Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and Disneyland will receive a reimagining in 2021 with new characters, a continuous storyline, changes to show scenes, and more. This post will share timeline info & details, concept art, and commentary with our thoughts. (Updated May 27, 2021.)
Per the Disney Parks Blog, these new adventures will stay true to the Jungle Cruise experience fans know and love. The ride reimagining will add more humor, wildlife, and skipper heart, while also reflecting and valuing the diversity of the world around us.
The new creative concept for our river’s journey will be original to Walt Disney Imagineering, just like the attraction itself. Here’s a first look at some of the new things Disney is adding to the iconic Jungle Cruise…
Imagineers are adding more humor, wildlife and skipper heart to the classic attraction, and as part of a much larger effort, this update to Jungle Cruise will welcome new characters from around the world. The new scenes will be interconnected, and be heightened by Jungle Cruise Skippers’ legendary comedic tone.
Last month, Disney released new info about what this will entail. First, the attraction will remain open at Magic Kingdom during the reimagining, as Imagineering utilizes a “phased approach” to the project. This is not a huge surprise, as this is exactly how the annual Jingle Cruise overlay is accomplished each year at Christmas.
Disney has since announced that the Disneyland version of Jungle Cruise will reopen on July 16, 2021. The Magic Kingdom updates are progressing swiftly (with the Trader Sam Gift Shop scene described below now installed) and all changes will be completed this summer.
The way the attraction’s scenes are staged makes it more conducive to changes that can be accomplished overnight or in the span of a day or two. It’s likely many of the new scenes won’t be overly elaborate or substantial departures from what’s currently there, but rather one-for-one exchanges of figures and props. Most of that can be fabricated off-site, with old props removed and new ones installed overnight.
Above is concept art for the replacement scene, where Trader Sam has opportunistically “reimagined” lost & found as a gift shop as a quick and easy way to make some extra cash from tourists.
In this scene, Trader Sam is betting on an established reputation as the best merchant in the jungle, and while he’s out lost and finding some new inventory, the animals are getting the last laugh and “reclaiming” the jungle. Personally, I love this scene. It’s on-brand with the Jungle Cruise humor and self-deprecating, as Disney pokes fun at its commercialism and opportunism with rides exiting into gift shops.
There also appears to be a lot to see in this scene, which is always great for re-rideability as guests will want to revisit the attraction to spot all of the gags. Also, it’s tough to argue with any scene that features five (5) monkeys. Finally, and slightly ironically, the very scene that pokes fun at Disney’s commercialism also extends it via a new on-ride photo. All wins in my book!
I’m guessing some fans might object to Trader Sam no longer being a visible character, but I like it. For one thing, the two versions of Trader Sam looked very different at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. For another, he’s also an invisible presence at the bar bearing his name, so this works as an extension of that. There’s a certain mystique about a character who has an outsized presence, but is never seen. Reasonable minds might disagree with that assessment, though.
Next, Imagineering has released a 1938 issue of The Daily Gnus about Alberta Falls and the World-Famous Jungle Cruise to tease the upcoming project. There are fun tidbits in there that reflect how Imagineering will be expanding the Jungle Cruise’s backstory. This will be centered around Alberta Falls, granddaughter of world-renowned Dr. Albert Falls, as the proprietor of the Jungle Navigation Company Ltd.
The article also introduces a number of new characters, including Victoria Marie Falls, Siobhan “Puffin” Murphy, Dr. Leonard Moss, Rosa Soto Dominguez, and S.E.A. Member Dr. Kon Chunosuke. If you’re interested in more info about these characters, check out the My Disney Experience app, which will give you detailed bios.
Most notably, this establishes a direct connection to the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, or S.E.A. That’s a secret society of fictional and real-life explorers that began at Tokyo DisneySea two decades ago and has grown into a shared universe of characters and story points that has spread as far as Typhoon Lagoon.
It’s likely there will be plenty of other plot modifications beyond the S.E.A. connection. Here’s how Kevin Lively, Imagineer and former Jungle Cruise skipper described the storyline changes: “As part of this story update, we’ll get to follow a skipper and his passengers as their journey goes awry.
That’s right, 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. In fact, the expedition will be up a tree (literally!) after their sunken boat splits apart and chimps board the wreckage, with monkey business ensuing.”
“But that’s not even half of the hull story. Fans of the Jungle Cruise attraction may recall some boats that used to make their way around the river but haven’t been seen for a while—specifically the Mekong Maiden and Kwango Kate. Ever wonder what happened to them? Well, you might go ape when you find out! Ultimately, the jungle gets the last laugh.”
The reimagined storyline will begin with a trapped safari party that finds itself up a tree after their journey goes awry. Unexpected scenarios along the way will give the jungle and animals the last laugh!
