Tarzan (Special Edition)

While nowhere near the level of quality of Disney’s pinnacle achievement, The Lion King, Disney’s Tarzan is still quite an accomplishment, serving as one of Disney’s best post-Lion King movies. I grew up in the wrong era for Tarzan. While I distinctly remember the legendary ape-man having some sort of Saturday-morning cartoon while I was growing up, it wasn’t something that caught my attention and kept me hooked. Despite that lack of interest, the idea of Disney producing a Tarzan animated movie really appealed to me, especially when I heard Phil Collins would be providing the music. As it turns out, the House of Mouse didn’t let me down.

Although the movie is more faithful to the old Johnny Weissmuller films then the Burroughs novels, the story still resembles what most people know about Tarzan. A young boy, whose parents are killed in the jungle, is adopted by gorillas and raised as one of their own. Tarzan finds himself with exceptional abilities mere gorillas don’t posses, although his lack of fur keeps him from fitting in completely, keeping to the typical Disney theme of heroes who are trying to find their place in the world. When humans arrive in his jungle (for both scientific exploits and hunting), Tarzan must make a choice between the world he grew up in, and the world he belongs in by birth. As always, there is an over the top villain to help provide external conflict, although, as in a lot of Disney animated films, the internal struggle of the hero is what really drives the film.

Tony Goldwyn, best known for his role as the back-stabbing “best friend” in Ghost, is not a name I would have quickly associated with the muscular figure of Tarzan, especially in the Disney days of stunt-casting by Disney’s animation department. Goldwyn does an excellent job giving real depth to the title character, even when he’s reduced to grunting in the ape-language. I’m glad the studio chose to go with someone that could handle the emotion of the character rather then handing the part over to Jim Carrey or some other big name from the time. Minnie Driver’s Jane is a bit closer to stunt casting, but honestly I like her better as a voice in this then I have liked her as a whole person in anything else she’s done. The ultimate casting sellout comes in the form of Rosie O’Donnell as Terk, Tarzan’s best buddy. Surprisingly O’Donnell doesn’t annoy me too much in the role, perhaps because it’s not a fundamental part in the movie, and doesn’t appear in the film much more then is required.

One of the best things about Tarzan is the soundtrack, driven heavily by Phil Collins songs. This movie was right on the cusp of Disney’s decision to stop making their animated movies musicals, so most of the songs are performed by Collins rather then characters in the movie. The only exception is a softer, gentler version of “You’ll Be In My Heart” that’s started by Glenn Close (as Kala, Tarzan’s ape mother) before shifting to Collins for the remainder of the song. Honestly I like the softer version that appears in the movie over the more upbeat pop version that appeared on radios everywhere. Nothing beats the coming-of-age “Son of Man” though, in just about any Disney flick. That’s about the highest praise I can offer for a song.

Disney’s biggest post LK failure in my mind was Pocahontas, the story of an indian princess who felt like a better world was “just around the riverbend”. In many ways Tarzan is the story that should have been told in that movie. Make no mistake though, Tarzan is vastly superior to that disaster. From the story to the animation, all the way to the music, Tarzan is another Disney success that will last for generations to come. Years ago, Disney started all of their animated movies on a moratorium cycle. The idea was that every movie would be introduced once per generation. Once the movie had been released for a limited time, and then placed back in the “Disney vault” for ten years, at which point it would be offered again. I’ve always thought this was actually a pretty good idea. It kept from keeping the market over saturated with Disney flicks, and I’ve only said Disney should break from this in one way: keep the movies available in their parks year round, so visitors to the parks can stock up on movies they can’t get elsewhere, but I digress.

Tarzan was one of the first movies to be released on “Disney DVD” with a decent version. Disney was a late adopter of the DVD format, and when they finally saw the light, the first dozen or so titles that were released were bare bones editions available at almost double the price most studios were selling discs at, a move that was very unpopular with fans. This was rectified when Tarzan came out in 2000 with a two-disc “collector’s edition”, the likes of which hadn’t been seen from Disney up to that point. I remember this vividly, because it was one of the first Disney DVDs I finally bought.

So if a two disc “collector’s edition” was released in 2000, and the moratorium lasts ten years, why are we getting a new release of Tarzan now, in 2005? What’s worse, if enough bonus material exists to make a two-disc edition five years ago, why are we only getting a single disc version now?

There is very little that appears on this disc that wasn’t on the two-disc edition five years ago. A few games, a short featurette on jungle animals, and a music video by a Disney-brand cover band are all that’s new. The commentary and deleted scenes that appear on the disc are ripped straight from the previous version, complete with an obviously-read-from-cue-card introduction by producer Bonnie Arnold for the deleted scenes. There is nothing new of interest to anyone over the age of five, and the most interesting parts of the two-disc set, like featurettes that documented the entire process of making a cartoon, are absent.

This disc is a desperate plea for cash from Disney in the worst way. Unfortunately they aren’t giving consumers anything worth buying with this release. With so many excellent DVDs being put out by Disney studios these days, something of this poor quality is just unacceptable, especially for a release that’s breaking the studio’s self-declared moratorium. Although the fans who missed the opportunity to purchase Tarzan five years ago will be thankful to see this, I think it’s disgusting to see Disney rip off fans like this. This, despite the high quality of the transfer, the beautiful picture and awesome sound, this disc gets the lowest rating I can possibly give a DVD release.

When Disney first came onto the DVD front with their high-priced, bare bones DVDs, fans responded - they refused to shell out ridiculous prices for such low quality product. Finally Disney saw the light and released DVDs worth buying. I highly recommend fans return to those old ways and refuse to buy the low quality releases Disney is pushing out these days like this one and the similar edition of The Emperor’s New Groove. Disney is under new management these days and a reminder of what happens when they try to con their fans might be another good wake up call for the new administration.