‘Jungle Cruise’ Corrects Course with PC Awareness ⭐︎⭐︎⭐︎

“Jungle Cruise” is a charming, low-key family adventure film that strives and mostly succeeds in making a politically correct journey down the Amazon, coming out two weeks after Disneyland opened its revamped ride of the same name. Two-fer Dwayne Johnson addresses diversity as both Black and Pacific Islander while his co-star, Emily Blunt, continues the US Anglo-centric love affair with a feminist twist.

While many critics thought of “The African Queen” which teamed Humphrey Bogart with Katherine Hepburn and was adapted from a CS Forester novel by the same name and won Bogart his only Oscar, I thought of a German film. More on that below. 

The film “Jungle Cruise”  begins two years into the “Great War”–that’s World War I which started in  1914 with an assassination of an archduke in Serbia and ended in 1918 (the same year as the Spanish flu pandemic).  On the losing side was the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) and on the winning side was the Triple Entente (France, Russia and Great Britain). The United States wouldn’t enter the war until 1917 (April), the year that Russia withdrew.  

MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) is making a presentation at a stuffy male-only scientific society in hopes of gaining financial and scientific community support but MacGregor is only the assistant and reluctant supporter of his botanist sister, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt). Lily has infiltrated members-only sections of the organization in search of a map, one by Francisco Lopez de Heredia, and an arrowhead. It’s here that Lily first meets a shifty German nobleman, Prince Joachim (Jesse Plemons). With the stolen map and the arrowhead, she drags her brother (who in turn drags an enormous amount of luggage), to the Amazon river, ending up in a port controlled by Nilo Nemolato (Paul Giamatti).  

Not far up the Amazon, is the steamboat captain of the rickety La Quila, Frank “Skipper” Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), who entertains less than intrepid passengers in a staged day trip into the Amazon complete with pseudo threats by natives and wild animals and a view of the Eighth Wonder of the World–the backside of water.  “Of all the jungle cruises you can take in the Amazon, this one is undoubtedly the cheapest, but also the most thrilling.” Frank owes money to Nilo and he needs to pay for a new engine in order to continue his business.

After an adventurous meet-cute, Frank, having absconded with his new engine, takes Lily and MacGregor out on the Amazon with his pet cat. Lily soon discovers that Frank also has maps by the same cartographer, all giving hints of where to find the legendary Tree of Life, from which the Tears of the Moon petals are believed to have magical healing powers. Lily explains to Frank, “There is a legend, in the jungles of the Amazon, of a tree that heals all. It could change the world, but if it gets into the wrong hands, it could awaken a great evil. I believe that the legend is real.”

Frank warns Lily, “If you believe in legends, you should also believe in curses, too.” 

Prince Joachim re-surfaces in the Amazon and he joins forces with Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez). Lily might want the Tree of Life to help humanity, but Joachim wants it to improve his finances and help the German military cause.

In the Zoom press presentation, Johnson characterized the trouser-wearing Lily as a “female Indiana Jones” and noted that some of the bloopers were characterized by naughty humor–still PG-13, but probably not appropriate for the audience Disney is aiming for with this Disneyland Park ride adaptation. Johnson called the film filled with an atmosphere of nostalgia. The film release coincides with the 16 July 2021 reopening of a revamped and politically correct conscious Jungle Cruise at Disneyland.

The original ride magically took passengers to the jungles around the world, mixing the South American Amazonian jungle with African and Asian jungles and the guides cracked corny jokes along the way. The ride first debuted in 1955 at the Anaheim park with the intentionally bad puns added in 1962. However,  views about indigenous people, Africa and Asia have changed in the passing decades. I haven’t seen the reworking of the Disneyland park ride, so I can’t comment on that.  In USA Today article, there’s only casual inclusion of the names of the characters. It’s not clear if Disney plans to make more references to the film in the ride. Still, that might depend on where the film “Jungle Cruise” sails–will setup future lucrative cruises like Johnny Depp’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” or sink like the George Clooney futuristic 2015 vehicle “Tomorrowland”?

Disneyland added references to the “Pirates to the Caribbean” film franchise in 2006 after the 2003 film “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” was successful enough to warrant a 2006 follow-up, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” That attraction also underwent modifications to reflect changes in attitudes toward women. 

The film “Jungle Cruise” is an innocuous fun journey with CGI stunts and fantastical threats that might help widen a child’s imagination. There’s a chummy romantic chemistry between Johnson and Blunt and Whitehall brings some levity thanks to the script by John Norville, Josh Goldstein, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa which also uses humor to successfully bypass possible points of political incorrectness.  Under  Spanish-American director Jaume Collet-Serra (Liam Neeson’s 2018 “The Commuter” and Blake Lively’s 2016  “The Shallows”), there are slow moments that could have been tightened up but this is a cruise. There has been some criticism against having a straight actor, Whitehall, play a gay character, but do we really want to limit gay actors to gay characters?  And there are non-Latino/Hispanic characters playing Latino/Hispanic characters as well, but this has happened before, famously with the Philippines-born, part Filipino Lou Diamond Phillips who played Ritchie Valens in “La Bamba” and Jose Chavez y Chavez in “Young Guns.” My main criticism of the storyline is focusing on the exploration of a Latin American country by British explorers. Children, who would seem to be the target audience of “Jungle Cruise,” have been charmed for 35 years by the international lady thief Carmen San Diego (voiced by Rita Moreno in the “Earth” animated series and more recently by Gina Rodriguez in the Netflix animated series). 

