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No Lion, the Skipper Is the Real King of the Jungle Cruise

No Lion, the Skipper Is the Real King of the Jungle Cruise
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No Lion, the Skipper Is the Real King of the Jungle Cruise

No Lion, the Skipper Is the Real King of the Jungle Cruise

In 1916 in Brazil, the skipper Frank Wolff organized the cheapest jungle cruise in the Amazon. And without a doubt the most cheesy, as it introduces tourists to the wonderful sights of the river with a spiel overflowing with doozies.

“If you look to the left of the boat, you will see very playful toucans. They are playing their favorite beak wrestling game. The only downside is that only two can play.

“The rocks you see here in the river are sandstone. But some people take them for granite. This is one of my bouldering attractions.

And the highlight of the visit: “Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for the eighth wonder of the world” he says, advancing towards the highest point, as his rickety steamboat passes behind a makeshift waterfall. “Wait for him … the bottom of the water!” “

Frank’s guests can moan and roll their eyes at his fun jokes on Disney’s “Jungle Cruise,” starring Dwayne Johnson as the swashbuckling skipper and arriving July 30 on Disney + and in theaters. But the skippers and their gossip – cheesy jokes and bad puns, the crankier the better – have been the real stars of the Jungle Cruise attraction since the premiere opened at Disneyland in 1955. Take ’em and it. fantastic seven minute boat trip along The rivers of South America, Asia and Africa, partly inspired by “The African Queen” could be just another descent on a fake waterway with fake landscapes .

It’s also one of the few show jobs at a Disney theme park where skippers can weave their own personalities into the script – from dry and geeky to lively and flamboyant – and engage guests in the action. “It’s this alchemy that occurs” that few attractions can reproduce, explains Alex Williams, a former skipper who now works for the Disney D23 fan club.

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With the new film as well as the freshly revamped story of the trip, the jungle cruise is now in the spotlight, and no one feels it more than the skippers themselves.

“We are all really excited to be able to share this experience with everyone and be the inspiration for the film,” said Flor Torres, “manager” of the attraction.

“Once a jump, always a jump.” This is the motto of skippers who have held a job requiring them to maneuver a boat while performing a stand-up routine dozens of times in an eight-hour day.

“People really take this to heart,” Torres added of the motto. “I know some skippers who worked here maybe 20, 30 years ago, and they always come to talk to us as if they were there yesterday.”

A handful made their way to bigger stages, like Ron Ziegler, the White House press secretary for President Richard M. Nixon; filmmaker John Lasseter; Steve Franks, writer and creator of the television series “Psych”; and, they say, actor Kevin Costner. (Alas, the stories that Robin Williams and Steve Martin honed their humor at the helm are apparently just myths.)

Other former skippers have shared their experiences on podcasts like “Tales From the Jungle Crews” and “The Backside of Water”, or have given pandemic support in the video “World Famous Jungle Cruise” by Freddy Martin and its sequel.

And a daring few have revealed antics not endorsed by Disney in books like “Skipper Stories: True Tales From Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise,” a compilation of six decades of anecdotes from former skippers, including author David John Marley.

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To know: The ritual to become a “real skipper” by peeing in the river at night. Jungle Justice inflicted on skippers who abused their break time (they suddenly found themselves scheduled for more than 90 minutes of non-stop cruises without water or toilet stopping). The after-hours party where $ 2,000 was spent on alcohol and condoms.

A good skipper is an extrovert, a nutcase and a bit of a thug. At least that’s what Bill Sullivan, who joined the Jungle Cruise in 1955, once said. Among his own fellow skippers was a man who arrived one morning with chameleons around his neck.

They didn’t have a lot of script at first, so the men wrote their own, Sullivan, who eventually became vice president of the Magic Kingdom, recalled in 2008. (The women didn’t become skippers until the mid-1990s. .)

The spiel had been tweaked several times by the time Franks landed his gig in the late 1980s. And to venture there was misguided.

“You would hear these stories of supervisors hiding in the jungle, listening to people who disrespect the books, but if that were true they would have boxed me on day 2,” he said. . “I knew I wanted to make films and I was doing stand-up at the time. And as soon as we got through the first corner, I was working on the hardware.

Franks stayed at Disneyland for eight and a half years, writing the screenplay for Adam Sandler’s “Big Daddy” while keeping watch in the Enchanted Tiki Room.

The crews might have been louder then, but “today we’re a lot more conservative, a little less of the Wild West,” said Kevin Lively, one of the two skippers chosen to represent Disneyland at the Tokyo Disney Resort’s 25th Anniversary Celebration in 2009. (There is also a Jungle Cruise to Walt Disney World and Hong Kong Disneyland.)

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Lively now works like a Disney fantasy, developing skipper’s gossip and contributing to the attraction’s “wildebeest” magic, which replaced racist elements like African spear-throwing “headhunters” with a story about Felix Pechman XIII, “the most unlucky skipper on the quay. “

And when the movie “Jungle Cruise” needed an injection of humor, Lively was there.

“I throw puns and references and Easter eggs at them, and kind of let them go wild,” he said. “There’s stuff in there that I think all of these skippers will get, which makes me happy on the moon. They really showed their love of attraction in this movie.

The substitute for Skipper Frank’s Amazon tour was not in the original script, said Jaume Collet-Serra, the film’s director. But once the filmmaker rode the Real Jungle Cruise and witnessed the reactions to this “back of the water” joke, he knew what he had to do.

Offer the public a mini jungle cruise experience.

“I was like, let me give them what they want for two minutes and then I’ll give them more, but at least they’ll be happy sooner,” he said. “You know, ‘This is what you came for – now that the movie begins.'”

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