3 Wishes For Disney’s Jungle Cruise Movie

By  · Published on August 20th, 2015

photo by Christopher Campbell

Just as Disney is revealing huge movie-specific plans for its parks, from Star Wars lands to Iron Man experiences, it also continues an interest in turning its long-running non-movie-specific theme park rides into movie-specific theme park rides. They aim to do so, of course, by making movies based on those rides, preferably as successfully as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and not as unsuccessfully as the Eddie Murphy-led take on The Haunted Mansion.

Surprisingly, the news that Dwayne Johnson is attached to star in the latest attempt at a Jungle Cruise movie wasn’t announced over the weekend at the company’s D23 Expo, despite Johnson’s presence there. Maybe the deal didn’t quite go through in time. And maybe this is just another empty possibility, like the Tom Hanks and Tim Allen version in the works four years ago. Johnson has a lot on his plate, after all. And John Requa and Glenn Ficarra (Crazy, Stupid, Love) have reportedly just been brought in to come up with a screenplay.

Whether it stars The Rock or not (and he seems excited enough to want to make it happen so he can be like his “bud Depp”), I’ve got a few fairly basic requests of the Mouse House for their development of a project inspired by my personal favorite ride at Disneyland/Walt Disney World. If only the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin was real and could grant me these three wishes:

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

1. Nonstop Puns or GTFO

As I stated, The Jungle Cruise is my favorite ride at the Disney parks (my favorite attraction, however, is the Swiss Family Treehouse next door, at least at Walt Disney World – Disneyland’s Tarzan-themed re-appropriation can burn to the ground), and the main reason is my love of puns. I won’t call them bad puns, because for me there is no such thing.

Yes, lines like “The rock formation on the right is sandstone, but most people take it for granite. It’s one of our boulder attractions here in the park” are silly, cheesy and understandably grown-inducing for some, but they’re also rather clever. Especially for how many are packed into the script (and in some cases added in by the best ad-libbing skippers).

While anyone who preferred the ride in its more-serious original 1955–1962 form may disagree, The Jungle Cruise needs to honor that goofy, punny humor that has been a staple of the attraction for more than half a century. It needs to be overflowing with wordplay, on the level of Airplane! and The Muppet Movie and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Sure, the ride may be more tolerable for non-pun-lovers at only seven minutes long, but if they’re going to bother adapting things that have been a certain way for at least 50 years, they should stick to its spirit all the way. Of course, puns are difficult to translate to the international markets Disney hopes to reach with the movie, and if that will be used as an excuse for not packing in the puns I’ll be disappointed enough to skip it.

Paramount Home Entertainment

2. A Female Lead of Equal Stature

There aren’t too many actresses right now who can match Johnson in terms of box office draw. There are those women who have greater box office tallies this year – Elizabeth Banks, in particular – but none that can be credited for personally selling tickets the way his combination of muscle and charm do. Melissa McCarthy might be the closest in terms of appeal and bankability, but would she match well with The Rock? That’s a good question.

If the idea with the latest plan is truly for something reminiscent of The African Queen, one of the ride’s original influences, as The Hollywood Reporter claims, then The Jungle Cruise has to have a strong female lead who is equal to Johnson in the same ways Katherine Hepburn was to Humphrey Bogart in 1951. Before the pairing, nobody expected those two to have such great chemistry, either.

I’d say for Disney to cast Cate Blanchett and she can do a near-riff on her Oscar-winning performance as Hepburn in The Aviator, but that would imply that Johnson has any similarity to Bogie. Still, someone that famous and respected who can do the comedy and adventure is essential here. Maybe Sandra Bullock is another possibility. It’s hard to think of Johnson being paired with any of them, but that fits with the inspiration.

photo by Christopher Campbell

3. Pick a Jungle and Stick to It

Also like The African Queen, Disney’s Jungle Cruise should take place during one single river adventure. Unless, that is, the studio hopes for a one-and-done feature without chance of sequels and other franchise possibilities. Then it should be a globe-trotting epic somehow requiring The Rock and Sandra Bullock to traverse tributaries in Africa, Asia and South America, as are represented in the theme park ride.

But obviously Disney wants this thing to continue with at least a few sequels, a la Pirates, so best to save some rivers for the future. Which one should they pick for the first installment, though? Not because of The African Queen, but Africa does seem to be the best choice, if only because it could provide for the most familiar references to the ride, such as the angry rhinoceros and gorillas who give explorers some trouble, and African elephants can spray The Rock even if it’s a baby Indian elephant that squirts water from its trunk at Disneyland.

What needs to not happen is inauthentic mingling of animals that don’t reside in the same area. Disney has been guilty in the past with its wildlife goofs, such as in the animated feature The Jungle Book, and it’d be easy for the screenwriters to just go by what’s seen on the ride without considering its linking of three very separate places. Or maybe they’ll want that to be part of the movie, as much as the puns, since it’s not always clear that the Jungle Cruise is changing continents as it goes along.

Well, we don’t need to keep confusing the kids, like Hollywood tends to with movies like this (see the many inaccuracies in the Night at the Museum franchise). And on that note, we don’t need to perpetuate any stereotypes either, but that’s sort of expected with a movie based on an attraction that represents Africans as cannibals and warrior savages. They can try to get away with it by setting the thing in the 1940s and pretending like it’s a B movie of that era (or maybe Abbot and Costello’s Africa Speaks), though it’d be best to just leave the natives out of the picture.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.