Do we really need another Tarzan movie? With more than 50 screen outings already under his loincloth, why bother making another? Two reasons. Firstly, because Edgar Rice Burroughs's jungle-swinging ape-man is one of the most enduring heroes in movie history, as fresh today as he was back in 1912 when the story first appeared. Secondly, because this 1999 Disney production offers a new take on the classic tale, being the first full-length animated version.

You know the story. A young English couple and their infant son are shipwrecked off the African coast. The couple build a tree house in the jungle canopy but fall prey to Sabor, a murderous leopard. The infant survives and is rescued by Kala the gorilla, who adopts him as her own and takes him back to the safety of her mountain hideaway. Tarzan grows up among the apes, but when he meets Jane, an Englishwoman who has come to Africa with a party of explorers, he must choose between his jungle home, or a new life with Jane in England.

Copy picture

The film mixes good old-fashioned storytelling with state-of-the-art animation, and it's a winning combination. Some of the set pieces are brilliantly executed, especially when we see Tarzan doing what Tarzan does best, flying through the jungle. With an eye to the younger audience the directors have added a new dimension to Tarzan's aeronautical hijinks. He doesn't just swing from vine to vine a la Johnny Weissmuller. Thanks to the wonders of animation, this Tarzan hurtles through the jungle like a runaway rollercoaster, defying gravity as he bounces from tree to tree.

Excellent animation is one thing. Just as important are the voices behind the characters and thanks to some inspired casting the film scores big time here. Tony Goldwyn does a decent job as Tarzan, but the standout performances come from Minnie Driver, who brings a perky independence to Jane, and the wonderfully over the top Brian Blessed, he of the big beard and even bigger voice, as Clayton, the square-jawed big-game hunter who dupes Tarzan into leading him to the gorillas' den. Blessed has a ball with Clayton and creates a suitably nasty baddie, a sort of Cruella De Vil with muscles and fully loaded 12-bore, who plans to shoot everything in sight before shipping the gorillas back to England to make a quick buck.

This being Disney, it does lurch towards mawkishness every now and then and Phil Collins's syrupy soundtrack doesn't help. On the whole, however, it manages to rein itself in whenever it threatens to get too schmaltzy, with Rosie O'Donnell's wisecracking gorilla Terk providing plenty of laughs.

"That's freaky looking, that's what that is," she squeaks when she first sees the infant Tarzan. "It is... I mean, what the heck is it, anyway?"

Kids - and 38-year-old film reviewers - will love it.

Reviewed on: 13 May 2005
Share this with others on...
Tarzan packshot
Animated version of the ape-man story... with added sugar.
Amazon link

Read more Tarzan reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray **1/2

Director: Kevin Lima, Chris Buck

Writer: Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White

Starring: the voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Nigel Hawthorne, Brian Blessed, Lance Henriksen, Rosie O'Donnell

Year: 1999

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Peter Pan: Special Edition