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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Tarzan

Starring: Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver
Director: Chris Buck
Rated: G
RunTime: 88 Minutes
Release Date: June 1999
Genres: Animation, Kids

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If Disney's latest animated feature were regarded from Jane's point of view, it would be subtitled, "The Swinger Who Shagged Me." Further, if the lead character--the only human being not yet a member of America Online--were to sign up, his screen name would be Proving that sequels need not always be downhill runs, this "Tarzan" will attract its audience of millions for its qualitative differences from all previous ape-man stories, as this one utilizes no human beings, no gorillas, and no people dressed in simian raiment. Every moment of its run combines computer- generated imagery with traditional drawings, seamlessly bound to defy the audience to distinguish between them.

Johnny Weissmuller notwithstanding, there's quite a bit that animation can do that live performers and settings cannot. Through the almost infinite variety of color combinations available to designers, the African jungle can be made far more beautiful than a traveller on safari will ever remember it to be. Waters will be stunningly aquamarine, trees will be appear in lush, verdant splendor. Animals can be fashioned either anthropomorphically (like Kala, the gorilla) or conceived according to their genuine nature (like Sabor, the leopard). Music, generally used as soundtrack in films employing live actors, easily moves to the forefront in cartoons. And since celebrities are used as voiceovers, a cartoon will attract people who are fans of the stars. Kevin Lim and Chris Buck, who direct this visually exhilarating entry into the Disney lineage, exploit these resources thoroughly.

If the story of Tarzan takes place during Victorian times in England, this is only because its creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, was a product of those times. This version of the Burroughs story requires no previous knowledge of the classic tale. It takes us through the entire story of the title character's birth through his courtship of Jane, a professor's daughter who accompanies her dad on a study of African gorillas. The one segment of the story which could scare the kiddies occurs during the opening minutes which, by the way, are the most impressive part of the entire 88-minute film. The camera cuts from a gorilla family headed by the alpha male, Kerchak (Lance Henriksen) and his sentimental woman, Kala (Glenn Close) to the human family of Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) and his shipwrecked parents. Kala's young son is chased and eaten by a leopard, a fate which similarly befalls Tarzan's folks, leaving the former childless and the latter an orphan. The baby Tarzan is found by Kala, adopted by her despite her mate's hostility to this "hairless wonder," and comes of age with fellow gorillas and elephants as his only mates and mentors. When a study party led by Professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne), his dressed-to-the-nines daughter Jane (Minnie Driver), and their gun-toting protector Clayton (Brian Blessed) settle into camp, Tarzan meets Jane, whisks her to safety in a stunning ride across cliffs from limb to bough. They like each other. Tarzan teaches Jane Gorilla and is tutored in English in return. The tension mounts when Clayton, more interested in capturing gorillas for the money he can get for them in England, executes plans to betray his employers.

The animators of this striking film bring to mind the designers of similar cartoon enterprises such as "Prince of Egypt" and "Pocohantas," and when compared to epic films like "The Phantom Menace" may seem positively retro. Despite the throwback to the more conventional school of animation, this movie soars by its melding of computer graphics with the paint-and-paper design and through new processes such as Deep Canvas, a technique which puts a third dimension into the title character's oscillations. Scripters Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker and Noni White may not have thrown in the obligatory witticisms for the adults accompanying the small fry, but the story profits from the crackling good spirits of Minnie Driver and Rosie O'Donnell as Jane and Terk (who is Tarzan's simian best friend) respectively.

As Tarzan and Jane fall more deeply in love, you'll wonder how their association will turn out. Will she succeed in conning the ape man to civilization, where he'd be studied by stuffy anthropologists as was Kaspar Hauser? Or will the muscular swinger get her to shed her crinolines and strangling neckwear to enjoy the freedom of the jungle? Will Jane wonder how she is going to survive without the toilet paper to which she is accustomed? Will Tarzan ponder the disadvantages of chucking his free bananas for expensive salons serving tea and scones? Author Burroughs had his own idea for the resolution of the plot, one which is at odds with the cartoon's. In any case, the plot's not the thing in this film of startling animated beauty which, like "Prince of Egypt," gives a fresh look to one of the world's popular myths.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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