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'Jungle Cruise' director Jaume Collet-Serra: 'You want to be scared and laughing at the same time!'

Jungle Cruise: stars Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson review the monitors on set with director Jaume Collet-Serra
Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson on the set of Jungle Cruise with director Jaume Collet-Serra. (Image credit: (c) 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Disney's new film Jungle Cruise follows in the footsteps of the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise, which showed that theme park attractions can be transformed into hugely successful movies that audiences love.

Starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, the movie tells the story of pioneering scientist Dr. Lily Houghton (Blunt) who embarks on a mission to travel deep into the jungle in search of a tree said to have supernatural healing abilities, enlisting a wily steamboat captain (Johnson) to get her there. However, it's far from a straightforward mission, as they aren't the only ones looking for it — and threats both natural and supernatural lie along the way.

Director Jaume Collet-Serra reveals how he and his crew turned a much-loved theme park ride into a big-screen adventure...

Where does the Jungle Cruise film pick up from the ride?

Jaume Collett-Serra: "The Jungle Cruise ride is a very famous and well-known ride. It's one of the original rides at Disneyland, designed actually by Walt Disney. So it's beloved by many people, not only because it's been there for a long time, but because it's one of the only rides that the whole family can enjoy together. You can bring a baby, and you can bring your grandma — so in a way, we wanted to make a film that reflected that. A film that the whole family could enjoy together — that was the starting point for us."

How are we introduced to the characters?

JCS: "We meet the Skipper, Frank Wolff, on an Amazon River jungle cruise. Basically he takes tourists on cruises in the Amazon on his old boat, and very much like the ride at Disneyland, he tells stories and he has set up all of these gimmicks to get money from the people on the cruise. With Lily, we meet her in a sort of Indiana Jones-esque set piece in which she steals something from the Society of Explorers in London. That kind of sets the tone of both characters, and the audience gets the feeling that those two characters are going to meet and their personalities are going to clash."

What is the tone of the film like?

JCS: "We're making a film that is supposed to be enjoyed by the whole family. It is a big, uptempo movie. You need to have a tone that is very inclusive of action, comedy, and mystery — and has some supernatural elements as well. You want to be scared and laughing at the same time."

Jaume Collet-Serra on set with Dwayne Johnson, who is in costume as the Skipper and laughing

(Image credit: (c) 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

What does Dwayne Johnson bring to the role of Frank?

JCS: "Dwayne is such a fantastic actor, and a wonderful person — he's really funny. He has this mischievous something behind his eyes. He's a very playful person, and I wanted to bring that out of him in this movie, because he's usually doing action scenes and chasing bad guys, so he doesn't have a lot of time to play. I wanted to see him like Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen — someone who is a hustler, and someone that you want to hang out with and have a drink with. Someone who's accessible, yet selfish, but you forgive him because he's so likeable."

And what does Emily Blunt bring as Dr Lily Houghton?

JCS: "Lily wouldn't exist without Emily. It's very hard to write a character like her in the script because you're always trying to give those characters a lot of motivations and things that we've seen in other movies. But then when Emily steps in, she's able to make Lily real. We treated her like Indiana Jones — you don't care and don't know why she's doing what she's doing, you just follow her because she wants it so bad, and you like her. And the philosophy with her was very simple: she would go into an action sequence head first and basically figure it out later, and that created a lot of dynamic situations."

Frank (Dwayne Johnson) and Lily (Emily Blunt) stand on the deck of Frank's boat, both leading against the cabin as the river stretches out behind them

Dwayne Johnson as Frank and Emily Blunt as Lily. (Image credit: (c) 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Dwayne and Emily are great friends — how does that come across in the film?

JCS: "For me, it was great. They have an amazing chemistry that really shows in the movie. That is something you cannot write. That is something that, as a director, you're blessed with because every scene, as simple as it is, becomes an opportunity for something magical to happen. In the script it might be two lines, but it suddenly becomes a one-minute banter, which is so fun to shoot, and for everyone else to watch.

On set, also, they were laughing the whole time. There were many times when we couldn't finish the scene because they were laughing in the middle of it. And everyone was laughing. The good thing is that because they get along so well, once we start rolling, they're there. They don't get disconnected from the characters, which makes it possible to move very fast and fully capture the magic."

  • Jungle Cruise is released in cinemas on Friday 30 July. Disney+ subscribers can view the film on demand via Disney+ Premier Access for an additional one-off payment.
Steven Perkins
Steven Perkins

Steven Perkins is a Staff Writer for TV & Satellite Week, TV Times, What's On TV and (opens in new tab), who has been writing about TV professionally since 2008. He was previously the TV Editor for Inside Soap before taking up his current role in 2020. He loves everything from gritty dramas to docusoaps about airports and thinks about the Eurovision Song Contest all year round.