Monday, April 1, 2024

Walt Disney, part LIII: Only thing about me is the way that I walk


Directed by Kevin Lima and Chris Buck
Written by Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White, et al

Spoilers: high

The question regarding Disney's 1999 adaptation of Tarzantraditionally held to be the end of the Disney Renaissance that had blazed so brightly for the preceding decade*is how much to punish it for its transgressions.  There's really only the two.  As a Disney Renaissance film, and a Late Renaissance Film especially, it was inevitable that Tarzan would have, at a minimum, some miscalibrated comic relief, even if it's sufficiently marginalized here that somebody must've been looking over at The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Mulan, and consciously scaling it back.  So we would not want to punish it too much for that, when it's shown some contrition, although I'll stake that Tarzan possesses the individually-worst comic relief character of the whole Renaissance.  The other problem is more pervasive, and it weighs heavily against Tarzan that it serves as such a mixed-up, half-assed repudiationnot even a bold, fearless repudiationof the Renaissance project began by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken ten years earlier with The Little Mermaid.  By this I of course refer to how Tarzan both is and is not a musical, and while it effectively isn't, it still has songs like a musical, attempting to serve the same function, only now with barbaric ham-handedness.

On the other hand, Tarzan is so excellent, even so irreplaceably unique, that the question rather becomes whether to punish it at all.  Of all of Walt Disney Feature Animation's 90s filmsseveral of which I have liked more than I remembered, and only one of which, poor Mulan, I've liked lesscentury-closing Tarzan is also the only one where that process of rediscovery has been an unadulterated delight.  When it comes to The Lion King or Pocahontas or even my always-beloved Hercules, their upwards reevaluations have been made in the face of severer, more fundamental problems, that give me a headache trying to focus past them.  But Tarzan's serious problems, and its smattering of littler problems, which we'll be sure to nitpick along the way, simply aren't fundamentaleven the way in which it's "not a musical" (or, if you prefer, "is a bad musical") is to just sort of lay immobile atop a film amply capable of doing what it needs to without itand I don't think I could name another movie that I've been familiar with since the day it came out that's managed to reveal itself, years down the line, as such a complete joy as Tarzan has.

The history of Disney's Tarzan begins with Thomas Schumacher, an increasingly-big wheel at Disney, to whom it occurred one day that Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes and the icon that his 1912 novel birthed eight decades priorTarzan, nĂ© John Clayton II, Viscount Greystoke and King of the Apeshad never in all those years been adapted adequately to film, because heretofore Tarzan had been only adapted in live-action, and no matter what professional athlete or body-builder you put into the role (why, there's already a caution to this effect in the novel), the sheer power and atavistic grace granted to Tarzan by his jungle tutelage could never, ever be replicated by any real human.  A cartoon, however, had no such limits; so why not a Disney Tarzan?

There are numerous reasons, as you are well aware if you've ever read Burroughs's Tarzan.  Happily, Schumacher's objections to prior Tarzan films' textual accuracy were all about the hero's physicality, rather than the absence of repetitive scenes of Tarzan mugging tribesmen to death for their loincloths and jewelry, or the dearth of repetitive narration regarding the vulgar Romanticism that Tarzan's fictional existence, as the Anglo-Saxon nobleman unsoftened by modern society and thereby allowed to reach his fullest, godlike potential amidst the primeval danger of Africa, represented for Burroughs.  They fix these thorny problems (and I'm not even being that sarcastic, because almost literally anything besides what's in the novel would be some kind of fix, and this is the easiest one short of a radical reinterpretation**), basically by reconceiving Tarzan's stretch of coastal Africa in Congo-Brazzaville as devoid of human habitation entirely.  Disney does well by the core of the mytheme that Burroughs had recodified for modern times, however, albeit by virtue of doing the opposite of Burroughs's first novelto no small degree adapting, instead, MGM's 1934 Tarzan the Ape-Man with Johnny Weismuller and Maureen O'Hara, which had already come to similar conclusions about what would be the most satisfying thing.

