My continuing foray into Disney's fifty official Animated Classics. As always, don't hesitate to share your thoughts/memories/complaints in the comments section below. Links to previous entries have also been included below.
The Plot: An orphaned baby is adopted by gorillas in the jungles of Africa, where he learns to live as one of them.
The Songs: "Two Worlds," "You'll Be In My Heart," "Son Of Man," "Trashin' The Camp," "Strangers Like Me," "You'll Be In My Heart (Phil Collins Version)," "Two Worlds (Phil Collins Version)"
A Little History: Tarzan's 48th big-screen adventure. Edgar Rice Burroughs expressed interest in an animated Tarzan as early as 1936, writing that "[i]t must approximate Disney excellence" in a letter to his son. The idea, however, wouldn't come to fruition until six decades later, when director Kevin Lima (A Goofy Movie) was approached with the project. Chris Buck was soon hired as co-director, and worked with Lima to correct many misconceptions about the character, who'd previously been depicted as monosyllabic and caveman-like. Screenwriter Tab Murphy (Gorillas In The Mist) penned the initial drafts of the script, but was eventually replaced by husband-and-wife team Bob Tzudiker and Noni White. Animators traveled to Uganda to study silverback gorillas in their natural habitat. To help create a more dynamic background jungle environment, the production team developed a new three-dimensional process called "Deep Canvas," which seamlessly blends 2D and 3D animation (see more below.) Animators based Tarzan's movements on pro-skateboarder Tony Hawk, and even hired a professor of anatomy to consult on the character's musculature. To shy away from their typical "Broadway" formula, Disney hired singer-songwriter Phil Collins to compose the songs for the film. Actor Brian Blessed (Clayton) provides Tarzan's signature yell; Glenn Close (Kala) previously dubbed Andie MacDowell's voice for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan in 1984. Disney cameos: Mrs. Potts and Chip (from Beauty And The Beast) appear briefly during the "Trashin' The Camp" sequence; later, a beanbag toy of Little Brother (from Mulan) falls from Mr. Porter's pocket when he's held upside down by a gorilla. Tarzan opened in U.S. theaters on June 18, 1999, and grossed a $448 million worldwide (it is the final release of Disney's ten-year Animation Renaissance). It won the Academy Award for Best Original Song ("You'll Be In My Heart").
How It Broke New Ground: The first Tarzan movie with a one-word title (previous titles included Tarzan The Ape Man, Tarzan And His Mate, Tarzan's Fight For Life, etc). Also groundbreaking for its innovative use of Deep Canvas, a special 3D rendering process developed just for the film. Backgrounds are created via computer and then "colored" by Disney artists on a digital tablet; the software records each individual brushstroke so that objects can shift perspective as the (2D) characters move throughout the frame. (Disney holds the patent to Deep Canvas to this day.) In 2003, its creators were awarded a Technical Achievement Award by the Academy of Arts and Sciences.
How It Holds Up Today: Disney's richest and most rollicking entertainment since The Lion King. The animation is especially thrilling, aided and abetted by the studio's much-ballyhooed Deep Canvas process, which allows the "camera" to swoop, dart and dive through three-dimensional backgrounds like never before. This Tarzan surfs the treetops with an aplomb that puts even Johnny Weismuller to shame, and he's more of a literate, soft-spoken gentleman (truer, in fact, to Edgar Rice Burroughs' original stories) than you're probably used to. Phil Collins' propulsive/percussive song score is unique to animation too, serving as as a side commentary to the action (only two songs - "You'll Be In My Heart" and "Trashin' The Camp" - are performed by actual characters). Then there's the obligatory comic relief, which comes awfully close to trivializing the movie's potent "two worlds, one family" themes (I could have used less of Tarzan's wisecracking animal friends and more of Minnie Driver's flirty, delightfully ditzy Jane). That's hardly a blight on the movie itself, which once again restores those resilient folks at Disney to the height of their creative powers.
Hang on, Disney fans – there's more to come. Need to play catch up? Click on the following for: Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Bambi, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Fun And Fancy Free, Melody Time, The Adventures Of Ichabod And Mr. Toad, Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady And The Tramp, Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred And One Dalmatians, The Sword In The Stone, The Jungle Book, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, The Many Adventures Of Winnie The Pooh, The Rescuers, The Fox And The Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, Beauty And The Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, Hercules, and Mulan. Please comment! Let me know what you think!