As my buddy Joe told me when I reviewed it, I hit the wall with Tarzan Escapes as far as Weissmuller Tarzan films go. The first two were imaginative and fun, but by Tarzan Finds a Son, the fourth in the series, it looks like the producers have found a formula and are just replaying it over and over: Tarzan and family live happily in the jungle until "civilized" folks intrude to drag someone back home with them.
In this case, the "someone" is a baby whom Tarzan and Jane found when a plane crashed near their home. They raise him as their own, but the boy's relatives soon (okay, five years later) come looking for him because (like Jane in the last movie) he's heir to a fortune.
But even though it's formulaic and features the first appearance of Boy, a character I always thought was a stupid idea growing up (he's sort of like Tarzan's "Scrappy Doo," though I guess to be fair that Scrappy was really more like Scooby's "Boy"), I actually enjoyed Tarzan Finds a Son a lot. Part of it was knowing what to expect. Tarzan Escapes took me by surprise with how watered down it was from the first two installments, especially Tarzan and His Mate, but with my expectations lowered, I was able to get into Tarzan Finds a Son as the juvenile, Saturday matinee fare that it was designed to be.
To help me see it through a child's eyes, I watched it with my own five-year-old boy. As I've mentioned before, David's a big animal fan and he's recently been getting into Tarzan comics and had watched a few episodes of The New Adventures of Tarzan with me, so I knew he'd enjoy this one. It was especially helpful that he and Boy are the same age. David identified with the baby elephant in the movie more than any of the human characters, but he loved giving the play-by-play anytime Boy was getting chased by a lion or a croc or whatever other trouble Boy would get himself in. He was genuinely worried about Jane at one point -- almost to tears -- and I've never seen him giggle as hard as he did during the climax when a shrewdness (yeah, I know it's weird, but that's the term; look it up) of chimpanzees on elephantback attacked a village of cannibals. He absolutely loved that part. And so did I.
I also liked how Tarzan doesn't seem dumb in this one. Or at least how Jane doesn't treat him like a child. She disagrees with him about Boy's fate, and acts on her conviction that she's right, but unlike Tarzan Escapes, she doesn't seem to have the attitude that Tarzan would agree with her if only she could explain it to him in simple enough terms.
Also, Boy's not nearly as obnoxious as I remembered. Maybe he gets that way later in the series as he gets older, but he's actually cute and charming in this. I hope that the rest of the series gets away from the formula plot, but I'm actually looking forward to watching them now. Tarzan Escapes was certainly the wall of the series, but once you're over it, it's not bad on the other side. Just different.