When Disneyland first opened in 1955, the Adventureland section of the park boasted few rides. Among them was the soon-to-be Disney-Park staple, The Jungle Cruise – a slow-moving dark ride through the jungles of the word. The Jungle Cruise has since become a part of every Disney Park in the world. And it’s funny – what started out as an earnest, educational romp through the world’s rainforests has since become… well, has since become a silly, pun-filled romp through the world’s rainforests.
And the puns and jokes are a significant focus of the ride; in order to become a jungle cruise “skipper” you need to have great comedic timing, with most skippers coming from a drama background. In 1955, Walt wanted the ride to teach us about tropical animals. In 2019, Disney wants the ride to entertain us with particularly clever jokes about being in “Denial” and “The Nile.”
I’ve been posting intermittently about my excitement for an upcoming movie adaptation of the Jungle Cruise, currently due to come out in 2020. If I had to guess, I’d probably say that I’m more excited for the Jungle Cruise movie than any person in the world.
Pro: The Rock
Emily Blunt, Jessie Plemmons, and Paul Giamatti (!) are also in The Jungle Cruise. (I’ll bet you a fair amount of money that Paul Giamatti plays the villain.) That’s a hell of a cast. Having the most charismatic man in Hollywood and one of the most popular actresses in the world in the lead roles certainly doesn’t hurt. I don’t know if a cast alone can sell a movie, but this is a good start, fo sure.
I almost guarantee that when the reviews of Jungle Cruise come out, there will be at least one critic (or one critic-fan) who informs us that this movie just a rip-off of the recent Jumanji, because they both have the Rock and a tropical-jungle setting. The two movies will almost certainly be different enough to be distinct for a lot of people, but they could be similar enough to be indistinguishable to just as many.
Pro: The tone
If this movie wants to succeed, they’ll need to really sell just how silly the source material is. After all, it is the corny humor – not cutting-edge animatronics or over-the-top thrills – that has kept this ride open in every Disney park around the world. The corny jokes make the Jungle Cruise as beloved as it is. Without it, I seriously doubt we’d be getting a movie.
Since every Jungle Cruise performance can be different, I googled “Best Jungle Cruise Jokes” to narrow down some of the best lines that the Jungle Cruise skippers have. I’ve sampled a few below:
There’s old Trader Sam, head salesman of the area. Business has been shrinking lately, so this week only, Sam’s offering a two-for-one special: two of his, for one of yours!
Oh no! Look at the Hippos that are about to attack the boat. Don’t worry I know just the thing that will scare them away, it worked on my last boyfriend. HEY HIPPOS I LOVE YOU. I REALLY WANT TO MARRY YOU AND BE WITH YOU FOREVER AND EVER.
If you enjoyed this ride, my name is John, from the Jungle Cruise. If you did not enjoy this ride, my name is Chris, from Space Mountain.
There’s no one on staff at the Jungle Cruise who doesn’t have a great sense of humor. No one who can’t deliver a top-notch dad joke.
Con: how to sell the tone
But my concern is that the movie’s cast and crew won’t have the same style and sense of humor that the theme park cast will. How can we trust the studio to do dad-joke-funny properly? After Star Wars: the Last Jedi, “fans” complained that the movie had a quippy sense of humor similar to the Marvel movies. I didn’t find this to be a problem for Last Jedi (probably because I’m a “Disney Shill”), but I definitely see how it could cause significant issues for Jungle Cruise. The impulse to do Iron Man-style quip humor is certainly there.
Pro: Pirates of the Caribbean
On the internet, you’ll find few more enthusiastic Pirates of the Caribbean defenders than me; the first movie of the series is an absolute classic. While Curse of the Black Pearl doesn’t prove that every movie adapted from Disney rides will be perfect, it proves that it can be done well.
Con: the Haunted Mansion
But it can certainly be done badly. Another Disney park staple, the Haunted Mansion, was made into a really dreadful movie in 2004. I don’t remember it too well because I was only 10 years old when I saw it. That being said, I do remember not loving it, which, given my taste as a 10-year-old, is pretty damning.
Pro: The ride is more rife for adaptation than other likely candidates like Space Mountain or Big Thunder
I genuinely think that Jungle Cruise is better-suited for adaptation than other traditionally more-exciting rides. Again, the reason is tone; having a cast member on the ride in Jungle Cruise gives it a story and tone. What happens in a Big Thunder Mountain movie? What’s the dialogue like? It’s not too clear. But the skipper on Jungle Cruise gives you a clear idea of what a Jungle Cruise movie sounds like.
In the 2000s, screenwriter and serial domestic abuser Max Landis was hired to write a screenplay for a movie adaptation of Space Mountain. He described it in an interview on Screen Junkies, and while he goes into detail about the movie having a fun retro-future aesthetic (think The Jetsons) but as far as plot goes, it’s a little lacking; the only plot to Max Landis’ Space Mountain was that part of the human soul disappears during space travel which… okay…
Con: Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean (the ride)
Sometime after the Pirates of the Caribbbean movies became especially successful, the characters from those movies started to appear in the original rides. Jack Sparrow runs around the town, Captain Barbossa appears on a ship, and Davy Jones’ image is projected onto fog. It’s pretty neat. I’m sure some purists hated the addition of these characters, but
I’m sure if they added animatronic Dwayne Johnson to the ride, it would look great, but I feel like it would clash with the rest of the ride’s aesthetic, in a greater way than the animatronic Jack Sparrow does. I think a lot of the charm in Jungle Cruise is its aged charm – charm that I think it might lose if the Rock was added to the ride. It doesn’t help that the ride has so few human animatronics, all of which have been there since the beginning. New animatronics could make the old ones look bad – all of a sudden, they lose that aged charm.
Pro: Gay character
Something that I had read in passing but hadn’t looked into until a little more recently was the fact that the movie was going to have a gay character, played by Good Omens’ Jack Whitehall. What I had said upon first hearing this was “Cool, but we’ve heard this before.”
It’s easy to forget because it was such a non-event, but live-action Disney has had this conversation before. Leading up to the release of Beauty and the Beast, Josh Gad let us know that this version of LeFou would be a gay character, with an “exclusively gay moment,” and what we ultimately got was a regular character with little tangible gay subtext or text… Gee, Disney, thanks! So cool. It did really feel like people trying to get good press for a movie in a little bit of an underhanded way. Gays want representation, but they don’t want it to be half-hearted.
But then test audiences came out of an early Jungle Cruise test showing and said that there was a moment when Jack Whitehall’s character will have a coming-out scene or a close approximation to one. Who knows if this kind of scene will be the way that audiences – specifically, gay audiences – want it? But either way, that’s much more than we got with Beauty and the Beast.
Con: How well with the gay character be handled?
Now, just because a character is noticeably gay, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll be a good thing. The news that test audiences could actually notice Whitehall’s character being gay is promising, but I’m cautiously optimistic.
Pro: They’re making a Jungle Cruise movie!!!
In fact, cautiously optimistic is how I would describe how I feel about the whole thing. Plenty can go wrong, but plenty can go right. In the end, I can’t guarantee this movie will be great, but I’m feeling confident it’ll be good. The Jungle Cruise is a ride like no other in the Disney parks, and the fact that it is being made into a movie – ideally a comedy – feels long overdue.
Here’s to hoping that the Jungle Cruise movie is the grand slam that fans of the ride deserve!