'Jungle Cruise': Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt on reviving the adventure genre

The stars talk about their latest comedy which is based on a popular Disney attraction

Jack Whitehall as McGregor, Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton and Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff in Disney’s 'Jungle Cruise' which comes out in cinemas this week. Disney
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The good, old-fashioned, adventuring-archaeologist-on-an-epic-quest yarn has been somewhat underrepresented in cinemas since its 1980s heyday, despite the occasional outlier such as Alicia Vikander's efforts to breathe new life into Lara Croft in 2018's Tomb Raider.

The internet frenzy generated by the recent photos of Harrison Ford shooting the coming fifth instalment of the flagship Indiana Jones franchise in Scotland and Northern England, however, suggests that audiences' appetites for mystical artefacts, madcap chases, exotic settings and dry one-liners remains huge.

If a whole year is too long to wait for the return of Indy and co next July, however, Disney may have just saved the day. This weekend, Jungle Cruise finds Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, and British comedian Jack Whitehall teaming up as a trio of adventurers in search of a legendary ancient healing tree in the deepest Amazon jungle.

Blunt, who plays Lily Houghton, a talented scientist struggling to make her voice heard in the male-dominated field in the early 20th century, admits that she's a huge fan of the films that preceded, and perhaps influenced, her latest.

“I just loved Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, The African Queen. Those films are just joy bombs. They're nostalgic, and I think we just needed to pierce people's hearts directly with the spirit of those films that we all loved as children,” the A Quiet Place star tells The National.

The actress also concedes, however, that taking a step into such a beloved genre in 2021 required a certain amount of attention to detail and respect for the past.

“Tonally we needed to strike a chord that was really well crafted, and curate it with so much love in the spirit of the films that we all grew up watching,” she says. “It took a lot of tampering and beautiful conducting from Jaume [Collet-Serra, director], but I also knew that in Jaume we had an innate romantic and a world builder, and that's exactly what you need for this type of movie.”

Emily Blunt says she was excited about the adventure genre, one that needed extreme attention to detail. Disney

Intriguingly for a movie of this type, Jungle Cruise is based not on some long-forgotten comic or novella, or the adventures of a real-life historical figure, but a theme park ride – the much-loved riverboat attraction of the same name that can be found in four of Disney's global theme parks.

Johnson, however, who plays wisecracking Frank Wolff, the cruiser captain guiding the expedition, is adamant that the unusual inspiration behind the film is more than adequate.

“I immediately saw the potential of the opportunity” the former wrestler explains. “Since 1955 when the park opened, this [ride] was Walt Disney's baby, and there were a lot of elements that I felt comfortable with saying 'yes, I will come on board, partner with you guys and we will develop this thing,' and we got it to a really great place.”

While the film is based on a Disney riverboat ride, Jack Whitehall says the characters feel fleshed out with interesting background stories. Disney

Whitehall, who makes his second appearance in a Disney movie but dryly notes that his first was a one-line role in Frozen that didn't make the final cut, plays Lily's younger brother and frequently reluctant assistant McGregor.

He agrees with Johnson that the apparent lack of source material for the film did not prove a handicap in creating a successful whole.

“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 realised,” he explains. “In a lot of movies of this kind of genre, sometimes you'd have characters that are a little bit kind of two-dimensional, but we get to understand so much about each of these characters and they all have reasons for being where they are.

"It makes you invested in them, it makes you care about them and it makes you really go on that journey with them.”

One of the most intriguing elements of that character building can perhaps be found in the developing relationship between Houghton Junior and Wolff, particularly given that Whitehall, a highly accomplished comedian, finds himself as something of a straight man to traditional action man Johnson's non-stop stream of one-liners.

Indeed, for Whitehall, it's not the action, the stunning locations or the nostalgic homage to a Disney favourite that is the movie's biggest draw, but the humour – in particular his co-star's unexpected comic turn.

“I would say that's the element of Jungle Cruise that I like the most is that it doesn't take itself too seriously,” he says. “At the heart of it, it has humour, it's got some of the best puns I've ever heard. It's even got Dwayne Johnson doing a stand-up comedy routine – what's not to love about that?'

Jungle Cruise is in UAE cinemas on Thursday.

Updated: July 29, 2021, 6:58 AM