It's a jungle out in Hollywood, so it's no surprise that Disney sticks to the straight and narrow path once again with its latest visually rich yet numbingly formulaic animated feature. The familiar ingredientsabsent parents, unthreatening yet princely hero, perky but ditzy heroine, swarthy villain, cute sidekicks, hugs, lessons, and a CD's worth of forgettable pop tuneshave served Disney since 1989's The Little Mermaid. But please, on behalf of parents everywhere, I beseech ye sons and daughters of Walt: give it a rest, OK?
Here the noble alpha lad is of course Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn), who struggles to assert himself ("I'll be the best ape ever!") amid the friendly tribe of gorillas that adopts him when a leopard massacres his parents. Tarzan evolves into an adolescent, ape mother Kala (Glenn Close) sings the de rigueur ballad (by Phil Collins), and conflict arrives in the form of a small expedition consisting of spunky Jane (Minnie Driver), her goofy-scientist father (Nigel Hawthorne), and their tall, dark, and evil guide (Brian Blessed). Will Tarzangiven the opportunity to wear pants and be with the girl of his dreamsabandon the apes? Not on your opposable thumbs.
The new Deep Canvas technique that adds another dimension of background detail to the animation process is Tarzan's real star. The African jungle is rendered as a verdant fantasia of cliffs, mile-high waterfalls, and impossible flora. The ultimate action figure, Tarzan swings convincingly through the jungle's upper terraces when he's not sliding and looping down tree limbs like a skateboarder or passenger on some possibly forthcoming Disney World thrill ride. But the film comes most fully to lifeas when Jane flees a tribe of irked baboons, or when a herd of elephants threatens to trample the apesonly when the animation process enhances special effects that Spielberg or Lucas might have conceived. Otherwise, it's a typical Disney knuckle dragger.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.