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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 Greg King
3½ stars out of 4

Along with Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan is one of the most filmed of all fictitious literary characters, with nearly 50 films and tv series exploring the adventures of the legendary loin-clothed jungle hero. However, more recent versions have ventured further away from the spirit of Burroughs' novels, and the character seems to have lost much of its appeal.

This ambitious Disney feature is the first animated film to depict the adventures of Tarzan, and remains fairly faithful to Burroughs' original vision. Tarzan easily lends itself to the Disney style of family oriented animation, and this is one of their better features of recent years. Tarzan took three years to make, and as expected, the animation is superb. With sophisticated computer generated animation techniques, the jungle has been superbly brought to life. Animation also allows our hero to swing through the jungle with a fluidity not permitted in live action filming, which provides some exciting action sequences.

The narrative itself traces Tarzan's origins. Following a ship wreck, the baby Tarzan and his family are left stranded in a jungle wilderness. When a leopard kills his parents, the orphaned Tarzan is adopted by the gorilla Kala (Glenn Close) and Kerchak (Millennium's Lance Henriksen), who have lost their own child and raise the boy as their own. As he grows, the only family that Tarzan knows are the wild animals.

The arrival of the beautiful Jane (Minnie Driver) and her anthropologist father Professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne) raises strange feelings that Tarzan has to deal with. The film follows the dilemma that Tarzan faces as he is torn between two cultures. Although the Porters have come to study the gorillas in their natural habitat, their guide Clayton (Brian Blessed) has other ideas. Tarzan has to fight to defend his adopted family from the cruel intentions of poachers.

Thankfully, unlike most Disney films, the characters here don't burst into bland songs every other scene. Former Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins provides an appropriately primitive sounding percussion-driven score, and five new songs, which seem to propel the narrative along. Typically, a strong vocal cast has been assembled. Alex D Linz (Home Alone 3) provides the voice of the young Tarzan, while Tony Goldwyn (Ghost, etc) voices the adult Tarzan. Driver once again proves that she does a superb British accent and makes for an appealing and feisty Jane.

This is the second time Close has loaned her voice to a Tarzan film, having previously redubbed Andie McDowell's voice for Hugh Hudson's Greystoke all those years ago. Wayne Knight and Rosie O'Donnell bring humour to the film as Tarzan's animal pals Tantor, a neurotic and accident prone elephant, and Terk, the wise cracking ape.

The whole concept easily lends itself to cute animal antics that will appeal to younger audiences, and the producers have taken full advantage of the opportunities. The highlight is when the animals invade the Porters' camp and stage an impromptu orchestra. This easy going and enjoyable enough film will inevitably invite comparisons with Disney's 1967 classic animated adaptation of The Jungle Book, with which it shares a number of superficial similarities. However, in terms of both story telling and standard of computer generated animation, this '90's version is far more sophisticated.

For many, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King represent the peak of Disney's recent achievements in animation. Tarzan is not quite in the same league, lacking the irreverent humour, sly in-jokes and winning style. However, there is more than enough humour and action to please both adults as well as children, and this film should be a big hit during the holiday season.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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