Tentative steps towards Tarzan were taken in 1995, involving another curious Katzenfact, in which Jeffrey Katzenberg tried to assign it to the C-team at Disney Television Animation, to which Katzenberg's handpicked director, A Goofy Movie's Kevin Lima, demurred, protesting that it defeated the purpose.  The project languished for several months until Katzenberg was gone, whereupon Michael Eisner put it into production at WDFA.  Lima came back aboard, somehow acquiring the little-distinguished character animator Chris Buck as his co-directorBuck's only supervisory experience to date was Pocahontas's Grandmother Willow, aka the Magic Tree, which I suppose makes enough sense for Tarzan given the CGI of her creation and Tarzan's eventual deployment of hundreds of magical treesbut while it didn't happen all in a straight line, this sent Buck on a career trajectory of immense future importance for Disney, even if he arguably did nothing else appreciably good ever again.

But that does not speak to Tarzan as it took shape in 1999, with Lima and Buck and producer Bonnie Arnold and principal screenwriter Tab Murphy figuring out what their Tarzan would be.  And so we begin in the late 19th century in the midst of a maritime disaster, with a pair of never-named Britons, who are probably not Lord and Lady Clayton, fleeing a burning ship with their infant son (Alex D. Linz once he learns to talk, Tony Goldwyn as an adult).  (And that burning ship will make one glad that "water" and "fire" aren't in this movie much, because while I have many praises to sing for Tarzan, they've switched to CGI effects here, and it simply looks depressing so soon after Pocahontas's world-class water animation.)  The Britons manage to establish themselves on the coast of Africa, but they don't last long: the jungle, in the form of the leopard Sabor, arrives shortly to claim them.  It's only through the accidental intervention of Kala (Glenn Close), one of the wives of the great gorilla chieftain Kerchak (Lance Henriksen), that the infant alone is rescued from the jaws of the big cat.  Recognizing in the orphaned human a mirror to the child that she recently lost to Sabor, Kala resolves to raise this boyover Kerchak's angry, anxious objectionswhom she calls "Tarzan," and though he is seemingly less capable than his fellow gorillas in every way, Tarzan strives to be like them.  Eventually, his more human-like traits manifestabove all, he figures out "sharp objects"and in the meantime his human physiology is bent towards the arboreal demands of his environment, so that in his young adulthood he has already become preternaturally strong and quick, quicker than Kerchak himself, before he meets the fullest test of his mettle against Sabor (presumably a different Sabor).  He kills the beast whose kind overcame his parents, gaining the esteem he's always cravedeven Kerchak must respect the achievement.

Mettle is only one thing, though.  Tarzan will be tested far more rigorously by what next arrives in his corner of Africa: a contingent of British naturalists, who, besides their guide, the great white hunter Clayton (Brian Blessed, probably not Tarzan's cousin), number Professor Archimedes Porter (Nigel Hawthorne) and his daughter, Jane (Minnie Driver).  Tarzan's intense curiosity about these creatures of his own kind draws him in; and once he's obliged to rescue Jane from the perils of the jungle, of course, he's really stuck.  As he learns their human ways, his loyalty to the gorillas will be put to question, and Clayton will abuse his naive trust.  But if Tarzan even survives, to whose world does he belong, Kala's or Jane's?

There's a trick answer to that question in Disney's Tarzan, and suffice it to say it doesn't take another 400 pages of a sequel to get to it.  Let's say one thing outright: almost every change it makes to Burroughs is for the better.  It's not just jettisoning the overt racism and sociopathy, either; there's a lot of nonsense cut, too, like Tarzan learning written English as ideograms from dictionaries but somehow figuring out a phonetic transliteration of his name, solely to prompt a subplot that only convinces you that all its characters are idiots.  Which many of them are, and Disney's Tarzan's comic relief—that hateful comic relief—is still better than Burroughs's comic relief (principally a black maid, because he had all the racisms).

