Theatre Thursdays: Movies I wanted to hate but couldn’t

Disney’s’ “Jungle Cruise” movie — why it does not suck ass.

Okay, I do have to admit total disappointment with some flicks I’ve found on Disney+, Cruella and Tomorrowland being two examples, and those were films that I wanted to like. But, recently, Jungle Cruise finally made it to the free part of the service, and I figured, “Let’s take a look at the opening, because I’m sure this is crap.”

And… I was apparently very, very wrong.

It opens with a brisk prologue setting up the obligatory Disney “Mystic Thing that will become important,” then jumps forward to ol’ Walt’s favorite era, the Edwardian age, as an explorer, MacGregor Houghton (Jack Whitehall) elaborates on the prologue mythos, trying to convince some stuffy British explorers’ society to finance his expedition.

But it becomes very clear within moments and without the film explicitly saying it that he’s not the one who wrote the speech. Rather, it was his older sister, Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), and it’s also quite clear that women and their ideas are not welcome here.

Cue the rest of the opening during which Lily goes all Indiana Jones on the club itself in order to steal a very important artifact tied to the introductory scene, and she gets away with it, and this alone won me over.

What? An action-adventure film with a smart, resourceful, intelligent lead who just happens to be a woman? Bring it! And it reminded me of a recent trend with Disney.

They’ve totally repurposed their Disney Princess line, especially as they’ve remade things into live action, and now, instead of letting their Princesses sit around waiting for their Princes Charming, the girls are doing it for themselves.

Cruella was an attempt at the same thing, but it suffered the biggest cinematic sin possible of being just boring. So far, Jungle Cruise is anything but, and as Dwayne Johnson’s character of the Jungle Boat tour guide, aka Frank Wolff, is introduced, we realize one thing: Wolff and the Dr. Houghton are forces of nature and equal matches, and when they meet, it’s going to be dynamite.

In fact, Wolff’s entire jungle cruise intro is a tour de force in which he reels off one bad pun after another, tips the audience off to the possibility that the tour he’s giving isn’t as real as he wants his passengers to believe it is, and, in short, just gives us the theme park version of the ride as an intro to what is already promising to be an even greater ride.

Yeah, that’s how you adapt the unadaptable, really. Put us on the ride we know, bring on outside hero and reluctant sidekick — who is our stand-in — and then let-er-rip, blast into hyper-reality, and away we go.

This is why the original Pirates of the Caribbean actually worked. Too bad, then, that Disney tried to flog five films out of it. Everything after the first was, as they would have said in that era, total shite.

Meanwhile… the further along that the story goes, the stronger the two leads get and, bonus points… while Emily Blunt’s younger brother character starts off as a possibly gay stereotype with way too much luggage for a short river tour, midway through the film he explicitly comes out to Wolf, who really doesn’t bat an eye and, after that, Houghton the younger kicks just as much ass as his sister, despite one weak moment in which he seems to fall for the Germanic charms of the villain… or did he?

But, anyway, all in all, this would-be ride adaptation not only did what it needed to, but also went extra inclusive on the way, and turned out to be just a fun romp. If you have Disney+, then give it a look.

And… Happy Thanksgiving! This post was originally supposed to be yesterday, but all things Dune sort of pushed that off. However, starting tomorrow is my regularly pre-scheduled holiday vacation.

That is, from now until New Year’s Day, I’ve auto-scheduled a series of curated holiday-themed posts so that I don’t have to really do much for the next six weeks. Oh, sure, I might pop in a special now and then, if otherwise.

In the meantime, though — happy holidays, and I’ll see you all in 2022!

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