Adapting Disneyland Rides: The Track Record
Longtime followers of this blog know that I love Disney Parks – mainly Walt Disney World in Florida. I wrote a series of blog posts (this one, this one, and this one) about a trip I took to three of the WDW parks a few years ago. It was wonderful. In the first one about the Magic Kingdom, the largest of the WDW parks, I discussed how various rides in WDW have been adapted into full-length movies. There were the good movies – the first Pirates of the Caribbean – the bad movies – The Haunted Mansion, Tomorrowland, and the rest of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise – and the largely forgotten – a 1997 TV movie inspired by the Tower of Terror (which is by all accounts pretty good!).
In the first of those three posts, which was all about the Magic Kingdom, I discussed this topic at greater length, mentioning my disenchantment with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, how there might be a movie adaptation of “it’s a small world” or… the entire Magic Kingdom(?) directed by John Favreau, or perhaps an adaptation of the Jungle Cruise.
The last of those is one of my favorite rides in the Disney parks. The Jungle Cruise was a staple from the very start of Disneyland – 1955. After the success of the first Pirates of the Caribbean, (and the financial – if not critical – success of The Haunted Mansion,) Disney began looking at the possibility of adapting more rides into movies. So, they slated a movie adapted from the Jungle Cruise to begin filming in 2006.
But why the Jungle Cruise?
Okay, so maybe you’ve never been to Disneyland or WDW and/or you don’t know what the Jungle Cruise is. That’s fine, allow me to explain here. The Disney World website describes it as such: “Set sail for high adventure on a scenic boat tour of the most exotic and exciting rivers across Asia, Africa and South America.” Okay, so that doesn’t say much – let me explain that the Jungle Cruise is a cute little boat ride that sends you past many animatronic animals of Asia, Africa, and South America – there are hippos, elephants, rhinos, alligators, pythons, lions, tigers… every kind of fearsome beast that is not necessarily found in North America.
Now okay, that might not sound particularly thrilling or fun, let me explain where the real charm of the Jungle Cruise comes in. The cast members. The animals are animatronic, but the people who guide you along the Jungle Cruise are as lively as anyone in the park. They’re best known for the cringe-worthy puns. Allow me to excerpt a few below.
- Upon leaving the dock, the guide will say, “Hello, my name is ________, and I’ll be your guide for however long we make it. But don’t worry, that won’t be long at all.”
- When a ferocious looking tiger animatronic hungrily eyes the boat, the guide assures the group “Bengal tigers can jump over twenty feet – don’t worry, we’re only nineteen feet away!”
- In the thicket of many plants, the guide will say something like “There’s a wide variety of plants in the jungle. Allow me to point some out to you – [pointing] there’s one, there’s one, and there’s one.”
- During the Africa section, the guide will say “This river goes on for Niles and Niles and Niles and Niles – and if you don’t believe me, you’re in…” he waits, allowing the crowd to respond “denial!” to which he says “In Africa! Pay attention.” (Everybody who’s been there before shouts the word “Denial,” like they’re in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
- One of my favorites: “Look, a python! Be careful, he will develop a crush on you, and you don’t want to get involved in that; it’s a very constricting relationship.”
- At the end of the ride, the guide will say something like: “If you had a good time, my name is (actual name) from the Jungle Cruise. If you had a bad time, my name is (fake name) from Space Mountain.”
Are these jokes funny? Maybe. Is the ride lame and corny? Definitely. But that’s all part of the charm. If you find puns and lame jokes amusing, you’ll have a great time. If you’re one of those people who claims not to find puns and lame jokes amusing, then you’ll groan on the outside and think about how much you love it on the inside.
Here’s a complete list of frequently-used jokes from the ride, but honestly, it doesn’t quite give you a good sense of being on the ride is like. A video would do a better job, but since every Jungle Cruise spiel is improvised, I’ll link to a few: this one, this one, and this one.
(In fact, let me specifically link to this one, in which after the nine-minute mark, the ride is delayed, and so the cast member decides to tell “pirate jokes” such as “Why couldn’t the pirate finish his alphabet? He was lost at C” and various others. They’re punny, they’re corny, they’re delightful. Moments like this show how the Jungle Cruise cast members are quick on their feet.)
What’s going on with the project now?
