Would would you call it if Disney made a film based on a classic dark story about a human child growing up in the jungle with a bunch of animals, adopting their ways, and refusing to return to human civilisation? Assume also that they added a bunch of catchy songs, some great humour and dialogue, and made it a movie for kids. Up till recently, I'd have called it The Jungle Book. Given how that movie resonated with the public, Disney has chosen to make another similar film, in the same spirit by completely eviscerating the original story, and it is one of the best animated films the studio has produced in years.
Tarzan by Disney has minimal relation to Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel, but fortunately the changes don't detract from the film. I'll just summarise the Disney version and I highly recommend reading the comic book adaptations of Burroughs' works, which explores the complex issues touched upon in the film in greater depth: Tarzan (Alex Linz/Tony Goldwyn) is the name given to a little boy who is saved by Kala (Glenn Close), a gorilla who loses her son to the leopard Sabor (who is also responsible for making Tarzan an orphan). The leader of the gorilla tribe Kerchak (Lance Henriksen) agrees to allow Kala to take care of Tarzan, but not as his son.
Needless to say, it is not healthy growing up in such a dysfunctional setting. The first time Tarzan (now grown up with the poise and grace of a rollerblader jumping off handrails) sets sights on a human female, Jane (Minnie Driver), who is on a gorilla-discovery trip, he gets slapped for his inquisitiveness. But she befriends him and miraculously he begins to learn about the greatness of Western civilisation in a matter of days and begins conversing with her in fluent English.
That's the good part. Of course, the fly in the ointment here is Clayton (Brian Blessed), the guide for Jane and her father. Clayton wants to capture the gorillas and make money by putting them on display. So when Tarzan, charmed by Jane, takes them to the location of the gorillas, Clayton and his gang of thugs capture them all. Until Tarzan, aided by his friends Terk (Rosie O'Donnell) and Tantor (Wayne Knight) triumph over the evil humans.
Even though my review is a bit sarcastic, I really enjoyed the film. There are some powerful events occurring the film and they're all depicted extremely well, including the death of Tarzan's parents, how Kala saves Tarzan, how Tarzan discovers he's really not an ape, how Kerchak treats Tarzan, and how Tarzan is betrayed by Clayton. Some of these scenes left me with a lump in my throat.
The comparison to The Jungle Book isn't just in terms of the plot adaptation. A lot of the scenes, both visually and aurally, are reminiscent of the earlier epic. The animation is superb and one of the cool things about this film is that there is constant action happening. The soundtrack is one of the better ones I've heard from Disney also. Former Genesis drummer Phil Collins, who I think has produced mediocre output since his heady Grammy days more than a decade ago, finally reinvents himself combing pop with some cool rhythms.
Tarzan achieves the Disney goal of producing movies for kids of all ages, from zero to infinity. A definite must-see.