a critiQal film review Tarzan (1999)

Plot: After his family is shipwrecked on an island, a baby is rescued from certain death by a gorilla named Kala (Close), who adopts him and names him Tarzan (Goldwyn). When people arrive on the island years later, he must decide where he truly belongs.

612 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 3s)
  • ...while repeated viewings may have viewers getting a bit sick of Phil Collins, Disney's take on this classic tale works pretty well.

After making some great classic films (The Fox and the Hound (1981), The Lion King (1994), Aladdin (1992), etc.), Disney must be starting to get short on ideas. Rather than trying for something different for the 1999 movie season, they decided to remake the classic story of Tarzan the Ape Man with Tarzan.

Knowing that Disney would put it’s own twist on the story, I was interested in seeing the film back when it came out. More recently, rather than going to pay to check out the new Disney film, Home on the Range (2004), I decided to relive some of their earlier magic by checking out Tarzan once more. Is it yet another Disney classic, or has the Tarzan story been done enough already?

Disney hasn’t always relied on famous voices for their characters – for example, how many of us even today know the name of the actress who played the title role in The Little Mermaid (1989)? When they do pick a famous voice, it’s usually a perfect match for the role they’ve picked (who else but James Earl Jones for Mufasa or Jeremy Irons for Scar – both from The Lion King (1994)?), but usually the storyline keeps the viewer interested, whether the voices are recognizable or not.

This time around, Disney decided to go for all famous voices, but, oddly enough, only a few are really recognizable in the film. Minnie Driver and Rosie O’Donnell stand out, but who would guess Lance Henrikson as Kerchak, Glenn Close as Kala, or Nigel Hawthorne as Professor Porter? Wow.

No one really makes the role undeniably theirs, as James Earl Jones or Jeremy Irons or even Robin Williams (the Genie from Aladdin (1992)) did in earlier films. But, in this case, that might be a good thing – knowing who the voices are sometimes distracts you from the fantasy of the film, and it probably would have in this case.

The plot is very similar to a few of the other Tarzan depictions I’ve seen before. They do seem to concentrate a little more on the gorillas and Tarzan’s childhood than other depictions of the story that I’ve seen, and the ending is a bit different (from what I can recall of the other ones), but all in all, it’s recognizable enough to be at least familiar to most people.

Disney’s formula in previous films is in full evidence in Tarzan. Throw in a couple of lovable sidekick animals for the humor, have a love interest, and have scenes of action (not to mention a death scene early on). This formula has worked over and over for Disney, yet they still manage to make it enjoyable and fresh with each new film.

The sidekicks this time around include a young gorilla named Terk and a young elephant named Tantor. These two provide plenty of laughs for the viewer and are a welcome addition to the movie.

So, should Disney have remade Tarzan, or just left it alone? Obviously, this film was an easy choice for Disney. Who better to make a movie about an ape man who talks to gorillas than an animation company (where the gorillas can talk back)? It’s a no-brainer.

It does seem a bit thrown together, with the usual Disney formula attached to it (see above), and all of the songs done by the same person (Phil Collins), but it works despite that. Phil seems to be the perfect storyteller/singer for this feature, and his songs blend seamlessly into the film.

Funny enough to watch a couple of times, but you may start getting sick of hearing Phil Collins voice after the second or third time through Tarzan. Definitely entertaining though, and if you’ve got kids, they’ll love it.

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