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Jungle Cruise Release Date, Trailer, Cast, And Plot - What We Know So Far

In the early 2000s, Walt Disney Pictures took a gamble on an action-adventure blockbuster based on one of the company's most popular theme park attractions. That film, "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," was a runaway hit for Disney, spawning a franchise that's produced four films (and counting) and setting the stage for other potential theme park-inspired films to follow. While most critics agree that the "Pirates" franchise saw diminishing returns almost immediately, "The Curse of the Black Pearl" remains a classic for the ages, and exactly the kind of four-quadrant film that studios are always salivating for. 

Since "Pirates," however, we've seen the theme park-to-blockbuster approach fail with projects like "The Haunted Mansion" and "Tomorrowland," but the House of Mouse seems determined to give the formula the old college try (at least) once more. The next big theme park ride-inspired film from Disney will be "Jungle Cruise," a new action-adventure epic starring Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt

After more than a decade in development, the film has finally charted a course into theaters, and from the looks of things it's going to bring the adventurous spirit of "Pirates of the Caribbean" to a different time and place, filtered through two of the world's most charismatic movie stars. We can't wait to see how "Jungle Cruise" turns out, so we've gathered everything we know about the film so far right here, from the cast to the trailer to an unexpected controversy. Here's everything you need to know before "Jungle Cruise" hits theaters.

What's the release date for Jungle Cruise?

Back in 2018, it looked like we'd be seeing "Jungle Cruise" much sooner. As the film pushed through its development schedule, the Walt Disney Company was prepared to roll the film out as early as 2019, and set an initial release date for October of that year. That would have pitted the film against eventual hits like "Joker," but well before that release date was upon us, Disney shifted the film. There was some speculation at the time that "Jungle Cruise" had been moved to occupy a prime theatrical release window that had previously been reserved for a "Star Wars" film. Remember, in 2018 Disney was still purportedly working toward a goal of releasing a "Star Wars" flick every year, alternating between main saga stories and spinoffs. Then "Solo: A Star Wars Story" arrived to disappointing box office returns in May of 2018, setting the stage for a bit of a retooling. By 2019, there were no "Star Wars" films planned for 2020, so "Jungle Cruise" was tapped in to compete in the busy summer box office schedule. 

We got another potential release date after that first false start: July 24, 2020. The hope way back in the before-times was that the studio would capitalize on all the summer box office energy and emerge to dominate a less-crowded field. What sweet summer children we all were back then. In a sane world, it made perfect financial sense, but we live in this timeline, so obviously another change had to be made. Now, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that 2020 date has come and gone without a whiff of a boat-ripened Dwayne Johnson. A few rumors circulated that Disney might go the VOD route with the first entry in its nascent franchise, but that all proved to be hearsay, as Disney remained committed to a traditional theatrical release for its adventurous tentpole. 

Fear not, Disney fans: Just like the recently shuttered theme parks that originally inspired the film, "Jungle Cruise" is about to be open for business at last. "Jungle Cruise" will enjoy a traditional theatrical release on July 30, 2021, and it seems like this one's really going to take. That means this release date comes almost three full years after the formal conclusion of filming back in September 2018. We'll have to wait for the press junkets to see if Johnson and Blunt even remember what the movie's about. Mark your calendars (in pencil).

A trailer for Jungle Cruise pulls up to the dock

After years of development, the first official footage from Disney's "Jungle Cruise" finally screened for fans at the company's D23 Expo in the summer of 2019. A few months later, in October, the first trailer finally arrived online. The footage revealed an action-comedy that owes a lot to previous period pieces in the subgenre, like Disney's own "Pirates of the Caribbean" and Universal's "Mummy" franchise from the 2000s. It begins by setting up the quest of scientist Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt) as she makes a shocking discovery in London that leads her to travel to the Amazon in search of the Tree of Life. Her ticket to this world-changing discovery is Frank (Dwayne Johnson), an unscrupulous riverboat captain who's really just in it for the money. 

The trailer begins by establishing the film as a period drama set sometime in the early 20th century, though not so early that automobiles aren't prevalent. From there, it's more-or-less non-stop action and comedy. We get to see Lily evade villains by doing a little a bit of improvised urban exploring, we see Frank using various tricks of his trade to impress tourists on the river, and then we see the two of them meet and team up. What we don't see a whole lot of is the actual jungle cruise the characters are set to embark on, but there's just enough here to hint that the trip will turn supernatural with help from an ancient curse.

A second full-length trailer that came down the pike in 2021 is absolutely action-packed. Though it keeps the focus on Blunt and Johnson, often in pursuit of or being pursued by some nasty business, supernatural or otherwise, it does provide a few more glimpses of the actual cruise in question. There's even some Jesse Plemons action in what looks to be a German U-Boat. With the release date right around the corner, this is likely the final glimpse of the project before game time, so go ahead and fire it up.

Who's in the Jungle Cruise cast?

"Jungle Cruise" is set to be a rollicking action-comedy vehicle in the vein of past Disney hits like "Pirates of the Caribbean," which was also based on one of the House of Mouse's most popular theme park attractions. As with Johnny Depp and the first "Pirates" film, one of the keys to the project's success is picking a star to frame the film around, and then filling out a compelling ensemble. 

