Directed By: Chris Buck & Kevin Lima
Produced By: Bonnie Arnold
Based On: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes (1914)
Premiered On: June 12, 1999
Distribution By: Buena Vista Pictures
Arguably the last of the Disney Renaissance films, as technically Fantasia 2000 is akin to its predecessor being a collection of short films and the film Dinosaur is more akin to the likes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Enchanted insomuch that while there is animation involved there is also a lot more live action work. While I don’t deny that Fantasia 2000 is truly the big bang ending to the Disney Renaissance, because let me tell you, you’ve not seen a greater cartoon segment than the likes of that which featured the characters of the Phoenix and the Sprite of Spring, Tarzan still makes for a good finale.
The basic summary of the film goes that a English couple’s boat sinks in the midst of a terrible storm but they, and their infant son, survive and manage to make a home for themselves in the jungles of Africa. Unfortunately, as the introductory song attests, for all that is beautiful and wondrous in such an environment, so too are there many dangers. Tarzan’s parents are killed and the young baby boy is adopted and raised by the gorilla Kala as a child of her own, despite the misgivings and outright dismissal from her mate and leader of the gorilla troop, Kerchak.
Time goes on and though Tarzan initially struggled to thrive and survive amidst the apes and the other animals of the jungle, he grows in strength and prowess, eventually, and rather unknowingly, avenging the deaths of his parents and that of Kerchak and Kala’s own lost child by fighting and killing the leopard Sabor. However, Tarzan’s view of himself and the world around him is rocked down to its very foundations as some new visitors have come to the jungles of Africa. Strangers who look very much like him.
As before, there is much more to the story beyond what I’ve said but as with Mulan and other Disney films I’ve reviewed, I want to entice people to watch these films for themselves based on what little I’ve described rather than how much I’ve laid out. That and save for The Black Cauldron and a few other films further down the line, I’m looking at you direct-to-DVD “sequels” your time is coming, I’ve yet to see any soapbox upon which to stand upon.
Between the book and the film, there is actually quite a surprising amount of differences, particularly in how certain characters are portrayed and how the original novel ended. First and foremost, Tarzan’s first encounter with humans was not with Jane Porter, her father, or his cousin Clayton, but rather a tribe of African natives that had moved close to his territory and whom had, unknowingly, incurred his wrath with but one single mistake.
They killed Tarzan’s mother.
Though he avenged her, Tarzan kept a rather antagonistic relationship with the tribe, enough so that they started to believe him as being more of an evil spirit than a fellow human being and attempted to placate him in various fashions.
Contrary to what happens in the film, Kerchak actually fights Tarzan to the death, which thus promotes him to being the Lord of the Apes as he’s so aptly named. Another, rather weird difference I’ll admit, is that in the novel, it was Tarzan himself who not only discovered his parents’ cabin but who taught him how to read and another visitor to Africa altogether, a French naval officer, who teaches him how to behave amongst civilized people.
Oh, and teaches him French too but that’s to be expected really…
One final, and admittedly rather surprising, difference between the novel and the film itself is how it ends. See, rather than staying with Tarzan in the jungles of Africa, Jane and her father left for America, specifically Wisconsin, and though he eventually made his way to her and renew their old acquaintance, Tarzan and Jane did not end up together as she was, at the time, engaged to another man and Tarzan chose to not interfere with her happiness.
Considering she was going to be married to Clayton, Tarzan’s cousin and all around scumbag, I’d say some interference was more than necessary.
With the likes of Phil Collins adding to the music of the film, pinning down one song in particular was as easy as it is difficult. For while the song “You’ll Be in My Heart” has won both Academy and Global Globe Awards, it is still technically a lullaby and while an extremely wonderful and heartwarming song, it does not truly describe the adversities of Tarzan. “Strangers Like Me” comes at a close second and is tied with “Son of Man” for both actual music and fun visuals, especially the former with the various attempts at educating Tarzan.
Ultimately, it falls upon the introductory and ending song of the film, “Two Worlds” that best fits for the film as a whole. Aside from all but spelling out the hardships that Tarzan faces being a part of two different worlds, the world that he knows and the world to which he belongs… There is rarity amongst films wherein a song perfectly fits with what is happening on screen and this song is hands down the first to come to mind whenever I think of such things.
Overall, I give Tarzan… hrm… Oh, who am I kidding, ten out of five once more. Aside from stunning landscapes and wonderful music, the animation quality in this film is virtually second to none in the entire Disney Renaissance. It is an actual fact that, currently mind you, Tarzan is the most muscularly accurate depiction of a human being in animation history, which in itself is extremely hilarious as many of the animators had presumed that animating him would be extremely easy as the only clothing they had to worry about was his loin cloth.