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Movie Review

Tarzan

Reviewed by: Jason Murphy
CONTRIBUTOR

Good
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Children
Genre:
Animation
Length:
82 min.
Year of Release:
1999
G

Starring: voices of Joe Whyte, Brian Blessed, Glenn Close, Minnie Driver, Tony Goldwyn, Nigel Hawthorne, Lance Henriksen, Wayne Knight, Alex D. Linz, Rosie O'Donnell / Director: Chris Buck, Kevin Lima

“Tarzan” is possibly the best evidence to date that Disney Animation has lost the magic it once had. Not technically, but in plain and simple good storytelling. They simply no longer feel the need to take risks and break ground in the way they make their films, and complacently fall back on the assembly-line animation formula that they introduced with “The Little Mermaid”.

“Tarzan” is not a bad movie by any means, though. What bothers me is that Disney could have possibly had an Oscar-caliber film, and chose to throw it away for a film that is schizophrenic; part trite throwaway comedy (complete with gratuitous Brooklyn-accented comic sidekick animals and flatulence jokes) and part epic, grand, and visceral drama. The two parts are thrown together, and sadly they just don’t mix.

What this movie does well though, it does astoundingly. The character animation is phenomenal; the best I’ve ever seen. Also amazing is the “Deep Canvas” technology, which allows for a huge amount of camera movement, employed extensively for some absolutely thrilling visuals. Some of the music is perfect; some of it seems more oriented at merely selling the soundtrack CD (featuring Phil Collins). The best images from the film linger long afterwards… the burning ship that Tarzan’s family escapes from; two hands pressed together, as Tarzan struggles with his identity; the cabin Tarzan is discovered in; and lush shots of the jungle.

Tarzan’s story, too, is one thing that I also appreciate. Having grown up in the Middle East, the story of someone being an outsider in both of the worlds he lives in is something familiar to me. If more time were spent developing Tarzan’s struggle with his identity, and more depth added to the characters, this would be an excellent excellent film. Disappointingly, much of the true drama in the film is passed over to target it directly at kids (who will probably love it) which is a shame, because in the right hands, it could have been a cross-generational classic.

There is not much I found offensive about this film. Some flatulence jokes are present, as well as the animal kids insulting each other. Parents of younger kids should be warned that several of the sequences are intense, and while little violence happens on screen, the implication is there (such as the opening sequence in which Tarzan’s parents are killed by a leopard).

Overall, I think kids will like this film, and if you love animation, I would highly recommend it. I’m just very disappointed that Disney took what could have been one of the best animated features of all time, and turned it into a run-of-the-mill throwaway summer movie.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
A true feel good movie
I loved Tarzan, a wonderful “feel good movie” you can take your kids to. There was the usual Disney violence, although it was tastefully disguised for the 5 and under kids. The music was great. The animation was excellent. And while Disney did not make this for Christians, it’s the least offensive movie I’ve seen come out of their studios in a long time. I guess the Southern Baptist Boycott had some effect.
—Bill Lawson, age 40
nothing to worry about
I’m not sure why the reviewer said that Disney messed up by directing this movie at kids—aren’t kids usually the primary audience for cartoons? Anyway, I loved the movie. I went to see it with my 11-year-old sister as a favor to my parents, and didn’t expect to enjoy myself, but I really had a good time. I think this is the best Disney cartoon I have ever seen. The music wasn’t cheesy like it has been in some other Disney movies, and the animation was great. Hearing the little kids in the theater laughing made me laugh twice as hard. And the violence that some have shown concern about is not a big part of the movie. When it is there, it is not glorified, it is made clear that it is sad and not a good thing. What little violence was there was necessary for the plot, I thought. All in all, the movie is great. It may not be a good idea to take really tiny kids (like 2 or 3 year olds) if they can’t handle the “intense” scenes, but other than that I recommend it for anybody. It’s a fun movie to watch, and kids love it. (I don’t understand the comments that have been made about Rosie O'Donnell’s character, either. I thought she was funny. A little tomboy-ish, maybe, but that isn’t anything to worry about.)
—Melanie Lauri, age 18
a cross-generational classic
I must have seen a different movie than the reviewer because the Tarzan movie I saw was a GREAT movie that I believe all ages will enjoy. The animation was brilliant as well as the story and I would recommend it just for some of the scenes alone. The scenes showing the waterfalls were especially breathtaking. I took my parents to see it and they loved it (they are in their late 50's) so I believe that this movie will be a cross-generational classic. Most animated films are made with children in mind and the movie definitely delivered to the adult audience as well so there was nothing lost to me regarding the drama. It was definitely one of the best Disney movies I’ve seen in a while and I’m sure ALL ages will be entertained by it.
—Sherry Wallis, age 30
a great film
Our family saw Tarzan last week and we really had a great time (ages 36, 33, 11, 5). I was comfortable with the movie as a whole and the messages it sent (both obvious and subtle) which allowed me to enjoy myself. So often Disney seems to be using a feature to promote an idea rather than just to entertain. My 11 year old son found the character of Tarzan to be great fun, he was clearly intended to appeal to this age group. And since so few movies are made for my kids, at their level of understanding and innocence I am gratefull for this one. Note that some scenes are intense for very small children but not in the graphic desensitizing manner so popular today.
—Marshall Scott, age 36
Positive—Disney’s Tarzan is an amazing movie. I found no hints at Darwin’s evolution deceit, though there is a lot of “two worlds, one family” theme. Some of the violence can get intense (like Tarzan’s parents bodies lying in a corner; even Bambi left out his mother’s body), but a lot of it is “Good vs. Evil”. No sex, though I am concerned that Tarzan and Jane didn’t marry onscreen. I just assume they somehow do so.

