Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Disney’s Tarzan is a movie that many people think of when they think of the story of Tarzan. And it is a suitable story for Disney to adapt. And as far as Disney does it the good stuff in the movie is dialed up to ten. This was the last hit for Disney’s 2D animation before the style declined in the 2000s. While it has some flaws in its story and character it overall proved to a bang for Disney.
The story is that a family is shipwrecked on an island and live on their own in a treehouse. However, a leopard named Sabor kills the mother and father leaving only the baby behind. A female gorilla named Kala who lost her own son to Sabor finds the baby and decides to raise him as her own naming him Tarzan despite the disapproval of her mate Kerchak. Growing up Tarzan struggles to win the respect of his father and friends both of whom think little of him. Upon becoming a man he comes across a hunter named Clayton, an eccentric professor, and his daughter Jane. Upon meeting Jane a romance between the two blooms and the two learn about each other’s worlds.
The story basically Tarzan’s turmoil of being a human raised by apes. During the scenes of his childhood, while it has a few emotional moments, the majority of it is played for comedy. However, after Tarzan grows up and meets Jane and the others that is when it goes into some deep territory. We see Tarzan, having spent years growing up under Kerchak’s disapproval (as well as only having Kala the only one who doesn’t consider him different), try his hardest to be like his family. He finally earns Kerchak’s respect for killing Sabor but his curiosity about the human world gradually drives the two apart again and it all leads to an extremely emotional scene when Tarzan learns the truth about his past.
The animation is incredible in this movie. Prior to this most people would merely associate with Tarzan just swinging from vines and while there is some of that, they go the extra mile. The way Tarzan moves through the jungle has him surfing the tree branches and the angles they choose as Tarzan traverses the jungle really help give it such a grand scale. Tarzan’s movements and expressions are also well animated. In the scene where he meets Jane the way his expression of shock and curiosity and the way he touches a human hand for the first time hits all the right emotional notes. And over the course of the movie we see Jane’s teachings to Tarzan about the human world have a profound impact on him to the point that he risks defying his adoptive father after spending so much time trying to earn his approval.
Jane is established as a very intelligent and has a great deal of fascination about the jungle. She’s also shown to be an upstanding Englishwoman and is completely out of her environment throughout this movie and as a result gets into a lot of trouble throughout the jungle, which leads to her meeting with Tarzan and learning to be open-minded about the secrets of the jungle
Clayton (particularly towards the climax) is another well-animated character. His expressions of and desire to achieve his goal and the extremes he goes towards achieving them give him a sense of distinction. And it leads to him having a rather dark death. It is the goal itself however where the character falls flat. Although Brian Blessed’s voice acting does tie into the aforementioned animation on him, his motivation is as cookie-cutter as you can get. He merely wants to capture and sell the gorillas to get rich and it makes him somewhat boring (wouldn’t he make more if he took credit for discovering Tarzan the ape man).
Terk and Tantor are two side characters who are funny but really don’t have that much else to them. The writing around them is funny but none of their comedy truly feels driven on their characters.
The songs are well done as well. Phil Collins sings the vast majority of them and each one establishes and contributes in helping the viewer enjoy the journey Tarzan is going on whether it be striving to improve himself among his fellow gorillas or learning about the human world.
Tarzan has a strong sense within its internal conflict and protagonists but does lose impact when it comes to external conflict. While Tarzan’s meetings with the humans give the film a great kick-start, Clayton’s motives really deviate from the whole thing. Despite that, Tarzan proves Disney can pull off fun and deep character development and provides an enjoyable narrative to the end.