The jungle is a swinging' place.
I knew Tarzan, the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912, was hardly an original subject for a movie, but I was even more surprised when a Disney press release claimed that 47 previous film adaptations have been made about his man of the jungle. So can the Mouse House offer anything new?
The production does deliver another level of perfection in animation. Just as Tarzan has tamed the apes, Disney has harnessed the computer and is using it to create subtle movements that blend incredibly with their traditional work. The palette of colors is startling, while a new tool called "Deep Canvas" gives an incredible illusion of depth as Tarzan swings through the vines.
But in the story department, Disney continues to paint by the numbers, using the same group of typecast characters. Tarzan (voice of Tony Goldwyn), the hero, surfs the trees like Aladdin moves through the market; while his “human on the outside, animal on the inside” demeanor is the reverse of the Beast.
Professor Porter (voice of Nigel Hawthorne) and his daughter Jane (voice of Minni Driver) are on an expedition searching for gorillas, but the two would be just as comfortable as Jasmine and her doting father in Aladdin. Then there’s bad-guy Clayton (voice of Brian Belssed), who bares a striking resemblance to an earlier colonizer – Radcliffe from Pocahontas. Finally, add the obligatory comic sidekick – like Mulan had Mushu the miniature dragon, a little gorilla named Terk (voice of Rosie O'Donnell) follows in the ape-man's shadow.
Disney has told many “orphan” stories, so Tarzan was right up their vine. The opening scenes have the parents killed, leaving the baby to be raised by apes (anyone seen the Jungle Book?). The violence tames down in the middle, but works into a rousing finish when trigger-happy Clayton reveals his thinly veiled intentions and begins capturing and killing gorillas, which may frighten young viewers.
With images this stunning and Phil Collins’ wonderful music to swing by, Tarzan ought to be a masterpiece, except it’s already been painted -- at least five times before.