Tarzan Movie Review

Every time someone makes a "Tarzan" movie, they take wild libertieswith Edgar Rice Burroughs' text.

Burroughs' Tarzan didn't live in a treehouse with an elephant-operatedelevator, but Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan did in one his campy 1930s classics(if that's the word). Burroughs didn't imagine any Tarzan erotic adventures,either, but John Derek cast his wife Bo as a nude, sexpot Jane in 1981.

Disney's new and visually magnificent animated "Tarzan"takes different kinds of liberties -- the kind necessary to create a kid-friendlymovie (minimal violence; cute, wise-cracking sidekicks; et al). But withthe freedom allowed by the animation medium, in this movie Tarzan himselfmay be the most authentic vision of the character to date. This is a Tarzanunlimited by what human actors are capable of physically, and in termsof authenticity it makes all the difference in the world.

As envisioned by Burroughs and brought to life by leadanimator Glen Keane and directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck he moves likean animal, low to the ground, resting on his under-turned knuckles. Heswings effortlessly from branch to branch like a gibbon, instead of likea stunt man looking for his next strategically-placed vine. He also surfsthe jungle tree trunks like a skateboarder, making copious use of the movie'scoolest effect -- a new computer animation technique called Deep Canvasthat gives the an astonishing, three-dimensional feel to the lush, livingjungle, which Tarzan kowabungas though at roller-coaster speeds.

But enough about technique. Of course "Tarzan"looks incredible. It's just Disney once again rising to the occasion andthen some. Advancing the film animation art form by leaps and bounds isold hat to these guys.

Just as important is that the 'toon "Tarzan"is also a whole lot of fun and joyously 'toony, even with its highfalutinartistic achievements.

Disney's Tarzan is an indelible, honest hero voiced byTony Goldwyn (best known as the bad yuppie in "Ghost") with noblegrunts and cat-like curiosity to go with his requisite Sunday school lessonidentity hang-ups that stem from being raised by gorillas.

Said curiosity is piqued with the arrival in his jungleof the first humans he's ever seen -- a Victorian safari, consisting ofa diminutive, clumsy professor-type anthropologist (Nigel Hawthorne) andhis prim but adventurous daughter, Jane (Minnie Driver).

I don't think I need to go into too much detail here sinceHollywood has had darn near 70 variations on this yarn in the last 90 years.Suffice to say, the parts of the story you don't already know by heartconcern the safari guide, Clayton (Brian Blessed), a mustache-twirlingGreat White Hunter with designs on Tarzan's relatives for a zoo exhibit.

No one has ever accused Disney of originality at the screenplaylevel.

However, when it comes to storytelling technique, "Tarzan"is more ambitious and inventive than anything the mouse house has crankedout since "The Lion King."

Complementing the standard "me Tarzan, you Jane"stuff is an intelligently symbolic scene of Tarzan removing of Jane's crispwhite gloves (after rescuing her from a cougar, natch). The movie illustratesa trading cultures/budding romance sequence with a crafty zoetrope andslide show montage (ala "Butch Cassidy") of Tarzan's exposureto Western technology (telescope, bicycle, books) and customs. And thevoices of Goldwyn and especially Driver instill their cartoon incarnationswith great vivacity. Although one has to wonder at times how bright thesefolks are since it takes them most of the picture before they catch onto the completely transparent villain.

The story is, of course, predictable. The stock charactersare, of course, unavoidable, including comic relief sidekick critters likethe tomboy gorilla voiced obnoxiously by Rosie O'Donnell. This is the wayDisney does things, and we must remember no matter how much fun the movieis for us grown-ups, its really aimed at kids who couldn't care less aboutsuch trifles.

Except for a "Stomp"-style ditty called "Trashingthe Camp" (gorillas exploiting the fact that the Europeans took itall with them), the music is not sung by the characters this time around.Phil Collins provides the songs, which at first seem intrusive and overlysophisticated for the movie's untamed grain, and "Tarzan" is,at times, too reliant on them to illustrate emotions. But Collins' tunesinfuse the picture with a certain energy that is slowly contagious. Andat least it's not Randy Newman.

My only real complaint about "Tarzan" is thatthe last reel feels quite rushed, with Tarzan tempting tragedy by unknowinglyleading Clayton to the gorillas, a subsequent action scene, and Jane packingup, leaving and, of course, returning -- all in about 8 minutes.

Even five minutes added to the run time could have slowedthis breakneck resolution.

But "Tarzan" is definitely a keeper and one ofthe more unique and original Disney animation spectacles. The finally seamlessmarriage of computer and hand animation that stems from the Deep Canvastechnique will be its legacy, but what audiences will remember is thatthey had fun.

Cast & Crew


Comments

Tarzan Rating

" OK "

Rating: G, Friday, June 18, 1999

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