At first glance, Shipwreckers: The Curse of the Cursed Temple of Curses looks like it fell out of Adventureland. This Disney Hyperion middle grade novel tells the story of a family on an exotic river expedition with a wise cracking captain and the promise of riches for the brave. But despite coming from a writing team that has worked on memorable Disney Channel series like “Phineas and Ferb” that appeal to a wide audience, the book is a dizzying mess for anyone over the age of 14.
Mike and his sister Dani are on an exotic family vacation and their parents have booked a river cruise on the Bermuda Betty, piloted by an egocentric moron named Captain Kevin. The Captain quickly ditches the parents, essentially kidnapping Mike and Dani, and drags them along on a series of side adventures so wacky they’re groan worthy. With so many random adventures strung together, they each become successively less interesting. If the story were an EKG reading, it flatlines at the highest peak and stays at that level of over-excitement, which makes the whole thing feel uninteresting past a certain point. What should feel like a climax becomes just another far fetched anecdote.
It’s obvious that Authors Scott Peterson and Joshua Pruett are Disney Parks fans. Captain Kevin’s ship is named like a Jungle Cruise vessel and like the attraction, the story features exotic settings and bad jokes. There are even some Easter Eggs for fans to find, including a line about a room having “No windows and no doors.” But the characters feel underdeveloped and the pace of the story is uncomfortably erratic.
Kids are smart and while their sense of humor may find elements of Shipwreckers to be silly enough for giggles, the comedy typically comes from things that would be funnier as sight gags. It’s clear that Peterson and Pruett are more at home writing for animation and the content here would likely lend itself far better to that format. But this novel doesn’t create a convincing proof of concept for me.
I wish the story had more mystery and intrigue. If they had approached it from the standpoint of creating a compelling mystery that builds on itself, they likely would have struck gold with kids. But Shipwreckers: The Curse of the Cursed Temple of Curses almost feels like they put a bunch of random words in a hat and drew two for each chapter, stopping when they had enough words to fill 300 pages. I often felt like I was reading a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book and somehow kept choosing the option that didn’t end in certain death.
It’s not often that I dislike a book Disney publishes, but Shipwreckers: The Curse of the Cursed Temple of Curses is one to steer clear of. They say you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but they don’t say anything about judging a book by its title. This one lets you know upfront that it’s a shipwreck.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.