Pity that it compares so poorly even to its own abject peers, however.  The chief vector for this ugliness is Tantor (Wayne Knight), a neurotic elephant who makes wan quips, and we could expand this to all the elephants, introduced debating if piranhas live in Africa or if they're confined to South Americalet's just consult Babar's Geographica and find out, you fucksbut Tantor's the one who hangs around, ultimately becoming an undesirably crucial factor in the third act when he violently ruptures the film's reality by way of a POV shot of him using his trunk as a submarine's periscope.  The silver lining is that Tantor doesn't hang around that muchhe has limited screentime for a Disney sidekickand it'd be easily-stomached enough if the elephants weren't, collectively, so visually obnoxious.  Lima and Buck, with grating tendentiousness, will explain that these elephants are red because African elephants coat themselves in dust.  Ignoring that dust is more like an orangey, dusty sort of red, and it wouldn't be uniform, let's bounce back to where I mentioned a "submarine's periscope" and "piranhas."  The elephants who are red, because of dust, spend much of their screentime submerged in water.  But they wanted red elephants so bad.  It fucks with Tarzan's otherwise splendid aesthetic unity so hard.  (Tantor is also by far the most tiresomely stock "Disney character" design.)  I don't even have the satisfaction of commiserating with other animation aficionados over his infamy: somehow none of the hatred that persists like the heat of a white dwarf star for the gargoyles and for Mushu ever seems to find its way to Tarzan's abominable pachyderm.  It must be considered something of a credit to our other designated comic relief, a gorilla, Terk (Rosie O'Donnell), who's the oppositea reasonably successful experiment in seeing what happens when a humor-inflected Disney sidekick is allowed to be "an actual supporting character," rather than "an excuse for gruesome comedy."  We can breathe a sigh of relief over Hawthorne's Prof. Porter, too, whose function here, besides being a plot instrument, is to be indulgent, charming, and emotionally insightful, rather than the book's tone-wrecking parody of a learned academic.

But since we have arrived at the "pronounced negativity" section, we have before us the matter of Phil Collins's soundtrack.  Phil Collins?  He's wonderful.  Phil Collins's Tarzan soundtrack is not, not so much because of the music (though it has that late-stage Collins sterility), but because of how much the lyrics resemble the movie's audio description track set to music.  It's a vaguely-poetic audio description track, but only vaguelylines like "put your faith in what you most believe in" (the first line in the film, actually) are somehow above the average, because at least they're not 1:1 narration telling us what our eyes are seeing.  That opening number, "Two Worlds," is braindead:

A paradise untouched by man
Within this world blessed with love
A simple life, they live in peace
Softly tread the sand below your feet now
Two worlds, one family
Trust your heart, let fate decide
To guide these lives we see
Beneath the shelter of the trees
Only love can enter here
A simple life, they live in peace
Raise your head up, lift high the load
Take strength from those that need you
Build high the walls, build strong the beams
A new life is waiting but danger's no stranger here

This is fairly terrible, as a song.  But in its context, where we're still trying to make an integrated musical with no singing characters, and virtually every single lyric is either completely generic or completely redundant ("build strong the beams" = our not-Claytons raising them fucking beams), it's so thuddingly artless I could've had a stroke.  Of course, Collins didn't direct thisLima and Buck were fine with editing this together exactly the way it isbut "say aloud what you see on the storyboards" is a real disappointment from a man I don't associate with overly-concrete lyrics in the first place, let alone the man behind something as fearsomely oblique as "In The Air Tonight."  I'd hardly be kidding to say that Tarzan could have been improved with barely-reworked stock Collins music.  "In the Air Tonight"?  "Take Me Home"?  "Something Happened On the Way To Heaven"?  If he could've swung "No Son of Mine," "Invisible Touch," or "I Can't Dance" from Genesis, they've even got that too-on-the-nose quality they wanted already.

But I can see Collins's main function: making reasonably-pleasant noise, that unfortunately happens to have words (Mark Mancina's score is just fine), to fill up one's ears whilst Lima and Buck do their montages.  For Tarzan has many montages.  Most of its montages are amazingly good pieces of imaginative editing, and "Two Worlds" is no exception, even if it's the only significant passage of Tarzan that I have genuinely serious filmmaking complaints about.  (It simply doesn't have enough space, not even able to properly register the whiplash of its inspiring images of determined castaways making a luxurious Swiss Family Robinson life for themselves, before, mere seconds afterwards, turning them into cat food.  It doesn't even suggest, with useful precision, how they became cat food.  Even so, that match cut between Kala's doomed infant and baby Tarzan each getting tossed in the air is ecstatic.)  The montages (maybe even the songs, and I do appreciate that Old School Disney percussive jazz number with the sidekicks) do get better.  They are, to express it stupidly, the beams across which Tarzan's story is laid, and when they're no longer required, like in "Two Worlds," to encompass an unmanageable amount of information, these montages reach a sterling level of narrative and emotional efficiency for a story that's already myth, of the kind that can be well-told in simple, straightforward, iconic gestures.

