Thursday, July 29, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Jungle Cruise (2021) at the El Capitan Theatre

Tonight we had a really fun experience at the opening night of JUNGLE CRUISE (2021) at Disney's El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood.

JUNGLE CRUISE stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Emily Blunt in a film inspired by the classic ride which originated at Disneyland.

Tonight's special screening was hosted by Disney's official fan club, D23. The ticket included snacks, a drink, and even a Jungle Cruise skipper hat!

As is usually the case at the El Capitan, we were also treated to a wonderful organ concert before the movie. There was then a nice surprise when Disney CEO Bob Chapek appeared on stage to welcome us back to the movies.

Before I get to the film itself, here are some photos from tonight's event:

Thanks to Disney's restoration work, the El Capitan, which first opened in 1926, is a beautiful place to see a movie, inside and out.

The Wurlitzer organ dates from the 1920s (sources vary on the year) and was first used in a theater in San Francisco. Listening to it before the movie is always a highlight.

The side balconies had character mannequins dressed in costume.

Here's Disney CEO Bob Chapek welcoming the audience just before the movie started.

The El Capitan features the kind of exhibition showmanship which is long gone from most theaters, including an elaborate pre-show with multiple sets of curtains and effects.

For those curious, here's the skipper cap! Nice heavy material and embroidery.

JUNGLE CRUISE was a throwback to everything from KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1950) to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981) to ROMANCING THE STONE (1984).

Other reviewers have cited THE MUMMY (1999) and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003) as influences, but I've only seen bits and pieces of those films. 

The movie, set during WWI, also has a vague sort of steampunk feel to it, with its mix of old machinery and the fantastical.

The film had a nice '80s-style "movie as thrill ride" vibe which was accented by the fact that we were watching with a very enthusiastic audience. You know you're with the right crowd when they laugh at all the "inside" Jungle Cruise ride jokes and actually applaud the payoff for a joke about "the back side of water"!

Blunt plays intrepid Lily Houghton, who embarks on a jungle quest (it's complicated) with her brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall). They hire skipper Frank Wolff (Johnson) to take them into the jungle on his boat. Strange experiences ensue, and that's honestly all a prospective audience needs to know -- though I will say I did not expect the otherworldly paths we're taken with Johnson's character.

Johnson and Blunt are on screen the vast majority of the time and have excellent chemistry. They both seem to be having a lot of fun, and the audience is right there with them on that score. It's clearly apparent why this pair of actors earn the big dollars they do.  They're each, in a word, terrific.

I found JUNGLE CRUISE quite enjoyable but readily admit it's not a perfect film. It's more of the strong 2-1/2 or weak 3 stars variety, thanks mostly to the charisma of the stars and periodic good jokes, including the appearance of "Trader Sam."

Weak spots:

*A pointless character for Paul Giamatti, an actor I don't really care for anyway.

*A villain (Jesse Plemons) who's just a...colorless weirdo?

*Too many villains! Plus a confusing back story which goes back...way, way back.

*Lots of ugly visuals, many involving snakes. I kept thinking of Indy's line from RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, "Why'd it have to be snakes?!"  

*Surprisingly cliched treatment of Whitehall's character, who is clearly meant to be a gay man.

*Music with strong orchestrations which doesn't go anywhere. Why is no one capable anymore of writing a movie theme audiences hum on the way out of the theater?  A strong Williams-esque theme would have added to the film enormously.

In the end, though, this was 127 minutes with a pair of charming, funny stars, and as only the third theatrical film I've seen indoors since March 2020, it more than delivered a very enjoyable evening watching it on the El Capitan's huge screen.

The movie was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who directed a pair of Liam Neeson films I enjoyed, NON-STOP (2014) and THE COMMUTER (2018).  The cinematography was by Flavio Martinez Labiano.  The script had too many cooks to name.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13.  It's periodically kind of gross, from creepy-crawlies to people throwing up, but that's about it.  If there was any profanity I've forgotten it already.

A trailer is here.

Previous Disney screenings at the El Capitan Theatre: Tonight's Movie: Lady and the Tramp (1955) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Cinderella (1950) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Peter Pan (1953) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Mulan (1998) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The Little Mermaid (1989) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Mary Poppins (1964) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Sleeping Beauty (1959) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Swiss Family Robinson (1960) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: Alice in Wonderland (1951) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The AristoCats (1970) at the El Capitan Theatre; Tonight's Movie: The Incredibles (2004) at the El Capitan Theatre; Revisiting Enchanted (2007) at the El Capitan Theatre; Revisiting Sleeping Beauty (1959) at the El Capitan Theatre; Revisiting Cinderella (1950) at the El Capitan Theatre; plus Tonight's Movie: The Jungle Book (1967) at the TCM Classic Film Festival.


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