How the movie ‘Jungle Cruise’ helped improve Disneyland’s attraction

A single Instagram post in 2017 caused a momentary panic in the Disney community.

Dwayne Johnson, standing in front of a map drawn by Herb Ryman of the initial Disneyland proposal, stated that he and his production company were partnering with Walt Disney Imagineering – the division of the company responsible for theme park experiences – to “Redesign Jungle Cruise, one of the attractions on the opening day of this park.

Updates to the game were, of course, long overdue, as numerous scenes contained offensive tribal cartoons drawn through a colonial lens. Johnson’s take on the Jungle Cruise was unknown and although the attraction, overseen by Walt Disney, had undergone numerous changes over six decades – most designed to add more humor and characters.

“When you meet these heroes behind the scenes, it’s an extraordinary experience,” Johnson says of his time at Imagineering, before offering a hint that more adjustments might be on the horizon. “Hopefully, there are parts of our movie that could influence the attraction a bit more in the near future.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise has been inspired by the movies. The original attraction grew out of Disney’s own nature documentaries, as well as the 1951 classic “The African Queen,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, who is also a clear influence on the big screen “Jungle Cruise.” . Starting Friday in theaters and on the Disney + app, the public can see for themselves what a Johnson Jungle Cruise looks like, in the film directed by Jaume Collet-Serra. If the attraction has a laid-back and somewhat old-fashioned image relative to modern thrill-laden games and special effects, the movie aims to be the exact opposite.

And this 2021 version of “Jungle Cruise,” based on the chemistry, arguments, and exaggerated contradictions between Johnson’s cynical Captain Frank and Blunt’s idealistic botanist Lily, presented an opportunity to bring a modern sensibility to the original. Disneyland.

Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt in "The Jungle Cruise."

The action-comedy adventure, shot in Hawaii but set in a fictional Amazon, set out to correct the course of some of the most uncomfortable aspects of the Jungle Cruise game.

Gone are the implications of Westerners as superior colonizers, as well as the grotesque depictions of the Indians as tourist attractions, attackers, or cannibals. The villains here include an army of undead Spanish conquerors who tried and failed in their desire to use the jungle for their needs, specifically, raiding a tree with healing powers.

“What we wanted to stage in the attraction was that joy and nostalgia,” says Blunt. “It touches your heart directly. But … we want to represent it with sensitivity and respect ”.

In the last decade, Disney has been more aggressive in removing cultural stereotypes from its attractions. In 2017, the amusement park gave its place to women in its Pirates of the Caribbean attraction by eliminating a bride auction scene and reinventing a female “wench” as a pirate, and last year the company pledged to remake Splash. Mountain, which refers to the “Song of the South,” in an attraction inspired by “The Princess and the Frog,” starring the company’s first African-American princess, Tiana.

With a great movie like Jungle Cruise on the horizon, it was the right time to ponder the original Disneyland content, best known for its animal cartoons, many of them created by Disney master animator turned imaginer Marc Davis. The redesigned attraction draws heavily on the scenes inspired by the slapping of chimpanzees and monkeys that bring out the best of a previous Jungle Cruise expedition.

“From our conversations with the Imagineers, the most interesting thing is that they had wanted to remodel the attraction for a long time,” says Beau Flynn, producer of the film. “But it is the most revered and nostalgic, so no one allowed it. So the Imagineers said, ‘Thank goodness for this movie, because it gives us the opportunity to make the changes we wanted.’

The movie has quite a few clever fixes for some of the attraction’s outdated – and now removed – images. Headhunters with spears, for example, become a crafty joke that plays on Western stereotypes. Screenwriter Michael Green (“Logan,” “Blade Runner 2049”), who joined the project in late 2017, said the filmmakers wanted to rethink some of the unsavory aspects of the game.

The natives of the film are part of a business partnership with Frank and also think that his suits are silly. “What we do is make fun of the tourist’s perception of what a native is supposed to be, then you realize that the joke is for them,” says Green. “They are more sophisticated and worthy than what is attributed to them. There are times when you play with that.

The film makes a number of additional progressive adjustments.

The character of Merchant Sam, the man of the tribe who will change “two of his heads for one of yours” was removed from the attraction, but is still alive in “Jungle Cruise”, played as a mysterious and enterprising figure by Verónica Falcón.

And, in a moment that is sure to fuel debate about how Disney treats its LGBTQ characters, the film contains a scene where the preferences of Lily’s brother, MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), are made known in conversation with Frank.

People participate in a tribal ceremony, dressed in ceremonial garb and surrounded by fire torches
“The Jungle Cruise” uses images of the attraction to play on Western expectations. (Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

Although not exactly subtle, the timing is not direct either, as MacGregor notes that he was sentenced to exile by much of his family for his romantic interests that leaned “the other way.”

“I suggested a lot of things,” Green says, “and one of them was, ‘What if Lily’s brother is with her, what if he’s gay?’ Everybody said, ‘That sounds interesting.’ Let’s see where it takes us ”. In every draft of the script, as well as every cut, MacGregor tells Frank that the reason he’s so devoted to Lily is because she’s the one who supported him when he came out of the closet and that is why he would follow her to a volcano. It’s one of the things that I’m very proud of. I don’t consider it an offensive reference.

“There’s no question about it,” Green continues. “If she has a romantic interest in a hopeful sequel, it will be with a man. If we are lucky enough to do another, we would all like to see MacGregor have a love story. ”

If the characters on “Jungle Cruise” are extensively drawn, that’s largely by design.

Blunt’s Lily, for example, is portrayed as a hardened adventurer, and the mysteries of Johnson’s Frank are downplayed until a surprise reveal at the end of the film. In the modern era of cinema, in which every detail tends to be explained excessively, those who worked on “Jungle Cruise” say that you have to learn from the attractions of the theme parks, in which the audience is accompanied from scene to scene and fill in the blanks with imagination.

“We wanted to check that we were honoring the ride, making sure it wasn’t too dark and making sure it was humorous,” says producer Dany Garcia. “It’s very similar to the story of the [attraction] Haunted Mansion, where you have multiple points of view. For us it was the same ”.

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