Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: Tarzan

Tarzan

Release Date: June 12th, 1999 (released June 16th nationwide)

Inspiration: “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Budget: $130 million

Domestic Gross: $171 million

Worldwide Gross: $448.2 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89%

IMDB Score: 7.3/10

Storyline (per IMDB): 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…

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on through the canon as we come to the last official film of the 1990s as well as the last film of the Disney Renaissance, and I think it is safe to say that the Renaissance has been a tremendous period for Disney. While the back half of the Renaissance may not match up to the level of the films from the first half, they have been pleasantly surprising and have still held up well to this day. This is another film that some are divided on as to whether it is underrated or if it is lackluster, and we will see if it manages to hold up like the previous films.

Voice Cast: After the last few films where we had a fairly large cast for them, we go back to having a relatively smaller cast here that is made up of new actors and only a few returning actors. In regards to the returning actors, we have the return of Nigel Hawthorne who voices Professor Porter in what would be one of his final film roles prior to his death two years later, and the other returning actor is Wayne Knight who voices Tantor the elephant in a slightly minor role. We move onto the new actors as we have Tony Goldwyn who voices Tarzan in one of the biggest roles of his career with child star Alex D. Linz voicing Tarzan as a child, and then we have Minnie Driver who voices Jane Porter as she was really getting her career going by this point. Next, we have legend Glenn Close who voices Kala in a pretty memorable role and then we have another legend in Lance Henriksen who voices Kerchak in a memorable role, and then we have Brian Blessed who voices Clayton in one of his most memorable roles and he also provides the yell for Tarzan. We then have comedian Rosie O’Donnell who voices Terk in one of her most memorable roles and we also have Taylor Dempsey who voices Tantor as a child, and finally we have the pair of Erik von Detten and Jason Mardsen who voice Flynt and Mungo respectively in a pair of minor roles. It was interesting that this was the film that had the smallest cast of all the Disney Renaissance films, but given the lack of characters in the film it does make some sense in a way.

Hero/Prince: We have been on a string of pretty solid heroes or princes throughout the Disney Renaissance and we close it out with another solid one here in the ape man that is Tarzan. We first meet him when he is a baby as he and his parents are shipwrecked in the Congo and they build a treehouse to live in, but his parents are killed by Sabor the leopard who nearly kills him as well only for Kala to save him and name him Tarzan. She raises him as her son and he struggles to fit in with the other gorillas while also trying to earn Kerchak’s respect, and as an adult he protects the gorillas by killing Sabor and Kerchak finally accepts him. Tarzan then notices Professor Porter, his daughter Jane, and their guide Clayton traversing the jungle and he saves Jane from a group of baboons, and they teach him the ways of the human world as he begins to fall in love with Jane. He leads them to the gorillas’ nesting grounds only for Kerchak to scare them away and he disowns Tarzan, and Kala shows Tarzan where she found him and he decides to leave the jungle and return to England with the Porters. However, Clayton betrays them and locks them away as he returns with a group of poachers to capture the gorillas, but they are freed by Tarzan’s friends and they return to the jungle where they save the gorillas. Tarzan battles with Clayton and Kerchak attempts to help only for Clayton to shoot him, and Tarzan fights him though he decides to spare him by entangling him in vines though Clayton cuts himself free which ultimately leads to his death. Tarzan makes peace with Kerchak who accepts him as his son and names him the leader of the gorillas, and Tarzan stays in the jungle along with the Porters and they begin a new life together. Tarzan in an interesting character as he is raised by the gorillas and attempts to be a gorilla though it is clear he is unsure of who he really is, and after he meets the Porters he learns to become human though that conflicts with his belief that he is an gorilla and trying to earn Kerchak’s respect. After being shown his home, he believes that he belongs with other humans until he saves the gorillas from Clayton and is accepted by Kerchak, and he finally learns who he is which completes his growth as a person. While I don’t know where he will rank amongst the other heroes and princes, he is still a solid hero and one of the most recognized heroes in history.

