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IN SHORT: Sap-free Disney. [Rated [G]]
A bit of history: Disney allowed a minute or so of Tarzan, then in production, to be shown at the 1998 San Diego ComiCon. When the lights came up Cranky, and all the other toon-heads present, needed a couple of minutes to find where our jaws had dropped because what we saw looked like Burne Hogarth's definitive Tarzan artwork animated. The majority reaction was a double-edged sword. The positive was the hope that the rest of the flick looked as incredible as the tiny bit we saw. The negative was the dread that the Disney style would really screw up what is an American icon. San Diego was filled with folk who ate and breathed the work by Tarzan's creator Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as the comic adaptations by Hal Foster and Hogarth. We toon-heads carry as much baggage into the movie theater as Tarzan and Disney do with their reps. For all of us, that baggage presents hurdles to overcome.
Cranky never does a note by note comparison with Source Material, and I'm not going to start now. Burroughs wrote "Tarzan of the Apes" 80 plus years ago, when the world was a much different place. Then, safaris were killing expeditions. Now, cameras have replaced guns. The problem facing this film's creators is that, whether it's big game hunting or animals killing for dinner, blood and death and killing is integral to the Tarzan universe. Any graphic representation would scare the popcorn out of the three year olds lugged to the theater by parents expecting "a Disney film," with all that the mandatory [G] rating implies. So how is Disney, which has a family friendly rep to maintain, going to deal with stories that are rife with killing?
They do very well, thank you. Fellow toon-heads who tromped over to the press junket were making comparisons to the Oscar nominated Beauty and the Beast. Cranky, who didn't like B&B, leans more towards The Lion King (and only if you focus on everything but the Hakuna Matata drek, which leaves the almost perfect "Circle of Life" and the breathtaking stampede sequences).
Long time readers know how I feel about this stuff . . . Disney could have chucked the singing and dancing jungle creatures and put Tarzan out under the Touchstone label, as they did with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but they've never listened to me in the past and aren't about to start now. On all counts, Tarzan is a great Disney flick, remarkably free of all the cutesy stuff you may associate with their stuff. Yes, there's one singing and dancing monkey number -- Rosie O'Donnell insisted on a song -- but it's well integrated into the story with lots of visual gags. Some of the jungle sequences are too fast paced for my tastes, but that's probably because I'm an ancient old coot.
Disney's adaptation, by Bob Tzudiker & Noni White and Tab Murphy, has kept the origin and ape characters, Kala (Glenn Close as Tarzan's adopted mom) and Kerchak (Lance Henriksen) as well as the always important Jane (Minnie Driver). Almost everything else you want in a Tarzan flick, that being the vine swinging, and the Tarzan yell, is here. There's no Cheetah, though there is a little monkey pal who pops his head in once or twice, and Tarzan's ascension to Lord of the Apes has been modified slightly from its origin. In this story, which stresses family and non-judgmental values, the change fits. If you don't remember, or never read, the original, there's nothing bothersome about it.
In a visual montage to one of Phil Collins' soundtrack songs, we see the well known origin of the Ape-Man: the shipwreck and survival of Lord and Lady Greystoke and their babe; their attempt to survive and, well off camera, the killing of the parental units by Sabor the leopard. As additional songs by Collins move the story forward in time, we see the adopted Tarzan (Alex D. Linz voices the kidlet and Tony Goldwyn is the adult) grow and frolic with happy ape friend Terk (O'Donnell) and elephant pal Tantor (Wayne Knight). For the most part unaware that he is of a different species, Tarzan grows and performs as well as any hairless ape could. He's not as fast and hideously hairless but, as he promises Kala, he endeavors to be "the best ape ever!" The sound of distant gunshots brings his world down when Tarzan discovers human scientist Professor Archimedes Q. Porter (Nigel Hawthorne) and his daughter Jane (Driver) on safari, wishing to observe gorillas in their native environment. Their trigger happy pointman, Clayton (Brian Blessed) has other ideas, as the going price for gorillas in this turn of the century story is £300 Sterling (about $1500 if my history and math hold up) a head.
Of the stellar cast, Minnie Driver's Jane stands out, at least to these ears. Tarzan still does the rescue bit, in a frenetic bit of animation involving a pack of baboons and the run for safety, in the deep jungle. Locking the story into the jungle setting allows the writers time to build a relationship between he and she, and shows how the out of place Jane eventually accepts her role in the saga. The five songs by Phil Collins -- Cranky's had the soundtrack CD pushed to eleven -- flat out rock. Collins' percussion (you do remember that he's a drummer, right?) drives the flick forward, and is well complemented by Mark Mancina's underscore.
As for the animation, you are hereby directed to the Cranky Critic® StarTalk pages, where supervising animator Glen Keane is queried. Also in those pages, interviews with stars Glenn Close, Tony Goldwyn and the ever popular Phil Collins.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Tarzan, he would have paid...
Tarzan's a very excellent and satisfying Disneyflick, endorsed despite my baggage. There's nothing here that will terrify a three year old and the bigger kidlets, through low teen-hood in the sneak Cranky attended, walked out as very happy campers.
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