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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 50: "Tarzan"

(Originally published on 12/13/22)



12/11/2022

Tarzan

Run time: 88 min.

Release Date: June 18, 1999

Where/when I first saw it: On DVD, 1999

How I watched it today: Disney+, Sunday evening

After “Mulan,” in which the Disney artists made some progress and gained confidence with a new songwriting team and giving their storytelling practices a bit of a makeover, they settled back into a familiar groove with “Tarzan” by resurrecting many aspects of “The Lion King,” still the most successful Disney film of this decade. Phil Collins stepped into the Elton John role by providing a fully formed soundtrack. Instead of the tundra of Africa, it’s the jungle. And just as “The Lion King” opened with the birth of the main character, told entirely with visuals, so goes the opening of “Tarzan.”


The problem is that the Phil Collins songs just don’t carry the same weight, pop hooks or textures to make for a memorable collection of songs that one would want to own or turn into a Broadway musical. They, like many other Disney songs of this era, seem tailor made for undiscerning lite rock stations. The other problem is that Tarzan himself, even though he starts off as a cute little baby, just isn’t a strong enough character to truly earn our emotional investment. For some reason, the seemingly strong, good looking and charismatic male characters of this era fail to register beyond just being the hero figure that one would expect in the average comic book. Erik from “The Little Mermaid” and Aladdin are the exceptions as male characters with even a little personality (and since I'm partly basing this on appearance, I'm not counting "Beast").


“Tarzan” does have some thrilling moments, though. The artists had gotten better and better at crafting action sequences and the dizzying rushes through the jungle as Tarzan leaps from tree to tree are among the best moments in the film. And even though it's a formulaic move for them, the artists did a commendable job with their visual storytelling skills in the first few minutes. It’s a nice change of pace from the usual exposition dumps and shows that they still have some life in them as artists and not just factory workers cranking out formulaic product (though it can feel that way at times). With “Tarzan” being ALMOST the last Disney film in this decade, it seemed like the right time to put the fairy tale/literary adaptation formula aside, one that served them so well during this time, and start anew.

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