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 ingredients—absent parents, unthreatening yet princely hero, perky but ditzy heroine, swarthy villain, cute sidekicks, hugs, lessons, and a CD’s worth of forgettable pop tunes—have 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 Tarzan—given the opportunity to wear pants and be with the girl of his dreams—abandon 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 life—as when Jane flees a tribe of irked baboons, or when a herd of elephants threatens to trample the apes—only when the animation process enhances special
effects that Spielberg or
Lucas might have conceived. Otherwise, it’s a typical Disney knuckle dragger.