REVIEW: “JUNGLE CRUISE” (2021) Disney Studios

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I was probably 4 years old when I was first taken to Disneyland. I can’t remember my exact age, but I do know I was very young and my parents took me on the Jungle Cruise ride – and I freaked out and started screaming and crying. Because yes, I thought it was real and I remember so well the big hippo opening his mouth right where I was sitting in the boat and I thought I was going to be eaten, and basically thought lions, tigers and bears were all after me. I cried so hard and was so terrified, that I never went on that ride again until I was a teen – possibly even older! Needless to say, there was no crying watching this version of Disney’s “JUNGLE CRUISE”, only laughter as it is definitely not that ride and a much different story to boot.

This adventure begins with Dr. Lily Houghton (Emily Blunt), who hires a wisecracking skipper, named Frank Wolff (Dwayne Johnson), to take her down the Amazon in his ramshackle boat. Together, they search for an ancient tree whose petals hold the power to heal all — a discovery that will change the future of medicine. Along for the ride Lily’s posh, upper-crest brother MacGregor (Jack Whitehall), who doesn’t clearly belong anywhere in a jungle, but succeeds in stealing a lot of his scenes with his over-the-top persnickety ways, most particularly his interactions with Frank’s pet leopard whom they have on board the cruise. The CGI might have been a bit lacking on the leopard, but Whitehall makes it funny so it’s very easy to overlook.

(L-R): Dwayne Johnson as Frank Wolff, Emily Blunt as Lily Houghton and Jack Whitehall as MacGregor Houghton in Disney’s JUNGLE CRUISE. Photo courtesy of Disney. © 2021 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

While ‘Jungle Cruise’ could have just been a simple escapade through the jungle with some good action and laughs thrown in, we do get some long drawn out sections with Johnson’s character Frank explaining a bit of a convoluted backstory of the special flower, and the enhanced version of the long dead enchanted conquistadors of his time. Kids especially, might get a bit lost here as let’s face it, they just want the lions, tigers and fun action aspects of his character that help endear Frank to us more. Director Jaume Collet-Serra gives us a big scale action adventure here with plenty of laughs thanks to Johnson giving us some of his best cheesy humour with one-liner awful, terrible jokes that are so bad they are absolutely downright funny. It’s perfectly done and no one in this film takes it all to seriously and that is possibly it’s biggest highlight except for the fact that the biggest thing that upstages them is the absolute wonderful, electric chemistry between Blunt and Johnson. This would have been a totally different movie without that as together they are an unbeatable team here and yes, the glue that holds this film together. But the supporting cast consisting of Jesse Plemons, and again, Jack Whitehall with his witty-ness, Edgar Ramirez, and Paul Giamatti, all add to the adventure as well and round it all up.

So my advice is no crying – and get your ticket for the fantastical journey that is – Jungle Cruise.

Grade: B-

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Review Screening: Monday, July 26, 2021 at El Capitan Theater ~ Courtesy of Disney Studios

“JUNGLE CRUISE” IS IN THEATERS AS OF FRIDAY, JULY 30, 2021 also VOD on Disney+

REVIEW: “CRUELLA” (2021) Disney Studios/Disney+

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Estella or Cruella… This new offering of the old traditional story from Disney, definitely delves into a completely different outlook on this once cute story of a villainess and her adorable Dalmatian puppies. This prequel from director Craig Gillespie, is quite possibly the “CRUELLA” we didn’t know we needed, until we actually did.

To begin with, this version is a bit darker than any previous interpretation, animated or live action, and it is fun to watch Emma Stone take a deep dive into this character and come out sparkling. The story told here starts with young Estella (Tipper Seifert-Cleveland), and her mother Catherine (Emily Beecham), on their way to start a new life in London in the 1960s. She aspires to be a fashion designer as like her mother, she is quite talented with a needle and thread. Young Estella struggles with her identity with her strictly parted down the middle, half black/half white hair, as Catherine tries to teach her how to lay low, and to fend off teasing and bullies, as she has a bit of a wild side that she doesn’t have the best self control over. Tragedy ensues and with that past defining her, we get to see how she eventually becomes Cruella De Vil.

