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(Best sung to “Son of Man”)
To the jungle, humans come
And are challenged to survive;
Soon only a babe is left alive.
Then adopted by gorillas,
He is raised stalwart and strong,
Strong to face the jungle’s killers
And labor to belong.
Son of man and of primate,
Tarzan is amazed to see
Strangers like him who await
Sightings of gorillas roaming free.
When one is soon in danger,
He swoops in and rescues Jane,
Who’s enamored of this stranger,
This lord of his domain.
Tarzan is forbidden to
Put his family in harm’s way,
But he learns so much that’s new
That he sneaks away to Jane each day.
In trying to delight her,
The gorillas he reveals,
And wicked Clayton follows on their heels.
Though he thought to leave his homeland,
Tarzan returns to fight
And defend his friends and withstand
The poachers in the night.
Son of man and of primate,
Tarzan then is joined by Jane;
Ruler of the jungle great,
Tarzan will remain to yell and reign.

Sometimes cited as the last great film of the Disney Renaissance, Tarzan is indeed one of the most beautifully created animated films I’ve seen. It came out right when I was getting old enough to enjoy movies as more than just a juvenile distraction and was one of the first Disney films I fully understood. Oh, and it made me cry at the end. That’s always list-worthy.

Adapted from the character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan puts the Disney spin on its source material, with funny animal sidekicks and musical accompaniment, but it doesn’t feel as potentially incongruous as The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Rosie O’Donnell and Wayne Knight are ideal comic reliefs as Terk and Tantor, while the resonant voice of Brian Blessed adds an ingratiating menace to Clayton, who meets an unusually horrific end. (Then again, this is the studio that has smashed, dropped, disintegrated, eaten, shattered, dragged to hell, and shish-kebobed their other villains, so perhaps it’s not unusual.) Tony Goldwyn is rather average as Tarzan, aside from an outstanding yell, but Minnie Driver’s voice fits Jane perfectly, bookish and British. Not to mention, there’s Lance Henriksen as stern Kerchak and Glenn Close as Kala, who provides a touching example of adoption and maternal love.

No other Disney film matches the lush imagery of the African jungle, created with a pioneering and award-winning animation technology called Deep Canvas. As Tarzan swoops effortlessly through the trees, the bright foliage provides an incomparable living environment, put to good use in the often spectacular action scenes. Even the water has a uniquely fluid appearance.

Of course, I must mention Phil Collins’ remarkable soundtrack, one of my favorites of any Disney film. Though The Lion King had a couple songs performed by background singers, Tarzan stepped out of the box in having most of the music not sung by the characters. Phil Collins provides the vocals for the brisk and memorable montages, such as “Two Worlds,” “Son of Man,” and “Strangers Like Me.” The tender lullaby “You’ll Be in My Heart” won the Oscar for Best Original Song, and I was once temporarily obsessed with the percussion-filled “Trashin’ the Camp.” As kids, my cousin and I would play it over and over and over, just jamming and rewinding with glee.

Tarzan relies heavily on montages, but they are among its finest moments, allowing for much humor, heart, and character development in a short time. Unlike Atlantis: The Lost Empire, the language barrier is not simply written away but gradually lowered over time, and the believable romance between Jane and Tarzan is handled with particular skill and beauty. I know that Burroughs’ book is substantially different, but this adaptation carries all the emotion and grandeur of Disney’s best, including a bittersweet happy ending.

Best line: (Tantor, finally standing up to Terk) “That’s it! I’ve had it with you and your emotional constipation! Tarzan needs us, and we’re gonna help him! You got that? Now pipe down, and hang on tight! We’ve got a boat to catch.”

Rank: 59 out of 60

© 2015 S. G. Liput

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