A young boy, orphaned in the jungle, is adopted by a female gorilla, and grows up under her care.
Let’s face it, Disney has been off its game of late; the recent ream of so-called ‘classics’ have been anything but. Just an admirable spray of beautifully animated yet remote tales infused with sly in-jokery for the parents and a steadfast application of tried and trusted formulaic ingredients - the big soundtrack, the comedy sidekicks, the marketing opportunities (Mulan, Hunchback, Pocahontas).
With Tarzan it’s a wonderful, triumphant return to something which is far more fundamental - glorious old-fashioned storytelling - and a step valiantly and successfully into a new visual lexicon. In the face of the onslaught of Pixar’s expansive digital revolution, Tarzan fuses the hip style of Japan’s Anime graphics (big eyes, sharp features, kinetic action) with old time Disney (the comedy elephant Tantor is pure Jungle Book) and a solid use of computer aided whizzkiddery (Tarzan motors through the jungle by ‘surfing’ on tree branches in a dizzyingly cool kind of 3D video game manner).
The emphasis here is on trad storytelling made wondrous - and it works. Partly because the script is so sharp, and confident enough to treat the kids like adults (we have death, we have danger, we have sexual awakening) and partly because it dispenses with all the usual forms of irony to concentrate on such divine elements as romance, adventure and comedy.
Sticking faithfully to Burroughs’ original Tarzan Of The Apes story, first published in 1912, the tale is a well furrowed one: a small child is left alone in the jungle after his shipwrecked parents are killed by a mean old leopard. Adopted by a forlorn female ape, Kala (Close), Tarzan (Goldwyn) is raised as a gorilla before reaching puberty and hitting the requisite Disney identity crisis – ‘Why am I bald?’ Enter Jane (Driver) stage left, along with her explorer pop Professor Archimedes Q.Porter (Nigel Hawthorne) and Clayton, a sinister big game hunter (Blessed).
Love, danger, and issues of belonging all ensue in enthralling fashion. And if you’re wondering, a sly dramatic device allows us to understand the gorillas’ voices, while the non-jungle-savvy homo sapiens simply hear ‘oooh ooohs’. Directors Lima and Buck are not simply willing to resort to the simple ‘Oh, it’s just a cartoon’ defence for plot improbabilities.
The music, thank God, is all background. Some perfectly acceptable Phil Collins tunes - not, as it transpires, a contradiction in terms - are present to establish mood. The comedy sidekick comes unusually in female form (O’Donnell’s gorilla chum Terk), and there’s even some minor violence in amongst the fabulous set pieces; all in the service of the strong storyline (the smallest of tots may find it a bit much).
And while it may ultimately lack a quality baddie to match the level of a Shere Khan or Lion King’s Scar (although Clayton certainly has a sneery Captain Hook quality), it’s as polished and entertaining an animated feature as you’re likely to see. Walt would be proud.
A film for Uncle Walt to be proud of - with a strong story- line and superior animation.