I was shocked that Clayton was the villain, but Tarzan refuses to kill him, and Clayton meets his end with his own savage arrogance. Tarzan tries to save his enemy (via warning him about the vine on his neck), but Clayton’s pride kills him. Phil Collins does an amazing job at singing in this movie.

As for some of the comments, I honestly do not agree that Terk is supposed to be a gay message; just because Rosie O'Donnell does a voice in this movie (pray for her soul), does not mean watching it supports her lifestyle. The only thing that bothered me with Terk is her gender is not explicitly stated, unless you see in the beginning, where she is clearly a girl.

What’s with people thinking bad guys wielding a gun is anti-gun propaganda? Would some of you rather our kids play with guns, like they are toys? In the end, this movie is good for anyone 8 and up.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Peter, age 22 (USA)
“my little ones loved it”
Tarzan is a good clean movie with decent music, stunning artwork, no offensive anti-Christian spiritual babble, and teachable moments of self-sacrifice and acceptance. The reviewer is right—my little ones, 2 and 5, loved it.
—Phil Kornegay, age 33
good message and fun movie
I just got back from watching Tarzan with my three daughters, ages 5½, 5½ (fraternal twins) and 4. We loved it. I thought it was the best Tarzan story that I’ve ever seen. Tarzan was truly an ape-man and had to learn to walk upright and interact with humans. The message of the strength of family and identity was strong throughout. Self-sacrifice and giving oneself for others was also a strong theme. I personally didn’t even notice one flatulence joke. And I thought the music fit in perfectly and seemlessly. The best Disney cartoon ever and I cannot wait for it to come out on video.
—Debbie Adams, age 41
My family, including my 11 year old girl, enjoyed this latest cartoon from Disney. We have stayed away from Disney for awhile, but found this movie inoffensive for the most part and entertaining. Only two areas concerned me as a Christian dad—one was the subtle references to man and ape being the “same” and more disturbing, was the ending where Jane’s Victorian father apparently has no qualms about young Jane “following her heart” and staying to live with Tarzan in Africa, obviously as an unwed couple. Nevertheless, these events allowed me to ask my daughter “what was not right in this picture?” allowing for discussion of good biblical standards. I give the movie a B+ rating, which for Disney, these days, very good.
—Christian N. Temple, age 40
My wife, son and I went to see Tarzan last night. The first thing my boy (age 9) said to me when it was over was: “Dad, you have got to buy this one.” Did any one see the similarities to “Bambi” and “The Lion King”? How about the comment about “personal space”? No, we did enjoy the movie. The animation was good—we like the brilliance of the colors—the fall scenes were very good. It did address the issue that so many youth in our culture feel today: the sense of abandonment of a parent figure, the need for approval, even loyalty to the family. It is a fun movie.
—Wayne, age 50
My family and I went to see “Tarzan” (ages 47, 43, 14, 12, and 7)—We enjoyed it but I do have to agree with the reviewer that “something” was lacking. One of my first thoughts while watching Tarzan “skateboard” through the jungle was, “yep, another movie geered toward video games, my boys will love this!” The movie was wholesome, no sex, only a small amount of implied violence but still the story lacked… a story really. The story could really have been built up and the movie I agree lacks the qualities to make it a true classic. I am sure I will purchase the video for my kids, but it will probably gather dust on the shelf like many others in the long run. Another question I have, as someone who is a believer in Biblical Creation Science, is that of whether or not there is a subliminal Darwinian message here, or am I just looking for something that is not there?
—Kathleen
I work at a movie theatre and frequently screen the films prior to their opening shows. I was a little blaise about “a new Disney cartoon,” but quickly lost that attitude as I was involved in the story. I am in agreement with the reviewer that this film had the potential of Oscar® caliber production, but I also add that it exceeded my meager expectations.

