I’m sure I’m not the only one who raised an eyebrow when Disney announced they would be making their own version of the legendary Tarzan character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The character has been in so many live action films and TV shows that I’ve lost track. One area where Tarzan has not really been represented in though is animation. With Disney’s “Tarzan” the results are so effective that one has to wonder why the character fiddled around in live action movies at all. Live action is a limiting world where invisible forces that can only be explained by science keep us well-grounded and limited. Tarzan has largely just been able to swing on a vine from tree to tree. In animation though he swings, slides, and even appears to surf on the trees of the jungle, free from the laws of reality.
This makes “Tarzan” a roller coaster of a movie before we even get to anything that happens in the story. Disney goes the origin route where a young Tarzan is shipwrecked on the jungle with his parents when he is a baby. A cheetah kills his parents but the boy himself is saved by a female gorilla named Kala, who voices to take care of the boy and train him to be an ape. Tarzan’s growing up is sped up thanks to the use of montages. These montages contain narrative songs by Phil Collins, whose progressive rock roots and heavy use of drums fits the movie like a glove. Of course humans are going to come to the island and Tarzan is going to feel conflicted and confused about whom he is and where his place in life is.
This is keeping true to the Tarzan books as well as other Disney films like “The Lion King.” Though the film is fun to watch in most areas I will admit that the story doesn’t offer anything new to the Tarzan legacy outside of making the character truly work on screen for the first time. There is a bounty hunter villain named Clayton that matches wits with our title hero at a few points in the film, but I find it unlikely he’s going to go down as one of Disney’s great villains. “Tarzan” is not what you would call a great Disney movie but it is a very good Disney movie. Disney has always been the company to lead in pushing the boundaries of animation, and they continue to do that here in how they create movement and action. “Tarzan” is another leap forward in this regard and you can’t help but feel excited at what the next step will hold.