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

CRUISE: From left: Edgar Ramirez, Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson attend the World Premiere Of Disney's "Jungle Cruise" at Disneyland on July 24, in Anaheim, California. Phillip Faraone/Getty Images/Tribune News Service

LOS ANGELES – 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 Friday 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 yearlong 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.

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.

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.

"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.

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."

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.

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