I felt the major message that came through to me was that a parent is the person who provides the love and caregiving, not always the biological producers of the offspring. As Christians, we can appreciate that comfort, being adopted into our Father’s household, even though He is far above humans in every respect.

I’m sorry that some of our fellow believers are offended by even the hint of real life in all of its aspects of joy and sorrow, and hope we do not misinform our children of the possibilities of darkness in our walk on Earth, as well as the great comfort and beauty of joy we are privilegded to obtain as followers of Jesus.

“Tarzan” was a good balance of comedy, drama, and tragedy, and I go on record supporting it as probably my favorite to date. [I also cried!]
—Jim Miller, age 42
Neutral
What? No marriage?
Did anybody notice that Tarzan and Jane just hopped off of the boat and went off into the jungle, albeit with Daddy along, and (maybe I missed it) didn’t get married? The captain of the boat was along—couldn’t he have performed a service? Perhaps in the jungle a family value doesn’t include marriage?
—Chris, age 42
All one family / tolerance for different lifestyles theme subtle, but there
As a skeptical viewer of all Disney films, I must agree with the review of “Dan, age 43,” however, I would like to add one additional observation brought to light at church by a visiting preacher. The message that we’re all one family, no matter what “lifestyle” we come from, that we’re all the same seems to me to be another of Disney’s homosexual promotions (Gay Day at Disneyworld, etc.). The underlying misconception of “tolerance” of different lifestyles is all part of the loss of values in America. Instead of standing up for God’s morality, so many people roll over and play dead—and tolerate everything. Tarzan even won over civilized people to his lifestyle! This message truly is subtle, but nevertheless a part of the film. Hopefully, most youngsters won’t catch on, but Disney surely hopes they will…
—Kay, age 41
More “messages” from Disney?
…this movie has one jarring, horrid misstep, which I’m surprised not to see commented on above. Rosie O'Donnell. Here is this purply-lavender (subtle, eh?), ugly “ape” with bizarre hair and a heavy New York accent, a masculine name (“Terk”), but voiced by one whom God made as a woman (O'Donnell). Everything but a T-shirt reading, “I’m another in-your-face Disney message!” Her character doesn’t fit, it isn’t funny; neither the voice, the accent, nor even the artwork blend with the rest of the movie. The character looks as if he/she/it had been snipped from a different, lower-art, Hanna-Barbera-type cartoon.

I would compare the “Terk” character to Jar Jar Binks, except that (1) Jar Jar clearly *is not* a “message” character, and (2) Jar Jar actually is important to the plotline of The Phantom Menace. So to me, “Terk” is a far more irritating character than “Jar Jar.” Second: I am surprised not to see more comment on the “we’re all one family” message. Here is a movie whose climax is a gorilla calling a human being his “son.”

The theme is, “Two worlds, one family.” This is all the evolutionary, deep-ecology religion we’ve heard about, put into a really winsome cartoon. True, there’s a hint or two at Tarzan’s superiority. But God forbid we hint at an infinite gulf between the species, due to the creation of God. And God forbid that we hint at God; the opening song bids us to believe in what we most believe in, believe in faith, believe in ourselves. No God. Vintage Disney. And finally, there’s the guns-are-bad, all-hunters-are-evil message that must have attracted Ms. O'Donnell.