They help take you up into the grander sweep of it, then, and get at what the film has, I believe correctly, identified as the heart of the Tarzan fantasy.  That fantasy's only incidentally about mortal combat with leopards, and to the extent it is, it's to prove Tarzan can kill one if he needs to; it's about battling ivory raiders or, in this case, gorilla hunters, barely at all, and that only to the extent that you'll want some measure of violent conflict to structure your action movie. (Yet despite being almost superfluous toalmost a distraction from!the real goals of Tarzan, Clayton makes a near-miss case for being a classic Disney villain after all, in the way he proves as much a threat to a hero's soul as his life; even his extreme anti-subtlety means it's up to you to decide how much it's Tarzan willfully risking his family for his own yearnings.  Or maybe Clayton's rad just because of this one shot here, in the expression of half-deranged triumph that supervising animator Randy Haycock's given him, and in the contrast between that doomy sky and the film's single use of the now-customary Disney Renaissance hell-reds, though it's worth noting that, unusually, Tarzan's hell-reds are motivated:

Even his Disney Death is, by Disney Death standards, exceptionalso much so that you can perceive that they were hedging right up until the end about exactly how intentionally they were going to play the act of Tarzan placing Clayton's neck in a noose of jungle vines.  Yeah, they definitely read the book.  So my very minor not-even-really-a-complaint here is that I can't figure why he's called "Clayton" unless, at some point long before Blessed got sneeringly sinister in the recording studio, his villainy was a twist.)

Anyway, the heart of Tarzan is in two closely-aligned things: the magnificence of Tarzan's jungle and the purity of his existence as an extension of that jungle, and Jane's transcendent pleasure at getting to explore the one through the other.  It's counter-intuitive, as she doesn't show up ere thirty minutes have passed, but this is as much Jane's movie if not more, and as I've seen it the other way, yoking it to Tarzan's perspective does surprisingly little to change that, possibly because we don't need to actually see Jane's life-before-Tarzan to know it's unstimulating and full of non-Tarzan dullards (so even semi-arbitrarily making Jane British probably does some good, "Edwardian Englishwoman" conjuring certain instant assumptions that might not still attach to "old money Marylander" in 1999).  Tarzan's "familial" drama, while getting grounded in preexisting fracture lines that are fantastical enough to be interesting, would have remained unperturbed, except for Jane; it's Jane that makes those fractures actually dramatic, because to heal them he has to take on the pain of rejecting her.  As I've mentioned that Tarzan is a satisfying version of its story, though, it wouldn't be nearly so satisfying, if Jane wasn't the one person in the film whose arc brings her to a real decision, taken freely and without obligation, or if she didn't make the choice that leaves one all gooey inside.

This is an inestimably better Jane than the novel's, and though I've got no right to make the claim, probably the best, period; the former only requires that she not be a revolting moron, but she's expertly-sketched by any standard.  Driver is the one irreplaceable member of this cast (though Goldwyn is also great in a more limiting role), effecting a fascination with her ape-man that she's only not openly acknowledging for form's sake, rather than a real attempt at fooling herself, while obscuring a much deeper inability to imagine that it's possible that she could abandon the only life she's ever known for the adventure and freedom that are the very things she falls in love with Tarzan for.  And so Driver's Jane, in concert with, but more than the script demands, is spending the whole film, right up until the last seconds of footage, trying and failing to convince herself that taking Tarzan to her worldthereby destroying what she adores in order to have itis the only option, even though the other option is right there, and it's everything she desires, except it's simply too frighteningly big to contemplate until she's forced to.

And it turns out Schumacher's conviction was correct: you don't get this Jane without this Tarzan, and especially without this jungle, and the prospect of Tarzan and (this is not entirely left to your imagination!) likewise Jane, swinging through it, halfway between the first man and woman and a pair of forest gods.  But then, for that, you must first do one little thingcarry off a revolution in animation.  Tarzan was the priciest film Disney had so far made, almost half again the budget of Mulan at $130 million.  But this was not so much the result of some out-of-control production (though, thankfully, it hit bigger than a Disney movie had in years); it was a calculated ambition to preserve Disney-style animation into the next millennium.

