Jungle Cruise, an opening-day attraction at both Disneyland Park and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, has been beloved by fans since Disneyland first opened in 1955. But the slow-moving boat ride past a series of comic vignettes and animatronic animals, helmed by a skipper who keeps the laughs coming with punny commentary, has come under criticism in recent years for its negative depictions of “natives” as primitive and threatening.
On Jan. 26, in a Disney Parks Blog post, Disney announced that the attraction would be getting an overhaul that promises to “stay true to the experience we know and love — more humor, wildlife and skipper heart — and also reflect and value the diversity of the world around us.”
This isn’t the first time Jungle Cruise has gotten an update. Many of the ride’s most memorable scenes — and the humorous tone for which it’s now known — were added by Imagineer Marc Davis in the 1960s.
The bulk of the current version isn’t going anywhere, but some scenes, which are culturally outdated and include “negative depictions of ‘natives,’” were due for a refresh, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Portfolio Executive Chris Beatty told D23.
“We want to make sure everybody has the best time — that guests from all over the world can connect with the stories we share and that how we bring those to life are respectful of the diverse world we live in,” Beatty told D23.
So what sort of changes are in store for the classic attraction? Let’s dive in.
New Story Is Written By A Former Skipper
Walt Disney Imagineer Kevin Lively dropped the big news of the new project in a video announcement. Lively, a writer with Walt Disney Imagineering, was once a Jungle Cruise skipper himself and is writing all of the changes for the ride.
In this pun-packed video, Lively says, “Ultimately, the jungle gets the last laugh.”
A Skipper Will Appear In The Ride’s Scenes
Those punny skippers are getting an expanded role in the update.
“For the first time ever, the skipper role will not only be that of a live, experienced and witty guide, but also represented by a show figure within the attraction itself,” Lively said.
The live skipper captaining the boat for guests will remain.
“The role the skippers play is a significant part of this attraction experience — their performance and how they bring it to life is something we all love,” Beatty told D23. “They are deeply passionate about this attraction, too. We want to make sure we get the skippers on board, no pun intended, and that they feel like they have some ownership in this. So that was step one.”
New Cast of Characters
A reimagining of one the most problematic scenes, the “trapped safari” — where a white traveler is at the top of a pole people have climbed to escape a rhinoceros, while the “native” guide is in danger at the bottom — will help to kick off the new, cohesive storyline, which will be woven throughout the ride.
The updates will replace the old characters with a team of explorers, led by a skipper, each with their own story and reason for being there, Beatty said. “There’s a birdwatcher, and entomologist, a wildlife painter and a photographer,” and they’ve found themselves in trouble after breaking the cardinal rule of Jungle Cruise, which is to never leave the boat.
Those depictions of hostile or subservient “natives” that drew criticism seem to be gone. The new concept art below shows the new team of imperiled explorers in the updated version of the “trapped safari” scene.
It Won’t Incorporate The New ‘Jungle Cruise’ Film
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Emily Blunt will star in a new Jungle Cruise movie, slated for release July 29, 2021, but, despite a suggestion by Johnson back in 2017 that the film would play a role in a future ride update, the movie won’t be part of the new version of the attraction. Guests might spot some Easter eggs, but, said Beatty, “integrating the film into our classic Jungle Cruise is not part of this effort.”
Some Classic Jungle Cruise Boats Will Return
Fans can expect to see plenty of new Easter eggs as part of the updates. Two classic boats, the Mekong Maiden and the Kwango Kate, will find their way into the new version. The Kwango Kate can be seen in the concept art, taken over by a pack of chimpanzees.
Other Disney Rides Have Had A Sensitivity Update, Too
The Jungle Cruise overhaul marks the third time Disney has updated a ride for culturally outmoded, insensitive or racist undertones. The script was flipped on the “bride auction” scene in Pirates of the Caribbean in 2017 at Disneyland Paris and in 2018 at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. And earlier this year, Disney announced that Splash Mountain would get a complete revamp, replacing its characters and storyline from the racist film “Song of the South” with a story inspired by the 2009 animated movie “The Princess and the Frog.”
When Will The Jungle Cruise Rides Be Updated?
While Disney hasn’t announced a date for the completion of the update, Beatty said they are working hard to finish it this year. Disneyland Park remains shuttered due to California’s COVID-19 restrictions. Meanwhile, Walt Disney World reopened in July and will celebrate a major milestone, the resort’s 50th anniversary, later this year.
We can’t wait for these new updates to Jungle Cruise! What do you think of the decision to bring a new story to the ride?