So here’s my rating. Movie quality: maybe four stars. I found it to be lots of fun, objections above aside. Watchable by anyone. Message: a generous one-half star. Watch it, but watch it critically, and discuss it afterward.
—Dan, age 43
Negative
“no difference between apes and humans?”
I was surprised to see that neither the reviewer nor the guest commenters had anything to say about the biggest philosophical premise of this movie. Right from the opening music video set to Phil Collins' song (which is sure to be hyped as a hit, although it will never achieve such status in reality), we are presented with a message that is unrelenting throughout the film. Over and over we are told that there really is no difference between apes and humans. In fact, humans are portrayed to be more barbaric than apes. Well, except for the humans who are enlightened enough to see the refined dignity of these animals and decide to live with them. It’s a nice touchy-feely message we hear over and over in this movie: two worlds, one family. Yes, we need to walk a fine line between respecting and cultivating creation, apes included, but to press the idea that apes are family is a stretch. Christians ought to treat all of creation with the respect due to the works of God, but the idea of family is something reserved for humans and God.

Thus, I am surprised that with all the Christians hollering about “liberal” and other such evil conspirators (often including Disney) trying to destroy the “traditional family,” they seem to have missed this radical deconstruction and redefinition of the concept of family. Remember, kids are smart. Especially with movies. The children today do not see books as their primary medium for entertainment and information—they watch TV, play video games, and see movies like Tarzan. They will catch on to the underpinnings of the story, and that’s something many parents could probably do without.
—Peter J. Wall, age 20
A “believe in yourself” theme
In agreement on two points, the more violent scenes augmented by the intense musical score is rough to take for children not accustomed to this type of “entertainment”. Also, my 4½ year old had some real questions about ape/man, soul, heaven, sorrow of ape mother when Tarzan appeared to be leaving. Although the movie was a family night outing and we did enjoy being together, I really didn’t find this to be uplifting entertainment. The “Believe in Yourself” theme represented in this film pervades television entertain for the very young. For instance, the theme for the “Arthur” show on PBS touts “Believe in yourself, that’s the place to start”… since we have an Arthur household, we sing, “Believe in God”… whenever the theme song comes on!
—Bev, age 46
PARENTS BEWARE!
Would you take your child to a film that features the slaughter of an infant, the violent death of parents, and a sequence of other deaths by stabbing, shooting and even a grisley hanging? If not, Tarzan, which includes all of this and much worse, is to be avoided. The “Christian Spotlight” review is most negligent in its failure to warn parents of the horrifying imagery, sounds, not to mention the troublesome ideas that saturate this film. To let small children see this movie amounts to a betrayal of those tender souls who rely on us for their protection. I implore parents to view this movie without their children before deciding whether it is apprppriate for kids. In my view, it is not only morally insipid, but one of the most violent and disturbing movies on the mainstream market.
—Bartholemew Quick, age 38
Comments from young people
I thought that this was a great animated movie, although no disney movie has outdone “The Little Mermaid,” or “The Lion King.” I think that the computer graphics were so good that there were scenes of scenery that looked extremely real. I was expecting more musical numbers, but it was a pretty good movie all in all. There’s just something about it that doesn’t grasp your attention like “The Lion King” did. Parents might get bored, kids love it.
—Jillian, age 15
I found Tarzan thoroughly enjoyable. I was a little doubtful at seeing an animated Disney film, but left happy. Parents should be warned that there are many intense scenes for children, or anyone for that matter. Both my friends (14) ended up crying halfway through the movie. There are also some comments about Tarzan being the missing link, but other then that it is an excellent movie that you can sit back and enjoy, without worrying about sex, extreme violence, or swearing appearing at anytime.
—Autumn, age 14
Fun for the whole family
My family (Dad 40, Mom 36, Me 15, three Brothers 13, 11, 5, and 1 sis 3), found one problem with the movie… IT ENDED! The movie was GREAT! Everyone of us just loved it so much. I do disagree with the christian reviewer, he said that Disney has lost their knack for storytelling. He said they could have made a movie that won an award, but they had to add the kid humor. I totally disagree, they put that there for the kids (and adults or older kids) witch is pretty much what Disney is about, kids… the movie was great and anyone who’s anyone should watch it!
—Shaun, age 15
I think in this case the review was a little to harsh. Tarzan was a great movie for me and my little brother and sister. We are lucky if they will sit still throughmore than half of a movie, for Tarzan they sat still their eyes focused on the movie screen through out the movie. I even have to say at the age of 13 I even liked the movie. It was full of action and never left you waiting for something to happen. It had a full story line and and I would go see it again. It is also nice to know that there are still movies being made that don’t have all the sex, violence, and crude language. I can honestly say that this movie is not just for the little kids but I think that all ages can enjoy this movie too. I would not stop anyone from seeing it. It is a great movie!
—Lindsey, age 13