All of the Renaissance films had used CGI elements, and all since The Rescuers Down Under had been put together in computers, and the trend was only accelerating; Disney films had not always used their CGI well, and there was a great desire to figure out a way to triangulate between the highly-developed traditional arts of hand-drawn character animation and lush painted backdrops and the new possibilities that three-dimensional computer animation had opened up.  Meanwhile, Pixar's Toy Story had hit the cartoon industry like an asteroid in 1995, and WDFA, staring at the blast, had only a limited window of time to figure out something before the shockwave hit.  Thus was born Deep Canvas, brainchild of Tarzan's art director Daniel St. Pierre, a system for building and coloring CGI environments on behalf of two-dimensional hand-drawn characters in a way that offered marvelous new three-dimensional potential for the latter, without asking them to give up their abstracted cartooniness, and still permitting the former to co-exist aesthetically in ways that, for instance, Beauty and the Beast's ballroom only did if you politely didn't notice.  (You can sometimes still perceive a disjoint in Tarzan, but surprisingly rarely, considering the novelty; and weirdly, or maybe it makes more sense this way, it's usually in the smaller, more quotidian usesa figure emerging through a fern, a track-in to a baby's shrouded cribwhile the big setpiece demonstrations of the tech are very tightly-built things.)

Remarkably for technological shifts in Disney's production methods, or the computerization of things generally, Deep Canvas didn't even throw people out of work; in fact, it demanded more labor, because now those backdrops had to be worked out and replicate hand-painting in 3-D.  And thus that $130 million, even if Deep Canvas's very development might well add many millions to Tarzan's true cost.  Yet, as you're certainly aware, Deep Canvas did not save American traditional animation (though at least you can still see something that must be like Deep Canvas in any given anime feature).  Disney only managed to use their new technology a few more times, on movies that, being as charitable as possible, are not as good as Tarzan, do not benefit from it as much as Tarzan, and the best of which was about talking cows.  The good news is that Tarzan practically justifies Deep Canvas by itself: this movie looks incredible, and also incredibly right, like I find it hard to imagine it in any other form than what it took.

This is how you bring a "forest god" to life, and while I have undoubtedly used the phrase "his masterpiece" too often with the work of Glen Keane, the man makes it hard not to, and his supervision of the very large team for Tarzan makes it impossible not to, the powers of Deep Canvas allowingor demanding! for it feels like the layout artists and Keane were daring each other to keep upunprecedented dynamism and fluidity, full of rapidly shifting angles on a character still required to credibly move like no human (or any primate) could move.  Hence Tarzan's radically-distinct design (Keane thought he'd be easier because he's basically naked; Keane was disabused of this notion very quickly), with musculature, and so much musculature, warped by the requirements of his world, but thoughtfully placed in the middle of a spectrum between "the unattainable peak of masculine humanity" and "grotesque freak"and while frame-by-framing Tarzan can be tremendously rewarding, it also demonstrates that "animation" isn't just "drawing," and how Keane is pushing even this design right up to its breaking point.  But atop this sits an odd face, thin and sharp but with big round eyes (that aren't, even, Keane's Ariel Eyes), these always-observing if often-uncomprehending eyes, full of a soul Tarzan himself has only now just begun to fathom.  And at last we have Keane's innovations upon Tarzan's unique brand of movement, the classic swinging, certainly (and without recourse to visible trapeze, though Blessed provides a variant of the Weismuller Jungle Cry), plus a gorilla-like gait; but there's also the sliding, so that I'm pleased we get no close-ups of Tarzan's gnarly feet.  Drawing from extreme sports, notably Tony Hawk, as try-hard and 1990s as that sounds, under Keane Tarzan's tree-surfing comes off as miraculously natural and cool.

It permits some outright flabbergasting action scenes, anyhow, and (not to its detriment) Tarzan peaks in the middle with its centerpiece, where Jane gets into trouble dicking around a primal jungle, as is Jane's wont, and Tarzan speeds her away from an angry horde of baboons.  And it's not just a tech demo: it's a preposterously well-done chase, managing some difficult tonal superpositions between "wickedly nerve-shredding" and "cartoonish fun" across the span of a few minutes and what looks like a good linear mile of jungle (and much more in the curves and curlicues of these fantastic plants), even finding time for some pivotal character work for Jane (Driver has an unexpected laugh in the middle of this horror-adjacent pursuit that pins down Jane's personality and suppressed needs as much as anything in the whole next fifty minutes of movie).  And it bleeds imperceptibly into a much quieter epilogue that truly is the heart of Tarzan, somewhat literally, in which the linguistically-challenged fated lovers gaze into one another and Tarzan can only think to repeat something his mother showed him, proving to himself that Jane is of the apes by listening to Jane's heartbeat, and proving to her that he's of mankind by having her listen to his.  It's so wonderfully and sensitively stageda transient rainstorm, some comedy of jungle manners, and with a thoroughgoing sensuality, as about the only way to do it, and which lasts across the rest of the movie, and which is basically absent from all but a stray moment here or there in ordinary Disney romance.  (While it'd be difficult to prove, I'd bet there's more physical contact between Tarzan and Jane than any other Disney couplinganother thing to make them awfully challenging to animate, toobut the smart motif of "hands" might get us to "most sensual" by itself.)  I can't speak to the demographics of Tarzan's audience, then or today, but of all the products of the Princess Factory, it feels like the one thing they ever did for adult womenstarting with the trivially-obvious fact of the naked man, but markedly erotic on any scale you might apply to a G-rated film, halfway between Disney's transformational romances and, like, a bodice-ripping paperback.  (Which Burroughs's book is not, incidentally; and if "bodice-ripping" makes it sound too, ahem, forciblea real danger in a Tarzan adaptationit's not, but it's shockingly daring within that constraint, allowing Tarzan several innocent provocations and always being intensely clear about his physical mastery.)  So maybe it's for adult women with modest kinks and a proclivity to frolic.  It certainly works for me.

