Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Walt Disney's Tarzan

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

I'm not sure why Disney's Tarzan gets a whole chapter to itself, but Griffin does pack in a lot of information about it, starting with its place in the general Disney animation renaissance of the '90s and ending with the direct-to-DVD sequels, Tarzan & Jane (2002) and Tarzan II (2005).

He does include some interesting facts that I didn't know though, like how the lead animator on the Tarzan character was Glen Keane, son of Family Circus' Bil Keane. It wasn't Glen's first work for Disney (he'd also been lead animator for Ariel, the Beast, Aladdin, and Pocahontas), but he was on sabbatical at the time in France and only worked on Tarzan under the condition that he could do it from Disney's campus in Paris.

Griffin also points out some cool features in the background design. The gorillas' environment, for example, was designed to be comforting, with "soft curves, muted color, and diffused sunlight." The humans' camp, on the other hand, had bright, direct sunlight and was surrounded by "tall, straight bamboo, suggesting the skyscrapers of a cityscape."

I also didn't realize that Phil Collins' songs were originally intended to be sung by the cast. I always figured that the intention was to recreate Elton John's success with The Lion King, but apparently Disney didn't sign Collins on as the singer until after they heard his demo tracks.

Griffin also confirms something I'd already noticed about Disney's Tarzan: that its great strength is its ability to show Tarzan interacting with his ape family in a believable, powerful way. That's something that had only been tried twice before - in Tarzan of the Apes (1918) and Greystoke (1983) - and never completely successfully. Tarzan's adoptive mother Kala is a vital character in his origin story and the Disney version is the only one to show how important she was to the ape man. My initial impulse when Disney's Tarzan comes up is to dismiss it (Terk and Tantor are annoying characters and the story grows trite once the humans show up), but it's a worthwhile adaptation if only for the scenes of Tarzan as a young boy.


Paxton said...

I'm a big Disney fan, but I was predisposed to not like this movie. However, it was better than I expected it to be. And probably better than it had any right to be.

Michael May said...

I was HUGE into the Disney animation renaissance for the first few movies, but I'd been disappointed by The Lion King and Pocahontas and was skeptical about Tarzan.

Burroughs' novels were such an important part of my childhood reading that I wasn't sure I wanted to see the Disney treatment. Not surprisingly, their version met both my biggest hopes for it and my biggest fears.

Monc said...

I go back and forth on this movie. I cannot deny its sheer artistry and technical genius, but I have issues with the characters and the strong PC 1990s "white men are bad" vibe.

My favorite part, though, is the scene where Tarzan battles the leopard. When they fall into the pit, and Tarzan emerges with the leopard's corpse and gives his victory cry... that is a superbly Tarzanic moment.

Michael May said...

Agreed about the leopard. That's a really effective, scary scene that pays off.

I don't know about the "white men are bad" element being an example of '90s PC though. That's a standard trope not only of Tarzan stories, but of jungle adventures in general. I'm more bothered that Disney's version of Clayton just isn't at all interesting.


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