Jungle Cruise is a familiar and overly long Disney adventure – but it's still fun

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt star in Disney's Jungle Cruise
(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

It’s been 24 years since ex-Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner proposed the idea of making live-action movies based on the company’s most popular theme park rides. A quarter of a century and 11 films laters – five of which are part of the studio’s hugely popular Pirates of the Caribbean movie series – and Disney’s penchant for such adaptations shows no signs of slowing down.

The latest live-action flick to be based on a Disney theme park attraction is Jungle Cruise. Setting sail for theaters and on Disney Plus (via Premier Access) on July 30, the fantasy adventure film looks to imitate Pirates of the Caribbean’s success rather than become beached like 2015’s Tomorrowland.

For all of its star power and nods to similarly styled movies including Romancing the Stone, though, Jungle Cruise is a lightweight summer blockbuster flick that opts for smoother waters rather than the thrilling, more adventurous river rapids route.

Set during the Great War, Jungle Cruise follows British scientist Doctor Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) and her unenthusiastic brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) on their journey to find the mysterious Tree of Life.

Believing its petals possess healing powers, the duo hire cynical riverboat captain Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson) to transport them through the Amazon rainforest to locate the legendary tree.

Along the way, the trio must navigate numerous obstacles including the unhinged German Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons), who seeks the petals for his own selfish means, and mythical threats that the jungle has harbored for centuries.

Jungle Cruise’s plot sounds rudimentary – and that’s because it is. It’s a family-oriented movie after all, so its story doesn’t need to be convoluted. From the outset, though, it’s a little too easy to predict Jungle Cruise’s major story beats. You can tell where the plot is going and when specific events will happen, although there is one twist midway through proceedings that some viewers may not see coming.

That instance aside, however, you'll pre-empt every plot detail in Jungle Cruise – which isn’t the way you want to feel within the first 30 minutes of any movie.

Still, the movie’s opening act moves along at a decent enough pace. A film like this could have become bogged down in setup, particularly early on with its character and location introductions, but it gets going pretty quickly.

All of the film’s major players are introduced within the first 15 minutes, and the film lays out what roles they’ll play in proceedings. Blunt’s Lily, for instance, is the thrust behind the entire adventure (something that’s apparent within 30 seconds of audiences meeting her), while Plemons’ Prince Joachim bristles with ‘bad guy’ energy in his first chance meeting with our protagonist.

With the movie’s main characters and locales (London and the Amazon rainforest) introduced inside 20 minutes, there’s plenty of time for Jungle Cruise to dig deep into its exotic location – albeit a green screen one – and double down on action and comedy capers. 

Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt and Jack Whitehall in Disney's Jungle Cruise

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

It’s a pity, then, that the film struggles to maintain this momentum. 

Certain scenes, especially those doused in exposition, weigh the movie down, while others just pad it out for inexplicable reasons. One particular sequence, for example, simply retreads the story (which sets up the movie’s plot) that Whitehall’s MacGregor tells within the first three minutes of the film. Sure, it may be interesting to witness events from a different point of view, but Jungle Cruise walks the same path it did earlier when it isn’t necessary to do so.

You could argue that the inclusion of these scenes is Jungle Cruise’s way of paying tribute to its influences, such as The African Queen and Indiana Jones.

Commendable as that is, though, Jungle Cruise is 20 to 25 minutes too long by its finale. It would have made for a tighter, potentially more enjoyable watch if the runtime had sliced down a bit.

Still, while there are problems with Jungle Cruise’s plot and runtime, the same can’t be said for some of its other elements.

For one, its cast is top drawer. Johnson and Blunt make for a charismatic pairing, with the duo complementing each other extremely well. Yes, it utilizes an established movie trope where two individuals are wary of one another yet become closer as the adventure progresses, but Johnson and Blunt’s natural charm and obvious real-life friendship makes Frank and Lily’s conversations (and arguments) all the more entertaining and endearing.

Plemons also revels in his role as the archetypal villain. The Breaking Bad and Fargo star has some of the best lines and scenes in the movie, especially when he’s interacting with his simple-minded-but-loyal underlings. It’s a bit of a shame, then, that the actor isn’t utilized more often during the movie and his screen time with its other big hitters are few and far between. 

The production values, too, are what we’ve come to expect from every Disney movie. From the sets to its CGI elements, Jungle Cruise is visually impressive and lends weight to the movie’s biggest set-pieces, such as the river rapids and the film’s climactic battle, which come packaged with typically silly and slapstick moments. They can be slightly far-fetched at times but, this being a fantasy film, you need a little bit of that.

What we think 

Frank Wolff and Doctor Lily Houghton as seen in Jungle Cruise on Disney Plus

(Image credit: Walt Disney Studios)

There’s a reason why Jungle Cruise has been picked as Disney’s main summer blockbuster movie. It’s a family-friendly flick with an all-star cast, some humorous moments, and a style and vibe that will make you want to book your own river cruise trip.

Some viewers, though, may find it to be a disappointingly familiar watch. Jungle Cruise feels like a rehash of adventure movies set in exotic locations that we’ve seen before and, while this isn’t the first (or last) time that Disney will make such a film, it’s not original enough to leave a lasting impression.

Jungle Cruise is a clear homage to a multitude of similar movies that have come before. It isn’t shy about borrowing standout moments from Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones, for instance, in more ways than one. But while this isn't a carbon copy of either movie series, it simply doesn't work hard enough to be its own thing, and is too content to replicate the greatest hits of the genre without adding its own flavor. 

In the end, Jungle Cruise will entice (and likely please) film fans into giving it a chance but, ultimately, it’s an expectedly safe Disney movie that’s lacking in uniqueness.

Jungle Cruise is available to watch in theaters and Disney Plus Premier Access from Friday, July 30.

Senior Entertainment Reporter

As TechRadar's senior entertainment reporter, Tom covers all of the latest movies, TV shows, and streaming service news that you need to know about. You'll regularly find him writing about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, Netflix, Prime Video, Disney Plus, and many other topics of interest.

An NCTJ-accredited journalist, Tom also writes reviews, analytical articles, opinion pieces, and interview-led features on the biggest franchises, actors, directors and other industry leaders. You may see his quotes pop up in the odd official Marvel Studios video, too, such as this Moon Knight TV spot.

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