Disney has stated that more details about the enhancements will be revealed soon, and that the Jungle Cruise reimagining is coming later in 2021. Kevin Lively also shared this video:
In an interview with D23, Imagineer Chris Beatty further clarified the nature of the Jungle Cruise update: “I want to make sure people know we are not changing the whole Jungle Cruise. This is not a re-envisioning of the entire attraction. It’s the Jungle Cruise you know and love, with the skippers still leading the way, and at the same time, we’re addressing the negative depictions of ‘natives.’ So that’s one of the scenes we’re going to go in and change.”
“And for the first time, we are actually linking scenes together…So we’re not really re-envisioning that scene, we’re just adding a narrative and storytelling to bring things to life and connect that moment with other happenings along the river.”
Chris Beatty explained that Jungle Cruise would be relying and building upon the hilarious scenes added by future Disney Legend Marc Davis and skippers’ spiels: “We’re keeping a lot of the classic jokes that the fans know and love, like the backside of water. But it will give our skipper some new material to play off of.”
Additionally, the changes won’t be inspired by the upcoming film, said Beatty. “I’m excited about the movie, and having Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt be a part of that film. But these adjustments are really focused on enhancing the existing attraction storyline and addressing some areas that needed refreshing along the way. I’m sure the film is fantastic and we’re very excited about it, but integrating the film into our classic Jungle Cruise is not part of this effort.”
Accordingly, Disney has provided “testimonials” about that changes from Imagineers:
As with Splash Mountain at Tokyo Disneyland, it seems unlikely that Jungle Cruise will change in Japan. In part this is because Oriental Land Company–and not Disney–owns those parks, but also because that incarnation of the attraction changed a few years ago. It now has a different storyline, plus different day and night versions, unique lighting schemes, and projection mapping effects.
Hong Kong Disneyland could change eventually, although the story and show scenes there are also very different.
We don’t have a ton of commentary about the Jungle Cruise story rewrites and scene changes. In fairness, we are also most definitely not Jungle Cruise purists who view it among the pantheon of all-time classics. (Honestly, we prefer the Tokyo Disneyland version–even though we can’t understand it–thanks to superior visuals and effects.)
To the contrary, our view is that Jungle Cruise is way too taste-specific and skipper-dependent. It has a cult following among longtime fans and has achieved iconic status via longevity, but doesn’t have as much mainstream appeal. While that’s obviously not the impetus for these changes, we’re cautiously optimistic about anything that makes the attraction more coherent, consistent, and enjoyable to first-timers.
This appears to be part of Disney’s new focus on inclusion, but the changes also pretty clearly go well beyond that. As we’ve been saying for months now, there are a variety of updates in store for older attractions, many of which are small scale and could be accomplished overnight or with a brief closure.
No matter how much fans protest or petition, this was an inevitability for some of the scenes and script in Jungle Cruise. You might also recall the outrage to the Auction Scene Changes in Pirates of the Caribbean when that was announced a few years ago; the update happened anyway. Expect the same for other attractions in the not-too-distant future.
The bigger surprise to me is not that Jungle Cruise changing, but that there’s an accompanying announcement from Disney. I thought they would’ve learned their lesson on that one–but maybe the hope here is that hardcore fans will see there’s more substance to this overhaul (and it’s not outright replacing a fan-favorite with something different entirely), and will give Disney the benefit of the doubt or take a “wait and see” approach.
My expectation was that Jungle Cruise would close with mentions of “synergy” or enhancements related to this year’s Jungle Cruise featuring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and the problematic aspects would quietly change along with movie tie-ins being added. It’s pretty clear from the announcement my guess widely missed the mark with the Jungle Cruise changes. As much as I love the Rock, I’m not particularly eager to see him in Audio Animatronics form, so I’m happy that isn’t happening.
Between dodging that bullet and based on what we know thus far about this Jungle Cruise reimagining, I’m perfectly willing to withhold judgment until seeing the finished product. There’s definitely promise to the ideas, and plenty of potential for Jungle Cruise to improve.
The other interesting aspect of this announcement is that Imagineering indicates the changes (presumably for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World) will be added to the attraction in 2021. Given everything else, that means it’ll almost certainly be finished by October 1, 2021. That’s a fast turnaround time, and it also comes during a year when there’s no guarantee that physical distancing or barriers will be removed from boats. As it stands, the guest experience on Jungle Cruise is significantly impeded. (To the point that it’s the one attraction we avoid right now.) I’m surprised Disney would want to debut the changes with all of that still potentially in place.
Moreover, there’s still no timeline set for the Splash Mountain reimagining, and rumors that the finished project could be years away. Jungle Cruise being announced much later but being finished much earlier suggests to me that perhaps the changes aren’t as substantive as implied. Then again, the tone and appearance of Jungle Cruise can be dramatically changed in a limited amount of time–just look what happens each year literally overnight for Christmas with Jingle Cruise! We’ll keep you posted on future developments with Jungle Cruise, and other attraction updates at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
What do you think of Jungle Cruise being reimagined? Excited for new show scenes and some script rewrites? Are you likewise cautiously optimistic, or apprehensive about the changes? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!