How Disney has sold an action-comedy brand extension.
Jungle Cruise, based on the Disney Parks attraction of the same name, has been in development for nearly two decades. Finally hitting theaters – and Disney+ Premier Access – the movie stars Emily Blunt as Dr. Lily Houghton, a scientist in the first decades of the 20th century who’s determined to find the Tree of Life somewhere in the Amazon rainforest. With German competition on the same trail, Houghton enlists the aid of Frank “Skipper” Wolff (Dwayne Johnson). Wolff captains a steamboat selling naive tourists an embellished adventure down the river. Along the way the two have to survive not only their German competitors but all the dangers the Amazon has to offer on its own.
With a story that meshes the Disney ride with a bit of both Heart of Darkness and The African Queen, Disney has mounted a campaign that sells the movie – projected to earn $25-30 million at the box office – as an adventure comedy with two charming stars. Initial reviews have been middling, earning the film a 64% on Rotten Tomatoes. Let’s take a look at the details.
The first poster (by marketing agency BLT Communications), released in October 2019, shows what the movie is all about, with Lily and Frank standing at the front of his rickety boat as it travels up the river and through the jungle setting. Arrows sticking out of the hull show how dangerous the trip is, as do the skulls floating in the water and piranha leaping out to try and get a bite.
Disney used the social media app Weibo to release a special poster designed in the style of Chinese tapestries to celebrate Lunar New Year.
There’s a definite The Mummy-esque vibe on the next poster, released in March 2020. Houghton and Wolff are shown in the center swinging on a vine, the boat that is carrying them below as it makes its way up the river. Surrounding the pair in a vine-covered frame are some of the supporting characters as well as the other threats they’ll face along the way.
Same goes for the next poster from May of this year as the campaign ramped back up after a year off. Both this and the previous one-sheet look like someone aiming for a Drew Struzan style, though not quite hitting the mark.
A series of character posters featuring a fun design reminiscent of promotions for an expedition came out at the end of June.
Similar approaches were taken on the posters for IMAX, Dolby and RealD 3D, all of which try to evoke a feeling of nostalgia with their painted approaches and designs that are filled with all kinds of story detail.
The first trailer (5.3m views on YouTube), released in early October 2019, immediately presents Lily as a take charge explorer on the trail of a hidden plant rumored to have incredible healing properties. To help she enlists the services of Frank, a tour boat captain who engages in a bit of showmanship to keep his customers entertained on their travels. This trip is going to bring both of them into contact with threats that are much more real, we see.
The same basic premise is laid out in the second trailer (7.2m views on YouTube) from March 2020. Frank is skeptical of Lily’s claims since he’s been on the same hunt for the great healing power in the jungle. They’re going to face a number of threats on their journey, whether it’s from the animals around them, mysterious submarines tracking their movements, or supernatural forces that protect what they’re seeking. It’s all positioned as a big adventure.
Lots of CGI-heavy action and adventure is on display in the trailer (2.4m views on YouTube released over a year after the last one in May 2021. We get the same message of how Frank and Lily are somewhat reluctant partners who have to protect each other when the jungle turns dangerous and more threats present themselves. It’s fun and silly and works.
Two trailers – one featuring Frank’s perspective and the other featuring Lily’s – came out in late June. Each has an introduction from the appropriate star, with Lily’s coming out second so Blunt can label her’s as the “real trailer” unlike the fake one Johnson put out earlier.
Online and Social
Not much to the movie’s official website, just information how to buy tickets or sign up for Disney+ and basic marketing content.
Advertising, Publicity and Promotions
Attendees of Disney’s D23 Fan Expo in August 2019 were treated to an appearance by Blunt and Johnson along with other details revealed at the event.
Like many movies, its release date was pushed – in this case by a whole year – as a result of theater closures in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak. Eventually, in May of this year, Disney announced the film would receive a joint theatrical/Disney+ Premier Access release, with it becoming available to other streaming subscribers later on.
Disney announced in June it was reviving the “Behind The Attraction” series on Disney+ that would take viewers behind the scenes of popular rides and other locations at its parks, including Jungle Cruise.
Johnson made an appearance at Essence Fest in June, bringing with him exclusive footage from the movie.
TV spots like this began airing at that time, once more highlighting not only the adventure but also the chemistry between the two stars.
A featurette from early July has the stars talking about the story and its origins in the Disney World attraction. Another short featurette has the stars and director talking about the stunts and action of the movie.
Speaking of that attraction, it got a makeover in early July that removed some of the more dated elements, many of which were much more overtly offensive than they were when the ride was first introduced.
Ramirez talked about shooting the film when he appeared on “The Tonight Show.” Johnson did likewise when he appeared on “Kimmel.” Both he and Blunt talked about working together on “Access Hollywood.”
One of Lily’s daring escapes was featured in the first clip, given exclusively to Fandango MovieClips. Other clips showed more of the supernatural and very natural threats they face as they make their way along the Amazon.
A recent THR cover story focused on the pairing of Johnson and Blunt, including how he worked to overcome her reluctance to sign on to the project because he wanted to work with her and thought she’d be brilliant. It also covered some of the initial screening reactions, which led Disney to emphasize the dynamic between the leads.
The world premiere event was held at Disneyland (natch) earlier this week with the cast and crew in attendance and talking about how much fun the film is.
A few additional clips like this showing another harrowing escape of Houghton’s came out in the last few days.
- Applebee’s, which offered a free movie ticket for those spending $25 on food. The promotion was supported by online and other ads.
- Echelon, which gave members a look at exclusive behind the scenes footage during scheduled themed exercise sessions.
- GetMyBoat, which ran a sweepstakes awarding either a grand prize of a boat outing for six or tickets to see the movie.
This moment, seen in many of the trailers, TV spots and other videos, perfectly sums up Disney’s marketing of the movie.
Instead of selling it *just* as an adventure comedy, the campaign has sold the movie as a buddy adventure comedy, with Blunt and Johnson offering clear point/counterpoint dynamics that are emphasized by their very different characters and statures. That’s why they’ve frequently appeared together in TV and other interviews and why there were two or three instances of them being on opposite sides as they introduced trailers, announced production was starting and so on.
It’s a common tactic used for many movies with Johnson but it’s great to see Blunt able to show off her comedic chops a bit and have some fun, with Johnson acting as a perfectly earnest if exaggerated foil.
Now we just have to see if it’s enough to bring people to theaters.