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From the Theme Park to the Big Screen: An Inside Look at ‘Jungle Cruise’

August 3, 2021Ben MK

Whether you're a child of the '70s, '80s or '90s, you probably have fond memories of adventure movie franchises like Indiana Jones, The Mummy or Pirates of the Caribbean. And for the stars of Disney's Jungle Cruise, director Jaume Collet-Serra's love letter to the genre and an original story based on the iconic Disney theme park attraction, the sentiment is no different.

Starring Dwayne Johnson as skipper Frank Wolff and Emily Blunt as doctor Lily Houghton, the film finds the charismatic pair on a steamboat journey through the Amazon, as Lily and her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall) enlist Frank's services to help them locate a magical tree with healing powers that could benefit the entire world. Make no mistake, however, for while the resulting journey may be scenic, the pacing is anything but relaxing, as they awaken an ancient jungle curse that threatens to bring their quest to a halt once and for all.

"I just loved Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone and The African Queen," says Blunt. "They're joy bombs, and I think we just needed to pierce people's hearts directly with the spirit of those films that we all loved as children. And it took a lot of tempering and beautiful conducting from Jaume, who was extraordinarily free-spirited with us in this massive spectacle of a movie. He's such a world-builder, which you need for these adventure movies."

"I had ridden the ride when I was a kid," recalls Johnson. "Many moons later, I went to Disneyworld for the first time and rode the ride then as well. So [this movie] has a nostalgic element to it. But [it was] really the opportunity that we had to create something that was hopefully unique and special. You hope to get lucky in your career where you have an opportunity like this — where you can make a movie that's based off an iconic ride that's beloved, with the most trusted brand in the world when it comes to delivering entertainment for families."

"What I love about the movie in general is that it has so many beautiful and great characters that allow you to be on a journey," adds Edgar Ramírez, who plays one of the film's antagonists, a 400-year-old conquistador named Don Lope de Aguirre. "And that is beautiful. That's what I go to the movies for. I wanna be on a journey. I wanna be disconnected from reality and be able to dream of fantastical places and fantastical characters and creatures."

Of course, in addition to the locales, the characters and the creatures, there's another element to the movie that's critical — and that's the stunts. Surely, there must have been one in particular that proved extra challenging to film? "The vine swing," answers Blunt. "It was the most challenging because [Dwayne] would not let me get one straight take in. He pushed it so far every time to try and make me laugh on that vine swing. We shot that all day."

Then there are the many, many one-liners. And although it's Johnson who gets to utter the majority of them, he's not the only one who gets to show off his comedic timing. "We were given the space to improvise," comments Whitehall. "And [Dwayne and Emily] created this environment where we were able to do that, and it felt like such a safe space. There were probably a few jokes that ended up on the cutting room floor for the right reasons. But some of the really great moments that you see in the film are genuine moments that we came up with in the moment."

As for Blunt, Jungle Cruise now marks the second time she's played a lead role in a Disney movie, following her turn as Mary Poppins in 2018's Mary Poppins Returns. But does she relate more to Lily or to Mary? "Probably a little closer to Lily," notes Blunt. "I feel like Lily is more of a mess. Poppins is so pulled together and perfected, and I don't feel I walk through life that way. I would say I'm organized, but I feel like it's a juggle and a balance."

Likewise, the film is a milestone for Ramírez as well, who can now check "playing a Disney villain" off his bucket list. "Aguirre was a great character, a beautiful character to play," comments Ramírez. "It's very special to me, to play a character like this. And to be in a movie that is based on the most iconic attraction from the most iconic entertainment universe in history is so special. And to be with these amazing people is incredible."

Last but not least, will Jungle Cruise meet the expectations of those who have been on the namesake ride for themselves? "The movie is so much more than what I expected," says Johnson. "The charm of the ride is the simplicity of it and the [educational aspect] of it, but our movie is anything but simple." "And it's got Dwayne Johnson doing a stand-up comedy routine," adds Whitehall. "What's not to love about that?"

Jungle Cruise is now in theaters and on Disney+ with Premier Access.

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