Tarzan (1999)

Tarzan (1999)

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"What's wrong with my hairstyle?"
“What’s wrong with my hairstyle?”

Twitter Plot Summary: The Tarzan story gets the Disney treatment, complete with talking animals and added Brian Blessed.

Disney’s progress in the late 90s spun out from their earlier successes in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. Unfortunately for 1999’s Tarzan, some of the magic is missing and it doesn’t quite hit the same mark.

That’s not to say it’s bad – not in the slightest. It just happens to lack that certain Disney magic that made their late 80s and early 90s output all that more engaging. The constituent elements are all there – a fun adaptation of a classic text, a love story between Tarzan and Jane, a hunter named Clayton who is intent on taking some captured gorillas back to London with him, and a wide array of anthropomorphised jungle animals that have a little bit of sass and a touch of derring do about them.

In a break from the typical Disney pattern the soundtrack is provided by Phil Collins, and contrary to your opinion on his music he provides an interesting and heartfelt soundtrack that works well with the story being played out. It certainly makes it stand out from the norm, and is all the better for it. It wouldn’t be a Disney film without some solid voice acting, and Tarzan proves to be just as strong as the other Classics, with the now traditional casting of a number of big name actors in various roles. Here, we get the dulcet tones of Brian Blessed as Clayton, Minnie Driver as Jane, and Rosie O’Donnell as Tarzan’s best friend Terk. Whilst Tony Goldwyn is a decent Tarzan, it should come as no surprise to discover that his trademark yell is provided by Blessed.

Tarzan's notion of a gift for a first date was wildly out of touch with modern Victorian society.
Tarzan’s notion of a gift for a first date was wildly out of touch with modern Victorian society.

It is the story in fact that is the main letdown. There is little in the way of drama until the final third, and while the characters are all entertaining they remain a victim of the rushed narrative that doesn’t do nearly enough to do justice to the characters. It’s paper thin at several points and perhaps some of the choices for where to take the story could have been tweaked to make it more engaging. The relationship between Tarzan and his adopted parents is handled well, but otherwise there’s little else to recommend as far as the narrative is concerned.

This is a shame because the animation is superb, a mixture of traditional 2D and the newer 3D animation style that would soon come to dominate the animated industry. The character designs are good, however despite being set in the 19th century Tarzan, thanks to his funky hair style, has the air of having recently completed a stint as a member of a boy band. Mention must also be made of Tarzan’s method of traversing down trees, which owes more than its fair share of debt to Tony Hawks’ skateboarding antics than the old way of just swinging through the forest on conveniently placed vines. It both modernises the character yet keeps him well within the Victorian era in which he exists – a tricky balancing act to say the least. Tarzan feels like Disney getting stuck in a rut, barely refining their formula and not providing as engaging a tale as it perhaps ought to have been. However you look at it, it’s still better than the dead eyed stare of the 2014 animated Tarzan film.

Score: 3/5

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