The movie is about the life of Tarzan. Tarzan was a small orphan who was raised by an ape named Kala since he was a child. He believed that this was his family, but on an expedition Jane Porter is rescued by Tarzan. He then finds out that he's human. Now Tarzan must make the decision as to which family he should belong to...Written by
Tarzan is considered to be the final film of the 'Disney Renaissance'. It's hard to argue with that, as it was the studios last big box office hit and widely acclaimed film for a number of years. It is also a story that is perfectly tailored to Disney's style given its strong underlying themes and emotive characters. Importantly it understands the key aspects within the story as it provides a lot of feeling and intrigue to what is a straight-forward story. Tarzan's parents are killed in the jungle, he is raised by apes and he later battles the feelings that he doesn't belong with them. It is rather bare when you look at it like that, but Disney knows that what is important is seeing these characters grow and change through the challenges put in their way.
Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) himself is near perfect. He's kind, he's curious, he's smart, but he is also very much human and makes mistakes in realising that. He is someone that we can get behind and care about. Seeing him grow throughout the film and become more ape- like whilst becoming less human is really engaging. You do feel for him and connect with his struggle of getting his adoptive father to accept him as his own. I wasn't a fan of the stuff with the young Tarzan, but once he gets older the story keeps on becoming more interesting as we see Tarzan questioning who he is.
The other characters are good too. Jane is just fantastic. She takes such joy from the little details, has plenty of funny moments and Minnie Driver does a superb job. Plus I found the romance between her and Tarzan very believable, more than I can say for many Disney efforts. Kala (Glenn Close) is nicely sympathetic and her bond with Tarzan is well developed, while Karchak has legitimate reasons for his hostility and Lance Henriksen is excellent as always. Clayton is a slightly weak villain and another who is just after money (which is a bit of a cop-out), but Brian Blessed's booming voice gives the character something of an edge. The professor (Nigel Hawthorne) gets some funny lines too.
The animation is just spectacular. To see Tarzan effectively surf across the trees and vines is wonderful to see. What impresses me is how well the animation flows because at times it moves so quickly, especially in those surfing scenes. The jungle setting lends itself to some creative visuals too. There's some fabulous action sequences too that are always full of energy and really suspenseful, especially with the climax. The story is told relatively serious which is a suitable for a story like this. The comic relief can feel out of place but it is mostly kept to a minimum and most of the humour simply comes from the situations.
The music is simply brilliant. I'm not a big fan of Phil Collins, but the songs here are really good songs and the lyrics perfectly convey the emotions that Tarzan is going through like they should. 'Two Worlds' and 'Strangers Like Me' are especially good. They might get in the way for some, but for me they were really impressive and never felt out of place. Of course the film isn't without flaws. Though Tarzan's dilemma is addressed, I would have liked to see the film look deeper into his problems. I also found characters like Terk (Rosie O'Donnell) rather annoying and not really needed. Plus I wish the cheetah that killed Tarzan's parents was given more of a story, he could have been a great obstacle for Tarzan to overcome given the personal history.
Tarzan is a very impressive piece from Disney and it knows exactly where to keep its focus. It crafts a character that the audience cares about and puts him through a journey that we want to see the outcome of. I enjoyed how serious the story was kept and how the relationships between the characters felt real. It isn't perfect and stumbles at times, but its heart is always in the right place and when it works it is frequently brilliant. I like the characters, the animation is just great and the music is really effective. Tarzan is a worthy take on a well-known story, frequently striking a chord and doing what Disney do best.
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