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Credit: The Walt Disney Studios

Jungle Cruise: What to know about Disney's latest ride-to-screen movie ahead of its swashbuckling debut

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Jul 16, 2021, 3:43 PM EDT

We have our heading! In an effort to repeat the massive success of its Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, Disney is once again plumbing the depths of its beloved theme parks with another big-screen adventure inspired by a decades-long attraction: Disneyland's Jungle Cruise.

Clearly drawing from the pulpy and swashbuckling exploits of Old Hollywood, Jungle Cruise features Dwayne JohnsonEmily Blunt, and Jack Whitehall on a wild expedition through the dangerous waters of the Amazon jungle.

Plot your course, haul up the anchor, and dive below for a quick primer on everything you need to know about the movie before it makes port later this month...

How to watch

Just like the studio's other major releases from 2021 — Raya and the Last Dragon, Cruella, and Black Widow — Jungle Cruise will receive a dual rollout in theaters and on Disney+, starting Friday, July 30. 

If you'd like to check out the film from the comfort of your own home — no judgements here — you'll need to book virtual passage with an additional and one-time Premier Access fee of $29.99 on top of your existing Disney+ subscription (digital pre-orders are now open). Streaming releases usually drop onto the platform around 12 a.m. PT / 3 a.m. ET.

If you're up to returning to theaters, however, you can reserve your tickets on Fandango now.

Originally slated to open exclusively in theaters last July, Jungle Cruise was ultimately delayed by an entire year by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit: Disney

Ride to screen

The original Jungle Cruise boat ride first opened in July of 1955 (it'll celebrate 66 years this Saturday) at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

"Based on Disney’s award-winning True-Life Adventure films, the attraction had a more educational tone," reads the official description on the Disney Parks website. "In the early 1960s, Walt Disney introduced more drama and asked animator Marc Davis to sketch some humorous gags. Over the years, more 'wildlife' — and new wisecracks — were added. These updates, along with our talented skippers, make for fun surprises on every trip down the river."

In anticipation of the movie's release, Disney added some new bells and whistles to the ride. SYFY WIRE was one of the few outlets to check out the updated experience at a recent press event. Click here to learn more about it.

Credit: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

The swashbuckling set-up

Set against the period backdrop of World War I, Jungle Cruise follows Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt), an intrepid British physician looking to find a mythical tree deep within the Amazon that is said to possess miraculous healing properties. Along with her brother, MacGregor (Whitehall), Lily charters a ride on the La Quila, a ramshackle, yet charming, tramp steamer captained by the wisecracking Frank Wolff (Johnson).

It's very clear that the movie wants to recapture the mismatched dynamic of Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in 1951's The African Queen. (The film's influence actually goes all the way back to the conception of the original Jungle Cruise ride when production designer Harper Goff looked to Charlie Allnut's iconic boat for inspiration.)

"The Rock is fine," Bogart's son, Stephen, recently told Entertainment Weekly. "He's got a great personality. He seems like a very good person. I think he works hard; he cares about it, and I'll go see the movie. It'll be fun. But I never thought of it as a continuation [of The African Queen], nor do I think Dwayne Johnson is trying to be Humphrey Bogart, that'd be tough."

Ok, let's get back to the plot, shall we? While on their epic journey, Lily, Frank, and MacGregor encounter dangerous wildlife (like a mean-eating jaguar named Proxima), hitherto unseen supernatural entities (like undead conquistadors), and a German royal (Breaking Bad's Jesse Plemons) also looking to get his grubby hands on the magical tree.

Edgar Ramírez (Bright) and Paul Giamatti (Gunpowder Milkshake) round out the rest of the cast.

Jack Whitehall as MacGregor, Emily Blunt as Lily and Dwayne Johnson as Frank in Disney's Jungle Cruise. Photo by Frank Misi. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 

All hands on deck

Written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa, Jungle Cruise was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who is currently working with Dwayne Johnson on Warner Bros.' Black Adam. Johnson serves as a producer alongside John Davis, John Fox, Hiram Garcia, and Dany Garcia. Scott Sheldon and Doug Merrifield are executive producers. The film's story is by John Norville and Josh Goldstein, and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, while the screenplay was written by Michael Green, Glenn Ficarra, and John Requa.

A making-of book by Michael Goldman goes on sale the same day as the movie opens, July 30.

"There were several things that blew me away, so it is hard to pick one," Goldman said during an interview for D23 last year. "The production design and the effort taken to design and build the port town of Porto Velho was far beyond what is normal on such films. Likewise, the attention paid to designing era- and culturally appropriate props, hair, and makeup was amazing. The construction of the tramp steamer boat, La Quila, the home to Dwayne Johnson’s character, Frank, was a massive logistical achievement. And then there were the complex visual effects, particularly the state-of-the-art digital work used to create the ferocious jaguar Proxima, and to put a supernatural vibe on the conquistador characters who have been trapped in the jungle for a very long time."

Credit: Disney

Riding into the future

Jungle Cruise is one of several upcoming projects based on Disney Parks attractions.

As of this writing, movies based on The Haunted Mansion (to be directed by Bad Hair's Justin Simien), Tower of Terror (to be executive produced by Black Widow's Scarlett Johansson), and Space Mountain (from Obi-Wan and Army of the Dead writer Joby Harold) are all in active development.

Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times!

Jungle Cruise sets sail Friday, July 30 in theaters and on Disney+.