There’s been a great deal of rumors since this movie was announced for release in 2007 – a release date it obviously did not make. Let me quickly recap the rumors that have been spread about it since then: the plot is said to be about “a group’s riverboat journey through the jungle in search of a cure,” which is as ambiguous enough reason for a group to be traveling up or down a river in the 19th century. Like the ride did originally, the movie will take cues from the Humphrey Bogart adventure movie The African Queen.
As mentioned in my previous post about the Magic Kingdom, the first planned adaptation for this ride was supposed to star Toy Story costars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen. After a few years of said duo getting a little bit too old, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson” was rumored to be attached to the project. Currently, Johnson is the most frequent and the most likable man in Hollywood, so I think he would be great for this film. He’s strikes an excellent balance of strapping action hero and hilarious comedy straightman. In many ways – and as the biggest Toy Story fan in the world, I absolutely hate to say this – I think Johnson is a better selection than the Toy Story duo would have been.
One rather refreshing thing was seeing this image of the Rock on The Jungle Cruise:
The Rock said he would like Patty Jenkins – of Monster and Wonder Woman success – to direct, but with the project set to film in early-to-middle of next year, Jaume Collet-Serra (The Shallows, Non-Stop, Run All Night, etc.) has signed on as director.
What The Jungle Cruise movie will need to be great – and why it probably won’t
Now I understand that corny, silly, humor which centers around puns can make some people howl with laughter (such as myself), and can make some people groan with agony (such as everyone I speak to). But either way, that’s part of the charm. I think that in order to make Jungle Cruise the movie a success, they’ll need to (or at the very least, should) writing with the same kind of humor that makes the ride what it is.
Think about an adaptation like The Hobbit trilogy, or Man of Steel, or Assassain’s Creed, that might not have properly captured the spirit of the original… Whether you’ve got a novel, or a comic book, or a video game, the chief goal of a film adaptation is to capture the same sensation you get from the original piece, while still making a good movie. After all, shouldn’t the same things that you enjoyed about the story in one medium be part of what you enjoy in another medium? Of course, this might not always be the same thing – there are some things you might love about a book that might not translate well to film, and that’s okay – but there’s no reason that the sense of humor in the Jungle Crusie shouldn’t translate well to film.
I think that The Jungle Cruise has the potential to be a cute and funny movie. That said, I’m almost certain it won’t be. Movies in this day and age take themselves so seriously that at this point, it’s refreshing when we encounter a movie that doesn’t take itself seriously. (Think about the delight you’d get from watching Guardians of the Galaxy to the boredom you get from watching the uber-dramatic Man of Steel.)
The key to success for this movie will be that it commits to the campiness and fully embraces how silly this movie could be. Like watching Adam West as Batman. A significant chunk of what makes Batman ’66 is just how silly it is. Of course, maybe that comes as the movie ages, but I think that if Jungle Cruise aimed for a similar tone, it’d make for a good movie.
I’m worried, because as mentioned above, Jaume Collet-Serra is set to direct. Now, though I haven’t seen any of his films, I can’t make precise statements about his filmmaking. But he hasn’t directed a comedy-adventure movie before. The kind of projects that Collet-Serra is used to are horror movies and dark gritty action films starring Liam Neeson (Neeson and Collet-Serra have collaborated on four films, one of which comes out next year. I shouldn’t be worried, Collet-Serra received a great deal of praise for his last film, The Shallows, but each of his projects seems so tonally different from this one, I simply don’t know what to expect.
Now one thing that makes me a little less worried about this is a minor character in Pirates of the Caribbean – Mr. Cotton, the mute character with a parrot on his shoulder. This parrot would blurt out phrases that might not make sense in context, but actually worked as an organic way of inserting assorted lines from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. As far as Pirates is concerned, this is fanservice – just a way of making the audience smile and say “Hey! That’s from the ride!” But with the Jungle Cruise, this has a chance to be rather significant. Imagine a similar side character riding along Dwayne Johnson, just cracking jokes all the way. I think that could be delightful.
The Jungle Cruise is set to start filming early next year. I do hope this movie will be good, but more so, I hope it will be fun. When I first checked in on this project after my trip to WDW in early 2016, it looked as though the project was dead in the water. But since then, a director has been selected, and even if he hasn’t done an overly comedic movie yet, that doesn’t necessarily mean that he can’t. I can’t guarantee that this movie will be something spectacular, but I can guarantee that I’ll go to see it as soon as it hits theaters.