After said traumatic events, we find Estrella alone on the streets of London, where she is befriended by a pair of young street thieves, Jasper and Horace, and ends up with them. She ensues in working a life of crime and grift with the two, who come to appreciate her street wise sensibilities and they become a family of sorts. Flash forward to the 1970s and Estella (Emma Stone), is plodding away in a store as a cleaner versus her dream job in the world of fashion. When fate accompli happens and places Estella in the path of self-centered fashion magnate, The Baroness von Hellman (Emma Thompson), takes her under her wing and uses her talent for her own benefit. The Baroness treats those around her terribly and with this vile treatment, intimidates Estella. But her friends Jasper (Joel Fry) and Horace (Paul Walter Hauser); see this as an opportunity to rob from the Baroness (per Horace: there is ALWAYS an angle) and as Estrella’s designs start to gain attention, this places them at odds with one another – that is – until Cruella shows up. Cruella soon takes the fashion world by storm with her penchant for the theatrical. Her bold designs and innovative looks, give her the power to upstage the Baroness at every turn, placing her front and center for the camera at major events, but also putting her in the crosshairs of The Baroness’ narcissistic tendencies of revenge.

Emma Thompson delivers one her best performances in recent years. She takes the extremely over-the-top character of the cartoonish Baroness and makes her strangely realistic and relatable. Almost sort of like an exaggeration of a stereotype, but still resembling actual people from the real world (I might actually know a few of these). The other Emma – Stone – gives Estella heart, to where you care about her and want the best for her, even if the Cruella side of her character doesn’t always make the best choices, Stone lets you enjoy both. Fry as Jasper and Walter-Hauser as Horace, have some of the best comedic moments in Cruella, and are truly hilarious together as the famous street wise duo of thieves who like nothing more to “Pick a pocket or two.” John McCrea as Artie is a hoot as the second-hand storekeeper and could’ve been more of a voice within the film, as his fun-loving character seems a bit underutilized. I wish that there was more to his and the other supporting cast’s roles, as it feels like Anita Darling (Kirby Howell-Baptiste), is an afterthought given the ‘darling’ nature of her childhood friendship with Estella, and then having a hand in making Cruella famous. John (Mark Strong), Roger (Kayvan Novak), and Gerald (Jamie Demetriou) play characters of henchmen/housemen variety as well, and all kind of shuffle on screen just to be shuffled right back off. One could question why some of their characters were even put forth, but in the long run, it does serve the story.

The biggest stand out that doesn’t involve the acting ensemble is of course, the stunning costume design giving us true works of art featuring cool retro, edgy storytelling from costume designer Jenny Beavan, as well as the gorgeous makeup and hair lead by Nancy Stacey. Not to be outdone, is the wonderful production design from Fiona Crombie, and perhaps my favourite of all, the soundtrack from music supervisor Susan Jacobs. There doesn’t seem to be many talking about it, but this soundtrack is packed with wonderful song choices from Blondie, The Rolling Stones, Queen and The Clash – to name a few. For me, it was a lovely highlight I wasn’t expecting and couldn’t stop myself from singing along and yes, grooving out!

Perhaps one of the few downfalls is the length of the film. At two hours and fourteen minutes – it did run a bit long, but don’t get up out of your seat just yet, as make sure to stay for the post-credit scene, as it hints at what’s to come.

B

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Review Screening: Courtesy of Disney Studios and Disney+

CRUELLA” AIRS ON DISNEY+ AND OPENS IN THEATERS NATIONWIDE ON FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2021

INSTA-REVIEW: “TOY STORY 4” (2019) Disney

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Over the weekend I got to see this fourth incarnation in the Toy Story series. While a fun little jaunt for all our memories..again, I had trouble remembering where the last one left off and this one picks up..oh wait..that’s because the last one ended..with an ending that seemed so final. Ahh well..seems its wasn’t and the gang is all back with a few new friends on a search to get back ‘Forky’ who has been lost by Woody.

Along the way he meets back up with Bo Peep & these crazy scary ventriloquist dummies that honestly got to me..I thought for a moment we had switched to the ‘IT’ movie!! But alas, as with all kids movies there is a message.. that we all grow up and move on and so do our toys.
This movie is perfect for both kids and adults alike as all will find enjoyment in it and no little innuendos that fly over kids heads.

As for favourite characters..Woody is always a safe bet. Buzz didnt have as much to do this time around and our new favourite, Duke Caboom gives for a few good laughs.

Grade: B
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