Recently, our Film Club included this on the fall semester roster because Chris Buck, co-director for this and Frozen, will give a lecture at our school in a few weeks. I’ll provide more details later in future posts but I’d thought it’d be appropriate to have some further context for this review.
A human raised by apes meets his own kind and is torn between two worlds.
As a kid, I didn’t see Tarzan until a few years after the release. It was on one of those six-hour recordable tapes with Mulan preceding it; this tape vanished from the family collection last year for reasons I won’t get into. Aside from that, I saw it and thought it was an OK film for Disney and not necessarily a childhood favorite. I didn’t know that it was the end of the Renaissance. I grew up thinking that Disney always had great films but have since learned otherwise.
What’s immediately apparent is the detail in the scenery. Thanks to Deep Canvas, a technique used to make CGI sets look like traditional paintings, it provides a lush and rich texture to the whole film. It still holds up well today, though a careful eye will notice the difference between what is done by the computer and what is hand-drawn.
Another strong aspect is the music. Most people I know have memorized the lyrics to the songs. I’ve had moments with friends where someone will queue one of the songs and everyone in the room will sing along because why not. The instrumental sections have a strong focus on drums, typically associated with the jungle landscape. After all, this did spin off into a Broadway musical.
At the same time, I have found that even with a considerable gap between viewings that some feelings have not changed, like disliking the side characters. I never connected with Terk or Tantor as a kid and still don’t. I felt that they weren’t around adult Tarzan to support him when he needed it. It felt like it was hastily fulfilling a requirement to have at least two non-human sidekicks for the human protagonist like in some prior films, such as Mulan, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Pocahontas. At times, I forgot that they were part of the film.
Clayton’s character is a bit unfocused. Sure, we know he wants to hunt gorillas but he retreats from the story at moments where he should have some moments in the spotlight. His conclusion, even when Tarzan allows him to live, isn’t that satisfying because there was not enough time for his character to develop, apart from “I kill things for cash because I’m greedy and heartless.”
Going back to the scenery, there were moments where I couldn’t find a focal point because of the large amount of detail. One instance in particular is where Tarzan looks out to the ocean and sees the ship sail away. Even though the foliage framed the moment quite nicely, I was more focused on the leaves than the emotional moment taking place. When I did look at Tarzan, there was not enough contrast for me to clearly distinguish between him and the trees.
Within my social circle, I appear to be in the minority where I don’t love the film. I do appreciate its place within the Disney canon and some well-executed aspects. It’s not high on my list of favorite Disney films, either from the era or all-time; probably towards the middle.
Winner of Best Original Song and Technical Achievement in the Field of Animation