The original Jungle Cruise boat ride first opened in July 1955 at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. and has been amusing visitors ever since.
Over the years, the river has changed with the addition of an elephant bathing pool, gorillas and a new piranha scene. Disney also updated the ride by removing racist and colonial depictions just in time for the release of “Jungle Cruise,” in theaters and streaming on Disney Plus Premier.
The film’s production designer, Jean-Vincent Puzos, had several extensive sets to oversee: a London scene for the movie’s opening and closing and a remote village in the heart of the Amazon. The most complex were the sprawling jungle port town of Porto Velho and boat La Quila, owned by Frank (Dwayne Johnson).
Building La Quila
Skipper Frank uses the La Quila to give tours around the river, and it becomes a centerpiece of the film. Puzos pulled from real-life historical references, as well as from adventure classics such as “The African Queen,” “Indiana Jones” and “Romancing the Stone.”
“This was the most important set on the movie. It was a prototype of the attraction and had an ‘African Queen’ style to it. But we wanted to push it visually,” he says.
“I researched steamboats and tugboats. I would go to scrap yards, but also looked at photos from books from Canada, South America and North America to ensure I had a landscape of possibilities. We also looked at the boats used by conquistadors from the 16th and 17th centuries.
“Once we had the scale, we decided to build the boat 39 feet long. It could be used by one person, but also fit the tourists who were on the Jungle Cruise at the beginning.
“The first week of prep, I went to Disneyland and met the people behind the scenes including the skipper and saw how the river was used.
“Inside the boat, we based that design on the actual ride with the benches that those passengers sit on. The triangle pattern aspect of the boat combined influences from the ride, the conquistadors and the immortals.
“We built two boats to avoid logistical problems. We had a boat in Hawaii and another in Atlanta that would endure all the effects. “
Puzos built the port town in Kauai, Hawaii. “It was exciting because there’s the market, a harbor, the boats, a hotel and the restaurant. There’s also Frank’s workshop and Pontoon,” he says. “When you build a port like that, I love to scout and find locations. So, I built this around this snake of water where there was water on both sides, and it was a dream to build the city around it, with those four boats owned by Nilo.
“I had an incredible construction team who built those sets, the submarine and La Quila.”