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Animation Artist Magazine review of Disney's Tarzan.

Warning: The following review contains spoilers from Disney's animated film, Tarzan. It is highly recommended that you first watch the movie before reading this review.

The story of Tarzan has been told on the big screen 47 different times, making it the second most filmed story in Hollywood history (Dracula is the first).  Tarzan first saw the big screen as a silent movie in 1918. Now, 47 tellings of the story later, comes Disney's adaptation in the form of a full-length animated feature film. As Disney proves, Tarzan is a great story for the animation marketplace with Disney's Tarzan being the first time it has been given an animated treatment.

Hoping to capture magic with Tarzan, Disney has assembled a nearly unbeatable team.  From music by Phil Collins to excellent background scores by Mark Mancina (buy his Twister score for some more excellent music) and a strong animation team, Disney will no doubt make strong impressions and a lot of money.  Tarzan will no doubt be a big hit at the Box Office and while it's a great movie, it could have been even better.  Had Disney better developed the second half of the film, it could have easily recreated a classic not seen since Beauty and the Beast.

Quick Summary
Disney's Tarzan follows the extraordinary adventures of an orphaned infant raised by a family of gorillas and ultimately accepted as one of their own, destined to be their leader.  As Tarzan matures into a young man with all the instincts of a jungle animal and the physical prowess of an athletic superstar, his life changes forever when he finally meets other humans, with whom he feels an immediate and irresistible bond, especially Jane, the daughter of a giddy scientist.  They are on an expedition to study gorillas in their natural habitat.  But when their "protector", Clayton, plans to capture the gorillas for his own greedy gain, it's up to Tarzan to save the day.

The Awesome
The first five minutes of Tarzan is absolutely captivating.  Disney not only opens up with an action sequence (a ship burning), but also does some impressive and powerful transitions between the human family and gorilla family. Not since The Lion King has there been such a powerful opening. The morphing of two different, but similar, situations helps to instantly build the story and your emotions to the upcoming events. We could easily watch the first five minutes over and over again (dozens of times) without it losing its impact. Disney is to be highly commended for such a strong opening.  Disney satisfactorily answers all your questions as to what happened to Tarzan's real parents and as to why Kala, Tarzan's gorilla mother, fights to keep him in the beginning.

Another awesome aspect of the film is actually something that Disney didn't do. Disney didn't force the villain to sing.  In fact, the way Disney structures the songs throughout Tarzan does a great job of moving the story forward.  There seems to be an unwritten rule in past animated films that the villain must sing. This created awkward out-of-character (and out of place) situations for villains like Scar ( The Lion King), Jaffar (Aladdin), and Rasputin (FOX's Anastasia). Disney has grown beyond such artistic pauses with Tarzan where thankfully Clayton (the villain) doesn't burst out in song.

Clayton and Porter -
For once the villain doesn't sing!  Here Clayton, our sly and villainess adverturer, reassures Professor Porter that he will lead them to the gorillas.
The Great
Disney's telling of the Tarzan story was flawless until 30 minutes into the film when Clayton is introduced into the movie. Up until then the story was strong, character development was solid, and Tarzan was on a great adventure to the point where you didn't care if any other human elements were ever introduced because it was so much fun and intriguing. All the parts with Sabor (who makes a better villain than Clayton) were very intense and strong. You are given a strong feel for how all the characters interact and what their motives are for the decisions they make. It is 30 minutes of absolute great storytelling.

The songs in Tarzan are also great. Only one song, "Trashing the Camp", creates a small pause in the story, but it's also one of the most entertaining for kids. 

Phil Collins does an excellent job with the songs and there's no doubt that the soundtrack will be a top seller this summer.  Equally impressive are the background scores by Mark Mancina.  Mancina is one of our top three favorite composers whose background scores we love to listen to (the other two are John Williams and Hans Zimmer). In Tarzan, Mancina doesn't disappoint.  The only disappointment was that only a few of his background scores were released onto the soundtrack!  This is, in our opinion, a major oversight by Disney.  Great score writers (i.e. James Horner, John Williams, etc.) can sell soundtracks just as well as singers can. Just look at the sales of the soundtrack to Star Wars: Episode 1.

