Release Date: June 16, 1999
Director: Kevin Lima and Chris Buck
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Tarzan is a story that has been adapted to film many times and although I can’t recall watching the other versions, the story is very familiar. The Disney takes makes the idea of family the focus with Tarzan’s desire for acceptance among the gorilla community a driving force of the narrative. There are also ideas of colonialism and environmental exploitation with the arrival of Jane Porter and her father to appreciate the gorillas, while their guide is a one-dimensional, moustache-twirling villain in Clayton (played by a poorly used BRIAN BLESSED), who seeks to capture the gorillas. This movie is reminiscent of earlier Disney animated features like The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Pocahontas.
I particularly like the characterization of Jane in this movie, who has many of the mannerisms of her voice actress Minnie Driver, and is demure in period-appropriate manner, but also adventuress and bold without falling into “strong woman” stereotypes. Casting Rosie O’Donnell as Tarzan’s best friend Terk seems like an extremely 90s thing to do, but it works and adds a good comic relief element to the film. Phil Collins is easy to make a punching bag, but his music doesn’t seem to fit this film, especially in a scene when Tarzan’s adoptive mother sings to baby Tarzan, and then switches to Collins singing the same song, draining the heart from the scene. The best musical number is the one where a group of gorillas make up a tune while trashing the Porter’s camp.
Tarzan is a beautifully animated film of a familiar story. There are no surprises here, but no big disappointments either.