Historical Notes

As with many Disney films, there’s a lot of background that goes into even CGI fantasies. 

While the original list of Seven Wonders of the World was compiled during the 2nd Century BCE and only one is still standing (Pyramids of Giza).

  1. Pyramids of Giza
  2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
  3. Statue of Zeus at Olympica
  4. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
  5. Mausoleum of Halicarnassus
  6. Colossus of Rhodes 
  7. Pharos of Alexandria

There is a new list according to Britannica:

  1. Great Wall of China
  2. Chichén Itzá (Mexico)
  3. Petra (Jordan)
  4. Machu Picchu (Peru)
  5. Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
  6. Colosseum (Rome)
  7. Taj Mahal (India)
Historical Figures

The character Aguirre (Édgar Ramírez) who helps guide Prince Joachim is likely based on the [SPOILER ALERT] conquistador Lope de Aguirre. Fans of cinema and especially of Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog will recall the 1972 epic historical drama, “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (“Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes”).  That’s the same dude. That film was shot in Peru. Disney’s “Jungle Cruise” was shot in Hawaii. Herzog’s film is not historically accurate, conflating two expeditions: the 1541 Gonzalo Pizarro where Francisco de Orellana made the European discovery of the Amazon River and the 1560 expedition with Aguirre.

Lope de Aguirre was a Spanish conquistador, nicknamed El Loco (the madman). His final expedition was along the Amazon River in search of the mythical golden city of El Dorado. Aguirre was part of the 1560 expedition of Pedro de Ursúa that explored Marañón and Amazon Rivers. In 1561, he rebelled against the Spanish crown, killed Ursúa and Ursúa’s successor, Fernando de Guzmán. He tried to style himself as the Prince of Peru. He died in Venezuela, after killing his own daughter Elvira, ostensively to prevent her abuse by captors. 

In the Disney film, “Jungle Cruise,” Aguirre is a conquistador subject to a curse and not looking for El Dorado, but seeking a cure for the illness that his daughter who dies.

Many critics compared “Jungle Cruise” to the 1951 “The African Queen” which paired a 51-year-old Humphrey Bogart with a 43-year-old Katharine Hepburn. This film also takes place during World War I (August 1914) and involves British Methodist missionaries in German East Africa, Samuel Sayer and his sister Rose. Although Charlie who delivers their mail and supplies warns them about the war between Germany and the UK, the Sayers want to stay in the African village. The German troops force villagers into the military and after protesting, Samuel is injured and later dies. Rose and Charlie attempt to escape from the Germans on Charlie’s rickety old boat African Queen and through their trials fall in love. Together they decide to strike out agains the Germans. 

The Rock is 49; Emily Blunt is 38. Blunt’s character, Lily, is not portrayed as a spinster. 

The film takes place during World War I.  While many of the alliances in World War I were the same was World War I, this isn’t true in all cases. World War I did include Japan as an ally to what began as a Triple Entente (France, Russia and the UK). Japan joined the war in 1914,  long before the US (1917). For this reason and with the inclusion of Italy in 1915,  the term Quintuple Entente is sometimes used. The UK brought in its colonies: India, Myanmar (Burma), Bangladesh and Pakistan. France brought in French Indochina (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam). Japan’s colony, Korea–both North and South) also fought for the allies. Portugal and its colonies entered the war during the second wave (1915-1916), again before the US. Central American states (Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama), Brazil and China joined in the third wave (1917-1918). 

There was a Prince Joachim of Prussia (Prince Joachima Franz Humbert of Prussia, 1890-1920). He was the youngest son and sixth child of Wilhelm II and his first wife, Augusta Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein. Wilhelm (1859-1941) was Germany’s last emperor and was forced to abdicate in 1918. The Princess Augusta died in 1921 in the Netherlands at 62. Wilhelm’s second wife, the widowed Princess Hermine Reuss of Greiz married Wilhelm in 1922 and died in an internment camp (1947).

Joachim committed suicide in 1920, reportedly due to depression. He had recently divorced Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt (1919). Joachim and Marie-August had one son, Prince Karl Franz of Prussia.

Questions from my scientist husband: 

  • When were submarines invented?
  • When did orange juice concentrate become a thing?

Dutch inventor Cornelius van Drebel is credited with building the first submarine in the early 17th century. according to History.com. The first usage of a submarine was during the Revolutionary War (7 September 1776). This submersible was a one-man totally hand-operated craft, dubbed Turtle. It was used to place underwater mines.

The first time submarines played a significant role in warfare was during World War I, with both the German and British armies using what was then called U-boats.

For war you need healthy and focused soldiers. Soldiers probably can’t concentrate if they have scurvy. This worried the US military.

C.D. Atkins was one of a three-man team that invented the frozen concentrated orange juice. Along with Louis MacDowell and Edwin L. Moore, Atkins worked under the Florida Citrus Commission, beginning in 1942. The cut-back or add-back process eventually led to the expansion of the Florida citrus industry. Atkins was also part of the USDA lab investigating how to provide the nutritional value of orange juice to the armed forces. Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese Imperial Army on 7 December 1941, and the US entered the war soon after, but in Europe World War II began in 1939. The US entry into World War II resulted in research to prevent scurvy (severe vitamin C deficiency).

In the Disney film “Jungle Cruise,” the joke about orange juice is an anachronism, but the submarine is not. It is unlikely that Prince Joachim captained a submarine–luxury or otherwise, but Plemons and his steam punky sub are scene stealers.

“Jungle Cruise” had its world premiere on 24 July 2021. In English and Spanish with English subtitles.

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