname for the majority of the film.

"we get another of Disney’s ‘first’ LGBT+ characters in Jack Whitehall’s portrayal of the posh and effeminate gay brother to Emily Blunt"Disney

As is typical with the Mouse, we get another of Disney’s ‘first’ LGBT+ characters in Jack Whitehall’s portrayal of the posh and effeminate gay brother to Emily Blunt. This made headlines a while back as it was alleged that they had to edit the movie as it seemed homophobic – and if this is the edited version, I would love to see the original (#ReleaseTheHomophobicCut). His character embodied so many problematic gay stereotypes and was so over the top that it honestly flipped back around to being really funny to watch him on screen just to laugh at their attempt. While of course this does not excuse the studio at all, there’s something so ridiculously funny about people thinking that good representation in 2021 is Jack Whitehall complaining about not being able to bring his multiple outfits and toiletries to a jungle expedition (which honestly, mood). This is probably the best of the infamous Disney gay characters – though from the Onward cop to LeFou’s five seconds of holding hands with a man, the bar really was on the floor. The movie did have an earnest moment talking about homophobia and, while it definitely was not perfect, it was nice to see a small moment at least attempting to discuss these issues.


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Jungle Cruise was surprisingly a lot of fun just for its absurdity and I can imagine it’d be good to have on in the background when this rolls around to Disney Plus. As a theme park fan, I’m glad to see they didn’t entirely butcher the source material, though I know it will be a while until we get a truly good portrayal. If the Mouse ever wants to make a Space Mountain ride, he knows where to call me. If not, I’ll be re-watching ride-throughs on YouTube and astral projecting to Florida.