Princess: N/A

Villain: For the first time in a few films, we have a pair of villains to talk about though one was clearly more important than the other, but the minor villain still deserves to be mentioned here and that is the leopard known as Sabor. We first see him in the beginning when it is implied that he killed Tarzan’s parents and then he kills Kerchak and Kala’s baby, and then he attacks Kala and Tarzan in the treehouse and nearly kills Tarzan only for Kala to save him. We don’t see him again until Tarzan is an adult and Sabor attacks them only for Tarzan to fight him and eventually kill him. Sabor is about as basic as you can get when it comes to a wild animal though again it was worth mentioning him, and now we come to the main villain of the film which is William Clayton. He is the guide for the Porters and he assists them in teaching Tarzan the ways of being human, but he has an ulterior motive as he manipulates Tarzan into revealing to them the nesting grounds for the gorillas. Upon returning to the ship, he imprisons Tarzan and the Porters as he reveals he intends to capture the gorillas and sell them, and he leads a group of poachers to them only for Tarzan and the Porters to save them. Clayton ends up shooting Kerchak and he battles with Tarzan in the vines though Tarzan refuses to kill him, and Tarzan gets him tangled up in vines and Clayton tries to free himself only to end up having a vine wrapped around his neck and he is killed by hanging. Clayton is a very suave person and can be quite charming as he appears to be willing to help the Porters, but his true nature comes to the surface after they find the gorillas’ nesting grounds and his hunter instincts come out. But much like any other villain, his obsession ultimately leads to his demise as even though Tarzan decides not to kill him, he still tries to kill Tarzan though this results in his death when the vines serve basically as a noose. While he may not be quite as memorable as other villains before him, he is still one of the better villains in the Disney canon and might rank much higher than you might expect.

Other Characters: As mentioned, we have a considerably smaller cast for the film than previous ones which also means that we don’t have as many characters to talk about, but again most of these other characters do play a vital role in the film. The first character to talk about is Jane Porter who accompanies her father in searching for the gorillas, and Tarzan saves her from a group of baboons and he becomes infatuated with her. She teaches him how to understand English and become human as he starts to fall in love with her, and she invites him to return with them to England though he in turn asks her to stay with him. She is then imprisoned by Clayton along with her father and Tarzan as he plans to capture the gorillas, but they are freed and they save the gorillas before deciding to return to England while Tarzan stays. However, her father realizes that she loves Tarzan and gives his blessing for her to stay which she does and she begins a relationship with Tarzan. We then have her father Professor Archimedes Q. Porter who wishes to discover gorillas and study them, and he helps Jane teach Tarzan until they are imprisoned by Clayton though they are freed and they save the gorillas as Porter decides to stay with his daughter and join Tarzan. Next, we have Kerchak who is the leader of the gorillas and he is reluctant to accept Tarzan as part of the family, and he is distrustful of the humans though Tarzan tries to convince him they are friendly. After Tarzan leads them to the nesting grounds, Kerchak believes Tarzan betrayed them and they start to leave until Clayton returns to kidnap them, and Tarzan help frees them though Kerchak is shot by Clayton and dies from his wound though he accepts Tarzan as his son and makes him the new leader of the gorillas. We then have Kala who is the mate of Kerchak and their first son is killed by Sabor, and she finds Tarzan in his treehouse and saves him from Sabor before adopting him as her son. She raises Tarzan and keeps an eye on him though she is hesitant when Tarzan brings the Porters and Clayton to the nesting grounds, and she finally reveals to Tarzan where she found him and tells him that he has to find his own way. She and the rest of the gorillas are captured by Clayton and his men only for Tarzan and the Porters to save them, and she remains at Tarzan’s side as he becomes the new leader of the gorillas. Next, we have Terk the gorilla who is unsure about Tarzan when Kala first finds him, but she eventually becomes Tarzan’s best friend as they grow up and she covers for him when he brings the Porters and Clayton to the nesting grounds. She then helps save Tarzan and the Porters from their imprisonment and helps them save all the gorillas, and then we have the rest of the gorillas including Flynt and Mungo who eventually accept Tarzan as one of their own especially after he saves them from Clayton and the poachers. Finally, we have Tantor the elephant who is a paranoid creature though he becomes friends with Tarzan, and he joins Terk as they save Tarzan and the Porters from the ship before helping them save the rest of the gorillas. Again, while there aren’t as many characters as we have seen in the last few films, these characters play an important role in the film and helps keep things moving along while also making the film more memorable.

