Featured Blu-ray Review: Tarzan
August 10th, 2014
By the time Tarzan came out, Disney's animation studio was off its recent peak and had been overtaken by Pixar as the king of animated films. Tarzan did manage to open in first place, but it was the most expensive animated film of all time when it came out, while its box office numbers were only good in comparison. Now that the film is coming out on Blu-ray, is it worth picking up?
The film begins with an extended prologue where we see two families. There's a human family who survive a shipwreck and build a new life on in a rain forest in Africa. Meanwhile, there's a gorilla family, who also has a young child. The infant gorilla is killed by a leopard, Sabor, and its mother, Kala, is devastated. While traveling with the pack of gorillas, Kala hears an infant crying and runs away from the group to investigate. What Kala finds it evidence of leopard attack, including the corpses of the two adult humans. At first, she decides to leave, because no one wants to deal with leopards. She also hears the infant crying and decides she can't leave him on his own. That was a smart call, because Sabor was still there. After a short chase, Kala and the child get away. When she returned to the group with the child, she announces she will be its new mother. This is something Kerchak will not stand for, but after Kala assures him no humans will come looking for him, he allows Kala to keep him and she names him Tarzan.
We flash forward a few years and Tarzan is still trying to fully integrate himself in the group. Kerchak still hates him. Kerk is his only friend, and she's not much of a friend. She tries to ditch him, first by telling him he can't come and play with her and her friends, because he can't keep up. When he proves he can keep up, she tells Tarzan, he can only play with them if he gets an elephant hair. It ends poorly with an Elephant stampede that nearly kills one of the gorillas. (Although Tarzan and Kerk meet Tantor, an elephant, who soon becomes their friend.) For Kerchak, this is the last straw and he says that Tarzan doesn't belong. He will never belong. However, after a talk with Kala, Tarzan decides to use this as motivation.
One training montage later and Tarzan is an adult. One of the first things we see Tarzan do as an adult is fight Sabor, killing the leopard with the spear he previously made. This finally earns him the respect of Kerchak; however, there's not a lot of time to bathe in the glory, because nearby gunshots are heard. Kerchak gets the gorillas to move away, but Tarzan goes to investigate.
What he finds is a group of explorers, led by Clayton, the hunter / guide. He's protecting Professor Porter, who has come to Africa to study the gorillas, and he brought along his daughter, Jane. Professor Porter is excited, because they just discovered a gorilla nest, lots of them. This proves that gorillas live in family groups, an idea Clayton scoffs at. The trio continue on their way when Jane's notebook is stolen by a monkey and she gives chase. Unfortunately, while she catches up with the monkey, the monkey's family catches up to her and it is up to Tarzan to rescue her. She isn't exactly grateful, which is to be expected given her strange surroundings. Scared and confused takes precedence over gratitude.
After she is able to calm down a little, Jane and Tarzan try to communicate. Tarzan quickly figures out he and Jane are alike, unlike him and the rest of his gorilla family. When she hears a gunshot, she asks Tarzan to take her back to her camp. Meanwhile, Tarzan's family has been looking for him and Kerk, Tantor, and a few others find the human camp. A song and dance number later they've managed to destroy the camp. Tarzan arrives with Jane around the same time as Kerchak does and he has to leave.
When Clayton and Professor Porter return to the camp, Jane rambles on a bit about what happened. Again, understandably so. After all, what she just went through it hard to process. When she mentions the gorillas, Professor Porter and Clayton get really excited. Professor Porter wants to study them. Clayton is a hunter, so his interest is less kind.
We run into spoilers from now on, so that's the end of the plot summary.
Perhaps watching Tarzan so soon after watching Hercules was a mistake. I was disappointed in Hercules and storywise there are a lot of similarities here. This movie is about a son who is raised by someone other than his real family and feels out of place as a result. On the downside, Tarzan doesn't have as much in the way of style to elevate it above the material. On the positive side, Tarzan has better material to begin with. The writing here was much better than with Hercules and I didn't feel they were trying too hard to be cool or hip and instead just told a solid story. And it is a solid story. Additionally, this movie was made a few years later and the combination of computer animation and 2D animation had come along a lot over just two years. It looks fantastic and hasn't aged nearly as much. It is still not a classic, but then again, "Not a classic" is hardly an insult. This is a film that is worth checking out and does have some replay value as well.
It's shovelware. Extras begin with three deleted scenes and include an optional introduction. Backstage Disney includes the audio commentary track, which is buried at the end of the list. I would have put it first. Up next is a look at the development of the movie from the original novel onwards. There's a making of featurette that looks at the character design and another on the animation process. There is a DisneyPedia about life in the jungle. Music and More looks at the making of the music, including a short look at Phil Collins singing in foreign languages. There are also a handful of music videos.
The technical presentation is, for the most part, excellent. The level of details is fantastic, but the colors are the real selling point. The jungle setting means there's a lot of shadows and they never damage the level of details. I didn't see any compression issues or digital artifacts. The audio is good, but not quite as strong. The dialogue is clear, but there isn't a ton of activity in the surround sound speakers.
The Blu-ray costs $18, which is fine for a shovelware release with this many extras.
Tarzan was the last 2D Disney film to open in first place. It deserved its box office success, but it isn't among the classics the studio has produced over the years. The Blu-ray Combo Pack is shovelware, but there are enough extras that it is worth picking up.
Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Tarzan