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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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