Songs: As I mentioned in the recap of Mulan, it seemed like Disney was starting to move away from making their films into musicals and instead having a few songs in them, but they would be treated more like background noise. The directors also believed that this film wouldn’t work as a musical though they did get a big coup by having Phil Collins involved in the film, and he would in essence serve as a singing narrator to the film though there were a few times where a character did sing. The first song to talk about is “Two Worlds” that serves as a background to the prologue of the film, and it is a fitting song given that Tarzan is about to be torn between two worlds. We then have the centerpiece song of the film “You’ll Be in My Heart” sung first by Kala as a lullaby to Tarzan and then we of course have the pop version sung by Collins, and you could say that it was the last memorable song for a Disney film until the later part of the 2000s. We then have the song “Son of Man” that is sung as we see Tarzan growing up and it is a fitting song to have to symbolize Tarzan becoming a young man, and then we have the song “Strangers Like Me” that is sung while Tarzan is being taught by the Porters and Clayton and again it is a fine song for the situation. Finally, we have the song “Trashin’ the Camp” that is performed as Terk, Tantor, and the gorillas cause damage in the camp, and it is a fairly decent song though it does feel somewhat unnecessary. It is pretty clear that the glory days of the musical films for now were going to be behind us and it would be some time before we reached the peak of the Disney Renaissance.

Plot: Prior to this film’s release, I’m fairly certain that most people have learned about the legend of Tarzan or at the very least read up on him, and much like other films based on novels this one does take a few liberties with the novel that it is based off of. When Tarzan is a baby, he and his family are shipwrecked in the jungles of the Congo where they build a treehouse to live in, but Tarzan’s parents are killed by Sabor the leopard who also kills the son of Kerchak and Kala the gorillas. Kala discovers the treehouse and Tarzan whom she saves from Sabor and she raises him as his son, and Tarzan grows up amongst the apes though he is unsure of who he truly is and he is not accepted by Kerchak. When he becomes an adult, Sabor attacks the group and Tarzan kills him which earns him Kerchak’s respect, and then he discovers a group of humans that consists of Professor Porter, his daughter Jane, and their guide Clayton. Tarzan saves Jane from a group of baboons and she brings him to her camp where they teach him how to be human, and she offers him to come back to England with them though he instead asks her to stay with him though she refuses. Clayton tricks Tarzan into leading them to the nesting grounds of the gorillas where they are scared off by Kerchak who believes Tarzan betrayed them, and Kala shows Tarzan where she found him and tells him he must follow his own path. He decides to return to England with the Porters though they are imprisoned by Clayton who leads a group of poachers to capture the gorillas, but Tarzan’s friends frees them and they work to save the gorillas though Kerchak is shot by Clayton. Clayton follows Tarzan up into the trees and they fight with Tarzan wrapping a series of vines around Clayton, and Clayton tries to cut himself free though he ends up with a vine around his neck and he dies from hanging. Kerchak accepts Tarzan as his son and names him leader of the gorillas as the Porters plan to return to England, but Jane learns she is in love with Tarzan and stays with him along with her father and they lead a new life together. Those that know the novel are obviously aware that the film is much more light-hearted than the novel, but again when you are making a film marketed to children you have to make some changes which sometimes doesn’t sit well with fans of the novel. However, while having the novel’s fanbase into the film is important, you have to put the main focus on your core fanbase and I feel that Disney typically does that better than most.