Or it's for the ones who were ten when The Little Mermaid came out: if Tarzan is a different beast than Ariel, I think Keane, and everybody, was aware of their mirror imagery.  I guess I could just go on forever about, e.g., Tarzan's obsession with the pictures the magic lantern shows him that bring him closer to being part of their world (or the effects animation that goes into it!), or how I actually quite love Tarzan's own daddy issues (and Kerchak, too, is a swell piece of animation under Bruce W. Smith, a mountain of muscle defined by some strong, chunky facial furrows), or how Tarzan is actually this film's best comic relief (as with Ariel, Keane is eager to explore the humorous as well as the exciting side of Tarzan's strangeness, specifically his inexperience with ambulating in a civilized fashion; there's also some delightful vine-mediated gags using the film frame, straight out of an avowed cartoon).

Unless the best comic relief is Jane's expressions; I said frame-by-framing Tarzan is tremendously rewarding, and it's some terrifically deft work.  I really could go on forever about Ken Duncan's supervision of Jane, which can't always be as showy as Keane's Tarzan, but winds up about co-equal, taking Driver's very funny, "aha, oho, yes, well [kick]," audibly-blushing performance to some absolutely heartmelting places of audience-identifying wonderment.  Jane makes me sad in this way: between her and Hercules's Megara, Duncan could've been the finest feminine specialist in Disney's history, capable of including a dimension of legitimate sexuality that Mark Henn wasn't interested in, while remaining very much as adept as Henn at rendering deep thoughtfulness and interiority.  Duncan's reward was supervising Captain Catgirl in Treasure Planet, his last traditional animation job.  (But Tarzan did reunite several of Hercules's principals: besides Duncan and Haycock, we have monster specialist Dominique Monfrey and his Sabor, a stylized demon whose musculature seems to be on the brink of bursting through her skin, yet who never fails to be "a cat.")

Since I could go on, I'll tie it together as Tarzan does, and note the striking intelligence of its color style and, for maybe the first time in a traditionally-animated cartoon, something you halfway-need to call "cinematography": in a departure for the Disney Renaissance, Tarzan devotes itself, for the most part, to naturalistic colors and lighting effectsI mean, it's mostly going to be greens.  It gets at its storytelling component by way of, first, costuming: Tarzan's British visitors are all in yellowleopard-like yellow, in facteven Jane, until she disposes of her ungainly dress in favor of basically underwear (it's not "see-through" but it suggests "see-through").  And yellow gets associated with the sun, the only significant light source here, and with Lima and Buck's shockingly subtle, impressively rigorous, and hugely labor-intensive use of CAPS to delineate the danger that this light represents (both in terms of being discovered, and of discovering oneself), in contrast to the cozy safety of the mottled jungle shadows.  But hey, danger's no stranger here.

And that's Tarzan, a bombastic spectacle nevertheless made with precious care, technological breakthroughs, and deliriously idiotic songs, and devoted above all to telling an exhilarating love story of elemental simplicity, the kind that I've increasingly found more worthwhile than just about anything else in the world.  If this is the seal of the Disney Renaissance, it's a fitting monument.

Score: 10/10

*I myself hold the end to be the following year's The Emperor's New Groove.
**"Black Jane" is a potentially even cleaner solution, though I'm honestly unsure how that would go over today.


