Tarzan – animated film review

"Tarzan" Disney theatrical teaser poster.
“Tarzan” Disney theatrical teaser poster.
Tarzan originally came out when I was living outside the States, so it took a few years before I watched the film for the first time (seeing films in theaters in Japan is very expensive).

The young Tarzan was rescued by Kala (voiced by Glenn Close)—a grieving gorilla mother—after his mother and father were killed by a leopard. He was subsequently raised by the gorilla troop, learning the ways of the rain forest and becoming friends with many of the animals there. By the time he was 20 years old, Tarzan became accepted by his troop and other animals in the area.

His idyllic life was interrupted when humans arrive in the area. Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) fell in love with Jane (Minnie Driver), the daughter of one of the explorers (Nigel Hawthorne). He soon became torn between his desire to be with Jane and his desire to protect his troop.

The character designs for Tarzan were quite different from those used in other Walt Disney Animation films of the period. Those for the title character very clearly showed his adaptation of the movements of his animal friends. Disney used Deep Canvas for most of the film, a tool developed in-house that helped them make the jungle feel really robust and detailed while also reducing the amount of work required of the animators. I highly recommend watching the extras to see how they did it. It’s truly fascinating!

I have been a fan of Phil Collins since his days in the progressive rock band Genesis. His music for the film really helped the story move along, as he wrote some of it before the animators had really started working on much. Mark Mancina and Collins worked well to integrate their styles into a cohesive whole that really complemented the film. Collins’ voice, like that of his daughter, gets right to the heart of things and really caries strong feelings.

The main theme, “Two Worlds”, was catchy and hummable, two things that make a song memorable to me. It conveyed well the overall theme in Tarzan of family and finding a sense of belonging. Until this soundtrack, I had never heard Glenn Close sing; she did a great job in her duet with Collins in the lullaby “You’ll Be in My Heart”.

“Son of Man”, had a solid, toe-tapping beat. It gave a strong, percussive emphasis to Tarzan’s experiences shown during the growing up montage. I am not a fan of Rosie O’Donnell. I find her crass and rarely funny. However, she was perfect as the crass and obnoxious gorilla Terk, Tarzan’s adoptive sister figure. O’Donnell and Collins did a great job with the impromptu “Trashin’ the Camp”. “Strangers Like Me” conveyed a hopefulness and excitement for the future, making Tarzan’s discovery his human side and bright and joyous occasion.

This was a really solid film. Tarzan captured the grittiness of the original work while also presenting it in a way accessible to even the very young. There are a few intense and scary moments that might scare the very young, so be cautious and watch it before presenting it to kids. I plan to enjoy the film regularly.

Release Date: June 18, 1999 (USA)
MPAA Rating: G

MySF Rating: Four point five stars
Family Friendliness: 100%


Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (brief social wine drinking)
Language: 0
Nudity: 0 (though Tarzan does run around in a loincloth)
Sexuality: 0
Violence: 2 (some intense violence, hunting, deaths)