Random Watching Thoughts: I do love how they have distinct title cards for each film; Were Tarzan and his parents the only occupants of that ship because it was a pretty big ship; I always find it interesting that they have babies be happy even in dangerous situations simply because they are unaware of the danger they are really in; A nice reflection here as you have baby Tarzan with his parents while Kala and Kerchak have their own son; We never see Sabor attack and kill Tarzan’s parent yet they show him chase Kerchak and Kala’s baby before killing him off-screen; Kala must have incredible hearing to hear Tarzan’s cries from so far away; Tarzan’s parents did a good job protecting him from Sabor; Again, Tarzan just having such a fun time blissfully unaware that Sabor is trying to kill him; Not only did Kala and Tarzan manage to escape, they left Sabor all tied up for the time being; Terk outed Kala out to Kerchak in no time; Kerchak goes wild though quickly folds when Kala stares a dagger right through him; So I looked it up and according the novel, in ape language “Tarzan” means “White Skin”; The way that butterfly looked on Tarzan’s face made it seem like he was wearing a mask; Interesting advice from Terk to Tarzan about getting Kerchak to like him; Yeah, give Tarzan an impossible job since elephants don’t have hair; That’s one nasty belly-flop; What elephant would worry about bacteria in water?; The one elephant was actually right in that there are piranhas in Africa and can be found in the Congo River; They obviously have not seen many piranhas if they think Tarzan is one; Hell of a save there by Kerchak; I stand corrected as elephants have hair on their tails; At least Tarzan was willing to admit to his mistake; It is interesting that Kala says that they are the same because they both have a heart; Once again, we have a montage accompanied by a song to showcase Tarzan’s growth from a child into adulthood; I will say that the cinematography of the film is probably the biggest highlight as the scenes of Tarzan swinging through the trees and sliding down them are pretty amazing; Kala has gotten used to Tarzan scaring her that she’s become tone-deaf to it; Everyone knows Tarzan and Terk are going to play fight so they are prepared to watch out for them; Tantor thinks Tarzan might be an elephant because they both like peanuts; How was Sabor able to free himself from those ropes and why did it take so long to do it?; All the other gorillas are surrounding this like they are watching two gladiators battle; That brief moment where you think Tarzan was killed only to see that it was indeed Sabor; Even Kerchak has to respect Tarzan for killing Sabor; Just like Clayton to leave his bullet shells lying around in the jungle; Jane doesn’t appear to be properly dressed for a jungle expedition; Some expert dodging there by Tarzan; That baby baboon made like he was looking in a mirror the way he was looking at the portrait Jane drew of him; I love how Jane is talking to the baboon like she thinks he is able to understand her; I wonder if when the film was in theaters, warning signs had to be posted that viewers may suffer motion sickness watching this film; These baboons just don’t want to quit, do they?; Talk about vine burns on the hand; All because the baby baboon wanted to keep the portrait of himself; She says it can’t get any worse and sure enough…; So Tarzan has been speaking perfectly with the gorillas yet he has trouble doing so when speaking with Jane; Fun Easter Egg appearance as the teapot and teacup resemble Mrs. Potts and Chip from “Beauty and the Beast”; Only these gorillas can take destroying items and turn it into a musical number; Jane is more excited that she is seeing gorillas than realizing that they are destroying the camp; Clayton looks like he’s regretting this decision to be their escort; So Aunt Isabel walks around like Tarzan?; Isn’t the Missing Link usually considered to be Bigfoot?; I can only imagine seeing Clayton actually teaching a parrot to sing “God Save the Queen”; Again, we have another montage sequence here as the Porters and Clayton teach Tarzan how to be human; 1880s version of a projector; Only Tarzan can make riding a bicycle on the trees work; That is quite the model of the Solar System that they created; Terk is not very optimistic if she only gives it a week; Tarzan obviously doesn’t know the size of the world if he thinks they will reach England that same day and are to return to the jungle the next day; Clayton starting to show his true colors here; Terk says she doesn’t want to do anything embarrassing and he has her dressed up as Jane; Porter thinks the Queen is teasing him; Of course Terk and Tantor would inadvertently lead Kerchak to the nest; Tarzan has gotten very strong if he could hold Kerchak down like that; That treehouse has broken down quite considerably in 20 years; Considering he just stepped on broken glass with bare feet, it’s amazing he didn’t injure himself; That suit is still in really good condition considering it’s been sitting there for so long, and conveniently enough it fits Tarzan perfectly; It is funny that Jane thinks she’s going to meet Queen Victoria simply because of Tarzan; Jumping around is not the same when you’re wearing shoes; Tantor finally breaking out of his shell and being adventurous; Tantor using his trunk like a submarine scope; Porter thinks he turned the ship on its side by himself not realizing Tantor was climbing onto the ship; As usual, whenever there is a fight between humans and animals in a Disney movie, the animals always win; Clayton making the mistake of going into the trees and being in Tarzan’s domain; So where did that other gunshot come from?; You would think as he is cutting through the vines that Clayton would notice the one around his neck; That is one of the scariest visuals ever in Disney history of seeing Clayton’s shadow knowing that he’s been lynched by the vines; The slow motion hand fall; Jane clearly wanted to stay though tried to put up a façade only for her father to see right through it and permit her to stay; Jane picked up on swinging and sliding through the trees very quickly.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, the film ended up being another pretty solid film though I didn’t like it as much as Mulan and it was a fine conclusion to the Disney Renaissance. As I mentioned, the Renaissance has been a great period for Disney as the films at the beginning of the decade were amongst the greatest films of all time, and these films here in the back half were still pretty solid and have aged fairly well though they are not on the same level. I think there is no question that Disney still has some good momentum going into the new millennium and we will see if those films hold up as well as these ones did. As for this film, it is a solid film and a fitting end to possible the greatest period in Disney history forever known as the Disney Renaissance.

Final Grade: 7/10

Author: Steve Riddle

I have been a wrestling fan since 1993 and that is probably my biggest love, with movies being a close second due in part to being employed at a movie theater for over 9 years.