‘The Jungle Cruise’ premiere aims for the ‘joy and nostalgia’ of Disneyland

Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson exit the Jungle Cruise ride and stand for photographers on the red carpet.
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson exit the Jungle Cruise ride and stand on the red carpet for the premiere of Disney’s new film “The Jungle Cruise.”
(Adam Amengual / For The Times)
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Just past the pool of mechanical bathing elephants on Disneyland’s famed Jungle Cruise ride, the skipper of the boat turned to the invited guests at the after-party to the premiere of “The Jungle Cruise” movie to try out a new joke. “Our newest character,” said the Disneyland staffer — cast member in park parlance — as he pointed to a stone wall, “the Rock.”

While the opening-day attraction at Disneyland recently went under a host of changes to remove racist depictions of Indigenous people, who were often portrayed as tourist attractions, attackers or cannibals — tribal caricatures crafted through a colonialist lens — any nods to the July 30 release of “The Jungle Cruise” movie starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are of the hidden, so-called Easter egg variety

Of course, if the film is a hit and spawns a franchise, that could change, just as Pirates of the Caribbean next door has incorporated Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow.

But one day at a time, and after a year-long delay due to COVID-19, “The Jungle Cruise” film at long last had its grand coming-out party, with Johnson and Blunt taking a jaunt on the Jungle Cruise ride and greeting fans outside the Adventureland attraction.

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Disneyland visitors scream in excitement as Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt exit the Jungle Cruise ride.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)

The original ride as envisioned by Walt Disney had a less humorous tone than the attraction of today. Early influences included Disney’s own nature documentaries as the 1951 film “The African Queen,” which is also a clear influence on “The Jungle Cruise” movie, down to the Humphrey Bogart-style scarf and hat worn by Johnson.

But today’s “The Jungle Cruise” film adds more mystery and mysticism to the attraction’s lore.

Much of the film is centered on characters portrayed by Johnson and Blunt — Frank Wolff and Lily Houghton, respectively — on a quest, full of light bickering and puns, to find a magical tree with healing powers.

Mickey Mouse walks the red carpet.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)

It made sense, then, that the premiere for the film was split between Fantasyland, where the film was shown at a theater near It’s a Small World, and Adventureland and New Orleans Square. The latter was site of a brief after-party where guests were treated to cotton candy and churros and were able to walk on attractions such as the Jungle Cruise and Indiana Jones Adventure.

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“We felt we could nuance the tone, where the magic wouldn’t override the relationships with our main characters,” said Dany Garcia, a producer on the film and one of Johnson’s business partners, of the way “The Jungle Cruise” aims to balance nostalgia, forest realism and mysticism.

A boat that is used for Disney's Jungle Cruise ride.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)

Blunt said being in the park reminded her of how the ride helped shape the feel of the film.

“The whole experience of doing the film was the most uplifting of my career,” she said.

“I think because the spirit of it was so joyful” she adds. “That was what we wanted to represent about the ride, that joy and nostalgia, which pierces your heart directly. The idea of being in Disneyland, the fact that we’re doing it in this setting, is something really piercing, really beautiful.”

An attendee's jungle print dress is seen on the red carpet.
A premiere-goer walks the red carpet in a jungle print dress.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)

Johnson at numerous points throughout the night referenced the original 1955 attraction as well as the site of the premiere. Before the film begin, Johnson took a moment to dedicate to the patriarch of the park, who died in 1966.

“The Jungle Cruise was his baby,” Johnson said, before addressing Walt directly and saying he hoped he would be proud of the film.

The Times will have more on the film, including a review, this week.

Edgar Ramirez, a Venezuelan actor,  poses on the red carpet at the premiere.
Edgar Ramirez, a Venezuelan actor, poses on the red carpet at the premiere.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)
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A man wears a jungle print shirt and guest badge on the red carpet.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)
The entrance to the theater for the premiere of "The Jungle Cruise."
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)
Edgar Ramirez, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson pose for photographers.
Edgar Ramirez, left, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson at the premiere.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)
Empty popcorn buckets display an ad for Disney's new film "The Jungle Cruise."
Empty popcorn buckets advertising “The Jungle Cruise” are stacked high at the movie premiere.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)
People gather in the theater to watch the premiere.
(Adam Amengual/For The Times)