Another great aspect of Tarzan is Disney's use of its new "Deep Canvas" animation technique. Deep Canvas allows the two-dimensional characters to move believably through their jungle environments. Look for more information on this technique in an upcoming Tarzan feature story (behind the scenes) by Animation Artist magazine.

Disney's humor in Tarzan is very good. Instead of having to resort to fart jokes or annoying humor (like Star Wars: Episode 1 The Phantom Menace and past Disney films), Tarzan brings a lot of original humor throughout the entire film that is genuine instead of forced. One of our favorite scenes is when the baboons are chasing Jane. Tarzan comes out of nowhere to rescue her. As soon as he gets near a "safe" area, Jane (who doesn't know him yet) yells "put me down, put me down!"  He does. Then she sees all the baboons coming after her again and quickly yells "pick me up, pick me up!"  Hopefully Disney will use this same type of humor in its future films.  The innocence in the film gives it a fun-loving and light hearted atmosphere.

The Average
After Clayton, Jane, and her father are introduced into the story, the development of the characters is average at best and poor at worst.  Clayton is no more than a greedy villain.  Jane is just a girl tossed into the story to play the part of Tarzan's girlfriend.  We really don't know anything about her and never truly do, besides the fact that she enjoys gorillas and loves to draw animals.  It's sad to sit through 30 minutes of excellent story telling and character development only to get thrown in a new direction that isn't as strong or solid.  For example, Clayton's actions (shooting at Tarzan, drawing pictures of vicious gorillas, etc.) would have been more than enough to create a natural caution in Tarzan. Being raised in the jungle, Tarzan would have been able to read Clayton's body language and even parallel it to Sabor's personality.  Animals are a great judge of character, and Tarzan would have developed this skill.  Disney could have taken a page out of its live action The Jungle Book story for great character development in this area.  Instead, Tarzan, Jane and her father come off as

Terk and Tarzan
Rosie O'Donnell is the talented voice of Terk. 
Here Terk and Tarzan are
watching the approach of a deadly leopard named Sabor, who has entered their home territory.
almost dumb in this area as everyone (including the audience) but them can easily see that Clayton is a villainous person with different motives.  

Disney got an excellent voice cast for the characters.  Rosie O'Donnell fans will come out to see the movie if for no other reason.  She does a good job as the voice of Terk, Tarzan's childhood gorilla friend, coming off as funny with her tough attitude, yet sincere of heart.  Terk tends to help Tarzan get into trouble while saving his neck from Kerchak's anger.  Then there's Tantor (voice by Wayne Knight and Taylor Dempsey)

, Tarzan's elephant friend from childhood, who is so timid that he's scared of water!  That timidness fades throughout the film, however, turning Tantor into a "super elephant." Tony Goldwyn is the voice of Tarzan, Minnie Driver voices Jane, Lance Henriksen is Clayton and Glenn Close is the tender voice of Kala, Tarzan's gorilla mother.

The Bad
The ending to Tarzan is very weak one of the weakest endings of any Disney animated movie we've ever seen. The ending seems very rushed and character development, motives, and reactions seem thrown out the door.  Out of nowhere, Kerchak (the gorilla leader) decides to accept Tarzan, even though Tarzan is responsible for all the problems brought upon the gorilla family and even ultimately responsible for Kerchak's death (by leading Clayton to him).  Kerchak's "you came back" seems pulled right out of Beauty and the Beast. Then Jane's father suddenly says out of the blue to Jane "I think you should stay here" (with Tarzan, never to return to London).  How many fathers would tell their daughters that they should stay in a jungle with an ape-man and a bunch of gorillas?  And how many fathers would be so quick to part with their daughter? (which he was going to do until a few seconds after telling her to go).  He seems to be crossed between Bell's father (Beauty and the Beast) and Princess Jasmine's father (Aladdin). There's no uniqueness to him.

The other bad aspect of Tarzan is the villain, Clayton.  He adds nothing to the story and actually brings it to a lower level (versus the classic it could have become).  Disney would have been much better off getting rid of the Clayton character (been there, done that no originality) and sticking with Sabor as the main conflict in the story.

Overall Opinion
Overall, Tarzan is a great animated movie and a very strong effort by Disney.  The first 30 minutes alone create such a strong enough story that the movie could have ended just before Clayton enters and actually been a better film. The development of the family bonds were very exceptional and the values that can be read from these aspects are very positive.  Kids won't notice any of the problems with the film and adults may have mixed reactions (some won't care and for some it may ruin the movie).  There's no doubt in our mind, however, that this will be a major summer hit for Disney with a lot of repeat business.

