'Jungle Cruise' at 65: How the Movie Will Pay Tribute to Disney’s Beloved Attraction

ET is celebrating Disneyland's 65th anniversary by looking back at one of the park's most beloved opening day attractions.

Today marks 65 years since Disneyland’s grand opening on July 17, 1955. This celebratory anniversary also extends to the park’s opening day attractions that are still in operation today, including the dad-joke filled voyage that is Jungle Cruise.

The ride is just one of the many ideas from Walt Disney’s imagination that were brought to life for his groundbreaking theme park. This unique distinction has turned Jungle Cruise into one of the most beloved attractions at now multiple Disney parks across the globe. 

At D23 in 2019, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt assured the audience, made up of Disney’s biggest fans, that the sentimental origins of the ride were not lost on the cast of its feature-film adaptation. Johnson made a grand entrance into the large auditorium at the Anaheim Convention Center riding on a decorated riverboat. Blunt was “driven” into the presentation in a classic car from the early 20th-century era, where both Jungle Cruise and its cinematic homage take place. 

Johnson, who’s been attached as a star and producer on the movie since it was first announced in 2015, let the crowd know he’s been studying up when he said, “When the park opened in 1955, Walt Disney had one baby and that baby was Jungle Cruise. He was the very first Jungle Cruise skipper. So we are very honored to bring this movie to life on behalf of Disney and Walt Disney himself.”

“It's just insane and the energy is so incredible. Die-hard Disney fans,” Blunt told ET after the event. 

“I think there was such great anticipation for Jungle Cruise for so long, since it's part of the fabric of people's lives. For generations. Years and years,” said Johnson. For his part, Johnson also spent time with Disney’s legendary Imagineering team to learn about the attraction’s deep ties in the history of Disneyland.

While Jungle Cruise is technically the first movie adaptation of the attraction, it will arrive decades after The African Queen, the silver screen classic that partly inspired the ride. Walt Disney was also drawn to the idea of recreating the environments captured in his True-Life Adventures film series. In particular, The African Lion, which featured wildlife footage captured from multiple countries across the continent. 

Another layer of magic to Jungle Cruise’s endurance over the past 65 years is that the ride’s format has remained relatively unchanged. Guests step off a dock and onto boats that turn everyone into early 20th-century explorers. As riders voyage through exotic rivers around the world, they’re greeted by animatronic wildlife at every turn. One of the fan favorites among them is the elephant seen in the photo below, who’s clearly living their best life.

Jungle Cruise. Disney/Getty Images

Okay, maybe one aspect of the ride has evolved since its debut. While Jungle Cruise was originally more of an educational experience for guests, jokes and puns from the boat’s “skippers” later became a trademark of the attraction. And one joke is more iconic than any of them. As the boat is about to float behind a waterfall, the skipper announces with terrific fanfare something along the lines of: “Look here! The backside of water!” 

One of the reasons Disney fans are so hyped for Jungle Cruise is because the trailer has already featured Johnson recreating this beloved moment from the ride. In fact, the preview even teases a full sequence that pays homage to many staples from the attraction. True to the experience of the Jungle Cruise ride, Johnson’s character notes, "Of all the jungle cruises you could take in the Amazon, this is undoubtedly the cheapest, but also the most thrilling."

Still, the movie’s biggest tribute to Disneyland history was originally planned to be its release date, around the time of the park’s 65th anniversary. The coronavirus pandemic has seemingly impacted every facet of Disney resorts, even the movie adaptations of the rides. In the midst of an evolution within both theme parks and cinemas, two industries that Disney’s presence has loomed large in for decades, the House of Mouse is likely to lean on reminiscing about its past more than ever. With ties to the parks and movie theaters, it appears Jungle Cruise has come to embody the heart and soul of the Disney experience.