Emily Blunt and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had “instant” chemistry when they started working together on Disney’s new movie Jungle Cruise (premiering on July 30 in theatres and on Disney+).
“We were pals for life,” Blunt said at a press conference in advance of the movie’s release.
“We had this rapport, that like ping-pong back and forth so quickly.”
Jungle Cruise follows Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, who travels to the Amazon with her brother MacGregor, played by Jack Whitehall. Lily enlists the help of Frank Wolff (Johnson) to guide them through the most dangerous part of the Amazon River in an epic adventure to uncover the secrets of a lost relic, in an attempt to unearth the mysterious legend of ultimate healing powers of a tree called the “Tears of the Moon” that will change medicine forever.
The cast, which also includes Edgar Ramírez as Aguirre, the captain of cursed crew of soldiers that have inhabited the jungle, and Paul Giamatti as Nilo, Frank’s competitor in the tourist boat business, revealed that there was definitely a lot of room for improvisation while filming of the movie, which sometimes made it difficult for the stars to keep a straight face.
“Every time he’d throw in some awful improv that would make me laugh,” Blunt said about filming one scene with Johnson that involved swinging from a vine.
Whitehall admitted that some of the riffing that went on wasn’t exactly PG-13, particularly one scene where Lily has to pull a wonky sword out of Frank’s body.
Blunt called the innuendos during that scene “appalling,” with Johnson jokingly describing them as “dark web jokes.”
Could ‘The Rock’ be a stand-up comedian?
Jungle Cruise is inspired by the Disneyland attraction that first opened at the California park in 1955, recreated at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in 1971, Tokyo Disneyland in 1983 and Hong Kong Disneyland featured a modified version in 2005.
A core aspect of the attraction are the skippers who are full of jokes and puns as guests take the journey. Walt Disney himself was actually the very first skipper of the original Jungle Cruise attraction. Those puns remain in the movie, taken on by Johnson as the skipper.
When asked to evaluate Johnson’s puns, Whitehall, the movie’s resident comedian, told Yahoo Canada that Johnson is a natural at comedy.
“The scenes where he was cracking the puns were some of my favourites in the entire film,” Whitehall said. “If the film career dries up, there’s definitely a future for him in stand-up comedy.”
“I have a few connections on the open mic circuit of London and could probably get him some good stage time if he needed it. I definitely think that could be a little career change of lanes for Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”
While Frank is at home in the Amazon and Lily is fiercely determined and adventurous, Whitehall’s character MacGregor is less comfortable. Defined as a “proper English gentleman,” he showed up in a cream suit with suitcases of toiletries, clothes and accessories for the journey, largely a fish out of water for this expedition.
“I definitely feel like I’d be more like MacGregor, I think a lot of us would actually be like MacGregor,” Whitehall said.
He added that he took inspiration for the character from his own father, who he travels with in his Netflix series Travels with My Father.
“I have my show that I do with my father who is a well-heeled English gentleman who prides himself on his sartorial elegance, has kind of contempt and disdain for foreign travel and always turns his nose up at whatever rusty accommodation I’m able to whip up for him,” Whitehall said.
“So I didn’t have to look particularly far for inspiration for the MacGregor character. I very much feel like he’s one part me, one part my dad.”
‘Two men talking about what they loved and who they loved’
Early movie buzz teased Jungle Cruise would feature an openly gay character with MacGregor. It’s addressed in one scene, largely dubbed the “coming out scene” on social media recently, where Frank asks MacGregor why he’s on this trip with his sister. MacGregor reveals he had been “offered” marriage multiple times but had to say no because his “interests” were elsewhere, resulting in his friend and family turning on him, except Lily.
Questions around whether this scene is authentic enough will remain because the characters never actually say the word “gay”, and there was buzz about the role as far back as casting in 2018. Johnson, however, has expressed his support of the scene.
“I felt that the scene was really exactly what it was, which was two men talking about what they loved and who they loved,” he said.
Whitehall added that it was definitely a scene that the cast and crew wanted to “get right.”
“I think it was a scene that we really wanted to get right,” he said. “I think what’s so great about this movie is that all of the characters feel so fleshed out, and all of them have interesting backstories and are fully realized.”
“We get to understand so much about each of these characters and they all have reasons for being where they are,…and it makes you invested in them, and it makes you care about them.”
There’s no denying Disney’s expert visuals, an epic experience that make you feel like you’re in a Disneyland attraction in your own home. Jungle Cruise certainly has aspects that remind you of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Indiana Jones and The African Queen, but does a better job renewing your interest in rewatching the classics, rather than feeling heavily invested in this new story.