Improving Tarzan
Had we been involved in the decision making process of Tarzan , here are a few things we would have done that, in our opinion, would have made the movie better.

    1) Get rid of Clayton. He adds nothing to the film.  Instead, develop Sabor as the villain that unexpectantly pops up a few times throughout the movie.  Have the film end with Tarzan defeating Sabor and placing him before Kerchak.  This was, by far, one of the most powerful aspects of the film and should have been saved until the end.  And, of course, keep Jane, but develop her personality and motives much more.

    2) Let the character that starts a song finish it!  It was quite surprising when Kala (the "mother" gorilla of Tarzan) starts singing a song only to have her voice morph into Phil Collins voice!  While many people may not catch this, hopefully it won't become an ongoing tradition by Disney.  Leave the popular artists like Phil Collins for the soundtrack and non-character singing songs, but please let a character finish a song that she starts!

    3) The death of Kerchak was not very emotional because there wasn't a bond between him and Tarzan.  Kerchak completely breaks out of character to suddenly accept Tarzan and put him in charge of the gorillas even though Tarzan is responsible for all the havoc and brought trouble to the gorillas just as Kerchak predicted at the beginning of the film. So to have Kerchak (a very wise gorilla even though he was at odds with Tarzan) suddenly accept Tarzan ("you came back") and put him in charge of the gorilla family was very unrealistic. Instead, the movie should have ended with Tarzan saving Kerchak's life from Sabor and being accepted by Kerchak even if it was through expressions/emotions instead of words.   This would have created a much more powerful ending.  Another alternative is to develop his character as secretly wanting to accept Tarzan, but denying it throughout the film, only to finally accept him in the end.

    4) Make Tarzan wiser. Tarzan developed strong instincts in the jungle and those instincts seemed thrown away when Clayton entered the picture.  If Clayton must be in the film, Tarzan should have been able to see right through the charade (like the audience could) and should have been much more aprehensive, careful, and wise. Under no circumstances would Tarzan have put the gorilla family in danger by leading Clayton right to them.  Tarzan should have seen Clayton as a "human Sabor."

    5) Jane's character development should have been stronger to show reasons why she should have stayed. Maybe she was a recluse with other humans and always dreamed of a place where she could roam free with the animals. We don't know, because her character isn't developed strong enough to give her motives for wanting to stay.

    6) Keep other animated films out of Tarzan. One of the greatest achievements a film can make is to submerse you so much in the story that you never leave its world.  When you throw in things like the teapots from Beauty and the Beast, that temporarily breaks a person from the story at hand. While cute, it does nothing to move the current story forward.  For example, in Beauty and the Beast (our favorite film of all time) you became completely lost in the story.  Disney didn't throw other movie elements into the film that would have popped you in and out of different worlds.  The only movie this type of placement is acceptable would be Aladdin.  The Genie, with his time traveling and magical ways, makes this an exception to the rule.  He's allowed to cross into the many worlds of Disney's films.

Even with the problems of Tarzan, it is a pleasure to watch.  The first 30 minutes are so perfect that it almost sets you up to be disappointed once the other humans (particularly Clayton) enter the story.  The first five minutes, especially, will have you on the edge of your seat. It accomplishes one of the best emotional set ups of any animated

Jane and Tarzan -
After rescuing Jane from a pack of irate baboons, Tarzan gets a chance to meet her and realizes that there are other "strangers" like himself.  Thus a beautiful and innocent romance blossoms.
movie. Overall, Tarzan has good morals, a strong family message, and a cute and innocent romance. For serious storytelling, however, it's only average.

If you have read this review and have not yet seen Tarzan what are you waiting for?  This is definitely a must-see animated movie, even though the second half of it has many flaws.  From the songs, music, humor, voice casting, and animation to the Deep Canvas techniques, Tarzan is a great crowd-pleaser. 

Our Rating
We give Tarzan a rating of 5 out of 5 for kids and 4 out of 5 for adults.  While it's not a classic (unless you separate the first 30 minutes from the rest of the movie), it is a fun-filled and excellently produced/animated adventure



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