In the case of "Jungle Cruise," the star role will be filled by not one but two stars with experience in both action and comedy. The film's leading man is Dwayne Johnson, who began circling the movie as far back as 2015, and finally hopped aboard in 2017. In 2018, it was revealed that Johnson's co-star for the film would be Emily Blunt, who's proven her action chops on films like "Edge of Tomorrow" and "A Quiet Place," and already had major successes with Disney in films like "Into the Woods" and "Mary Poppins Returns." Both leads are known commodities, and by the looks of the trailers released to date, a lot of the movie's success will be hanging on their performances.

While Johnson and Blunt are the key leads to the film, they're not the only stars attached. The film will also feature "Breaking Bad" and "Fargo" standout Jesse Plemons in a villainous role, with British comedian Jack Whitehall as the brother of Blunt's character. Édgar Ramírez plays Aguirre, a mercenary leading another expedition to the Tree of Life in direct competition with the Johnson-Blunt cruise, and "Billions" star Paul Giamatti is involved in a role originally described as a "crusty harbormaster" (via Deadline). It's as star-studded as you might expect from the franchise Disney hopes will become the successor to "Pirates of the Caribbean."

What's the plot of Jungle Cruise?

"Jungle Cruise" is a period film that's heavy on the kind of action-comedy blend that inspired classics like the "Indiana Jones" films. It's a swashbuckling adventure that will feature no small number of set pieces and big effects. The film follows Lily, a scientist who makes a shocking discovery in London that could lead her to the legendary Tree of Life. The trouble is, the Tree lies deep in the Amazon rainforest, which means she's got to travel to South America and set herself up with transportation. 

Once there, she meets Frank, a jungle cruise captain who seems more interested in conning tourists out of their money than helping anyone to find a place that sounds like it's make-believe. Lily and her brother have plenty of money to hire Frank, though, so he takes the job. From there, it's an all-out adventure into the heart of the Amazon river, but the journey to the Tree of Life won't be easy. Lily's not the only one trying to find it, of course, and it turns out she and Frank may also be contending with an ancient curse.

All the elements are there. The quest. The elevated, fantasy-historical setting. The stylish visual effects. Heck — there's even an ancient curse. It really is "Curse of the Black Pearl" on the Amazon River in the best possible ways. There are certainly worse films to emulate, after all.

Jungle Cruise's long voyage to the screen

The film's journey to the big screen begins with the theme park attraction's opening at Disneyland in 1955. For our purposes, though, the real road to a movie version of the ride kicked off in the 2000s, after Walt Disney Pictures saw major success with "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl." That film, also based on a Disney Parks attraction, launched an action-adventure franchise for the studio, so Disney started to mine other possible park rides for film material. "Jungle Cruise" seemed like a natural fit, and in 2006 Disney began trying to nail down a script (via IGN). 

"Jungle Cruise" took what seemed at the time like a big leap toward the screen back in 2011, when it was reported by EW that Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, the duo that helped make "Toy Story" a hit, would team up again to star in the film. That pairing ultimately fizzled, and by 2015 Dwayne Johnson was expressing interest in the project. Johnson was dubbed the film's official star in 2017, and by 2018 "Jungle Cruise" had begun shooting.

Who's at the helm of Jungle Cruise?

In 2017, with Johnson officially onboard to star in the film, "Jungle Cruise" began to set up the rest of its creative team — both in front of and behind the camera. Johnson, as he has in many of his recent blockbusters, took a rather active role in the process, because he's also serving as one of the project's producers. In the spring of 2017 the film began searching for a director, and Johnson expressed a preference for "Wonder Woman" helmer Patty Jenkins. Jenkins ultimately stayed at Warner Bros. to direct a "Wonder Woman" sequel, and by the summer of 2017 Jaume Collet-Serra was revealed as the director after passing on the opportunity to direct a "Suicide Squad" sequel. That "Suicide Squad" film eventually went to James Gunn of "Guardians of the Galaxy" fame, so everyone pretty much ended up where they belonged.

Collet-Serra, whose previous projects include films like "The Shallows," is directing "Jungle Cruise" from a script by Glenn Ficara ("Bad Santa"), Michael Green ("Logan"), and John Requa ("Focus"). The film will be scored by Oscar nominee James Newton Howard, whose recent credits include "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" and "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms."

Some Jungle Cruise controversy

Though "Jungle Cruise" is being positioned by Disney as a crowd-pleasing action adventure flick, the film began generating controversy well before its release. In August of 2018, Jack Whitehall announced via Instagram that he'd been cast in the film, and it was later revealed that he'd be playing McGregor Houghton, the brother of Emily Blunt's character, Lily. That same month, a report surfaced from U.K. tabloid The Sun which revealed Whitehall's character would be among the first major openly gay characters in a Disney production, and that his character is "one who is hugely effete, very camp and very funny."

The report quickly generated controversy, not because Disney would feature an openly gay character in the film, but because of how the character would reportedly be portrayed. Many social media users worried that Disney was simply leaning back on tired gay stereotypes for its first major gay character, while others were concerned about who would play the role. That Whitehall, a straight man, would be playing such a potentially groundbreaking role for Disney instead of a gay actor was also a point of contention. 

Disney has not officially responded to the controversy, but Whitehall has also gained defenders since the outrage. We'll just have to wait until July 30 to see how it all pans out.