The ride in question is Jungle Cruise, on its surface a seemingly mundane boat tour past a slew of animatronic animals that’s made entertaining by the “skipper” driving the boat cracking super dumb jokes. It’s been part of Disney parks since Disneyland first opened in 1955, but in recent years, park attendees have begun to discuss some of the more dated, offensive things in the ride, specifically “the negative depiction of natives,” 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 explained. “When you look at the Jungle Cruise, as it is today, there are just a couple of scenes that don’t do that and needed a refresh. But 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.”
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So while it’s true that Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are set to star in a big budget Jungle Cruise movie sometime in the near future, and that Disney changed the Pirates of the Caribbean rides to tie into the Pirates movies, that is not the case for Jungle Cruise. In fact, there’s no connection at all.
“These adjustments are really focused on enhancing the existing attraction storyline and addressing some areas that needed refreshing along the way,” Beatty said. “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. Does that mean that as Imagineers we won’t put Easter eggs in there? We’ll definitely do that. But we are not adding a major storyline or character from that film.”
So what is being changed? Besides being more culturally sensitive, the Jungle Cruise will now have a more linear, cohesive story. In the past, it basically was just scene after scene with a very loose through line. Now, it’ll explain one of its most famous scenes: the group of people who have been chased up a pole by a rhino. That scene will kick off the new ride.
“Did you ever wonder who those explorers were or where they came from? What’s their backstory? As part of the enhanced storyline, each one of them will have their own story and cultural heritage,” Beatty said. “There’s a birdwatcher, an entomologist, a wildlife painter, and a photographer, and each one will have a different reason for being on the expedition.” A new character will also be added, the group’s skipper, which will tie into the addition of their boat, crashed nearby and overrun by chimpanzees.
“We’re not really re-envisioning [the rhino] scene, we’re just adding a narrative and storytelling to bring things to life and connect that moment with other happenings along the river,” Beatty said.
Most importantly though, Beatty was sure to make it clear that these changes would not take away what makes the Jungle Cruise such a memorable ride: the skippers.
“I was nervous the first time we brought some of the skippers in, just to sit with them and say, ‘Here’s why we’re making the changes and here’s what some of the changes are going to be,’” Beatty said. “You could see, at first, some concern, because obviously there’s a lot of love around this attraction. But a few minutes into the presentation, the smiles came onto their faces. They loved it. The feedback from them was that it feels like classic Jungle Cruise, like something that has always been there.”
And yes, the best joke on the whole ride will remain.
“We’re keeping a lot of the classic jokes that the fans know and love, like the backside of water,” Beatty said, “But it will give our skipper some new material to play off of. So that’s exciting for them. They were really excited about having some new source material.”
There’s no specific date on when these additions will be completed, especially with Disneyland currently closed to visitors. But Beatty said they’re hoping to be done later this year and that the changes will be exactly the same at both Disneyland and Disney World.
Read more from Beatty in his full interview with D23.com.