Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily in 'Jungle Cruise'. Image Credit: Frank Masi

Inspired by the classic Disney theme park attraction, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is the studio’s latest summer blockbuster offering arriving just in time to celebrate the whimsical ride’s 66th birthday.

“People love the Jungle Cruise attraction because of its rich history and its tradition,” says lead star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson in a virtual press conference held over the week. “There’s a unique quality to Jungle Cruise that still feels as if it were fifty or sixty years ago. But that’s the charm of it. When you go around the world to some of these other parks, you see their iterations of Jungle Cruise that are just spectacular. I feel there’s a wish fulfilment factor for the audience that happens with the Jungle Cruise ride. That wish fulfilment, I believe, is the idea that you are being transported, and you are going on truly the adventure and ride of a lifetime.”

Written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who is also currently working with Johnson on Warner Bros’ ‘Black Adam’. Image Credit: Disney

Written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa, ‘Jungle Cruise’ is directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who is also currently working with Johnson on Warner Bros’ ‘Black Adam’, a live-action origin story for the eponymous DC anti-hero.

For Collet-Serra, the ride and its various iterations over the years was a firm starting point for the tone of the film. “The Jungle Cruise ride is beloved by many people, not only because it’s been there for a long time but because it’s one of the only rides that the whole family can enjoy together,” says Collet-Serra. “You can bring a baby and you can bring your grandma so, in a way, we wanted to make a film that reflected that. A fi lm that the whole family could enjoy together. So, that was the starting point for us.”

Jack Whitehall as Macgregor, Emily Blunt as Lily and Dwayne Johnson as Frank. Image Credit: Disney

“The comedy of the ride has evolved through the years,” he continued. “So, we took that as a tonal guideline, and then from then on we built on a mythology and created characters and situations that would put the audience in the ride and expand on the experience of what they go through at Disneyland. But now they can experience that in the theatre.”

Johnson, who also serves as producer on the film, says the dual responsibilities brought him closer to the project. “It was an opportunity to make a film that, if you do it right, has real lasting power and transcends throughout time. But I also felt like there was something cool and very important about paying homage to Walt Disney and this vision that he had. In 1955 when the first park opened, the Jungle Cruise ride was one of his babies. Not too many people know this, but Walt Disney himself was the very first skipper on the very first Jungle Cruise ride. He invested so much time and love and care and passion into this ride. And here we are, many decades later, with this opportunity to create something special.”

The premise

Image Credit: Disney

Set against the period backdrop of the First World War, ‘Jungle Cruise’ follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt), an intrepid British physician looking to find a mythical tree deep within the Amazon that is said to possess miraculous healing properties. Along with her brother, MacGregor (Whitehall), Lily charters a ride on the La Quila, a ramshackle, yet charming, tramp steamer captained by the wisecracking Frank Wolff (Johnson).

On their once-in-a-lifetime adventure, Lily, Frank, and MacGregor encounter dangerous wildlife and supernatural entities, as well as German royal (Jesse Plemons) who is also on the hunt for the magical tree.

Edgar Ramirez and Paul Giamatti also star.

The lead stars

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Image Credit: Disney

Describing his character, Frank Wolff, Johnson says, “Frank is a skipper on the Amazon, and he takes a lot of pride in what he does. There are elements in the movie as the movie progresses where you start to rrealisethings about Frank that one would never have guessed. The man is an old soul who has a very unique perspective on life itself. Frank meets Lily [played by Blunt], who is ambitious and brave and funny and charming and beautiful, and all these things eventually remind him how great life can be.”

About the tenacious Lily, Blunt says, “I was just so struck by Lily’s determination and tenacity, and the fact that she was so ahead of her time, considering that the film is set in 1917. There was so much inequality between men and women and what was expected of her at the time. But she doesn’t subscribe to what was appropriate for her sex. And I found her really funny. She’s very reckless and heedless and adventurous. I admired her spirit.”

Collet-Serra is all praise for Blunt as well. “Lily wouldn’t exist without Emily,” he enthuses. “I think that it’s very hard to write a character like her in the script because you’re always trying to give those types of characters a lot of motivations and things that we’ve seen in other movies. But then when Emily steps in, she’s able to make Lily real and not need any of that stuff that normally you think you need in a script to motivate a character.”

Throwback vibes

Image Credit: Disney

The script, a genre-twisting mash-up of classic adventure, suspense and action, takes ample inspiration from classic films like ‘’The African Queen’ (1951 hit starting Humphrey Boggart and Katharine Hepburn), ‘Romancing the Stone’ (1984’s action-adventure romantic comedy starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) or the ‘Indiana Jones’ saga (starring Harrison Ford, with a fifth iinstalmentincoming in 2022).

“I was so taken with the script because I grew up watching ‘Romancing the Stone’ and ‘Indiana Jones,’” says actress Blunt, who felt an immediate draw to the story. “Those were the films that I watched on a loop when I was a kid. I loved them and was transported by them, and I wanted to be in them. When I read this script, it just pierced my heart directly because it was so nostalgic and felt like a real event. I was so taken by the spirit of the whole thing.”

Did you know?

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Behind the scenes of 'Jungle Cruise'. Image Credit: Disney

Jungle Cruise is one of several upcoming projects based on Disney Parks attractions. Movies based on ‘The Haunted Mansion’ (to be directed by ‘Bad Hair’s’ Justin Simien), ‘Tower of Terror’ (to be executive produced by ‘Black Widow’s’ Scarlett Johansson), and Space Mountain (from ‘Obi-Wan’ and ‘Army of the Dead’ writer Joby Harold) are all in development at the studio.

Don’t miss it!

‘Jungle Cruise’ hits UAE cinemas on July 29.