  1. I haven’t yet finished your own review, but your line about no Live Action adaptation being able to do Justice to the Animal Magnetism of the character made me think of this:

    ^^ I think we can safely say that Ms. Emily might disagree with that assessment. ^^

    P.S. Fair warning - read this review while drinking only if you want to give your monitor a nice, thorough wash.

    1. This is largely my thought process when watching Tarzan and His Mate viz. Maureen O'Sullivan, including the part where I was impressed with the fact she had fairly-clearly defined abs in 1934.

    2. Whether it’s Maureen O’Sullivan or Maureen O’Hara herself herself, the Maureens of Classic Hollywood not only had It, they clearly melt knew how to work It!

    3. Ahem, “… clearly knew how to WORK It!” (Autocorrect is sometimes more helpful than useful).

  2. Having now finished your review, I mostly agree with it (For my money making Clayton explicitly Tarzan’s relation, as he was in the novel - an idea I first saw suggested by the ‘Unshaved Mouse’ review blog - would definately help lend a somewhat flat character more interest).

    Except when it comes to the film’s soundtrack and Mr Phil Collins’ contributions to same: I can pardon them, but CANNOT Forgive!

    On the other hand I’m also terribly fond of his work on BROTHER BEAR, so my opinion may be not be entirely objective and reliable. (-;

    1. I vaguely recall Collins's work in Brother Bear being better because he's using pop songs as pop songs rather than trying to do integrated musical numbers.

      Re: Clayton, I myself would've named him after the rat-faced guy or the French guy (even though he was nice), or one of the various jerks from a later novel. Rakoff, maybe? That's the villain in Tarzan Returns, I think. It's extra-weird because William Cecil Clayton was a weenie, and Disney Clayton is not a pleasant fellow, but the opposite of a weenie, to the extent you could credit his personal courage.

    2. The exact surname to be used would have to depend on what one wanted to do with the character - my personal feeling is that Clayton works best best as not only a villain in his own right, but the embodiment of what Jane Porter fears her new man friend will be exposed to (or worse, turn into) should they return to Great Britain.

      Making the film’s Clayton (implicitly or explicitly) a relation of Tarzan’s would also add the element of a succession struggle to their rivalry, giving the former’s somewhat-generic villainy a more specifically ‘throwback aristocratic’ element.

      This may not be essential, but I do like the notion that while Tarzan looks like a caveman and acts like a gentleman (In the best sense of the word), Clayton looks like a gentleman and acts like a robber knight.

    3. "but the embodiment of what Jane Porter fears her new man friend will be exposed to (or worse, turn into) should they return to Great Britain"

      That's honestly a decent reason to keep the name.

  3. Haven't finished reading, and I'm a couple reviews behind, but when my kids insisted on playing this soundtrack on loop for months last year, my wife and I noticed some of Collins' lyrical clunkiness. It's still a joke when one of us does something nice for the other, we'll say "thanks, you have the power to be strong and the wisdom to be wise," or when one of us makes some mistake, the other might say in reprimand "in learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn"

    1. Phil Collins wants me to have faith in what I most believe in, but I was raised to believe in what I most have faith in. We'll never see to eye to eye on this.

  4. That opening montage in which Tarzan's human parents survive a shipwreck, make a surprisingly comfortable home for themselves in the wild, and then almost immediately become leopard chow is the thing from this movie that sticks to me after a single viewing 25 (!) years ago. You'd THINK that such a sequence would feel hopeless and borderline nihilistic, but somehow it does the opposite (for me, anyway): these folks HAD to have known all along what their chances were, but gave it their all anyway, and none of their time or effort feels like it's been wasted. I don't know if I've ever seen anything that better demonstrated the value of dying on your feet rather than on your knees. Never, ever, ever give up, folks; not because you know you're gonna make it but because the dignity is worth it on its own.

    1. Yeah, it's mostly great, and I like the idea (as you correctly identify it) a lot, but even for an avowed summary it's too summary (I don't need to see Sabor tear their faces off, but the initial confrontation would've been worthwhile). On the plus side, Not Lady Alice is a helpful and integral component of the team, rather than descending into delusional semi-catatonia per Burroughs.

    2. I meant to preface my comment with something like "Its shortcomings notwithstanding" etc., to make it clear I wasn't trying to contradict or argue with you or anything like that, but I was struggling to word it right, and then skipped it meaning to go back and add it, and then forgot all about it by the time I finished and hit submit, so I may have inadvertently come off like I was trying to contradict or argue with you, haha! It's all good though.