(This is a user-submitted post by Jordan Hashemi-Briskin)
Among all of the films of the Disney Renaissance, Tarzan has always been one of my top favorites. Right from the first time I saw the two-part sneak peak on the VHS releases of Mulan and A Bug’s Life (I was about four years old then), I knew that it would be something truly special, and as an adult, my appreciation of the movie has only deepened. It pains me, therefore, to see that its presence is seldom acknowledged by the Walt Disney Company these days. (Although maybe that has to do with the fact that, as I heard from a comment on a previous article, that Disney lost the rights to it a while back.)
Nevertheless, in the twenty years since its release, there is no doubt that Tarzan still holds up and remains one of Disney’s most ambitious and unique films to date. So, in light of its upcoming platinum anniversary, it behooves me to share the reasons why I think it has endured for so long.
1. Adding extra narrative depth to a classic story
If any of you have ever read the original Tarzan of the Apes, you’ll undoubtedly notice that it mainly centers on the differences between humankind and the rest of the animal kingdom. Disney greatly improved on the story by shifting the thematic focus onto the question of what defines a family. It also allows us a glimpse into Tarzan’s life among the gorillas (not to mention the other citizens of the rainforest), which makes his identity crisis later on in the story all the more poignant; previous cinematic adaptations had failed to touch on this aspect of Tarzan’s story.
2. The most accomplished character animation in the Disney canon
While Tarzan is renowned for its computer-aided cinematography techniques (and for good reason, I hasten to add), I feel that not enough attention is paid to the character animation. All of the animators on this film are truly at the height of their powers, though perhaps none more so than the great Glen Keane. His animation of Tarzan is, by my estimation, his strongest work ever, and not just for his impeccable handling of Tarzan’s arboreal acrobatics. The animation in the character’s quieter moments is equally superb; it perfectly blends the expressiveness and readable emotions of Glen’s animation of Ariel, with the subtle, nuanced body language of Pocahontas.
3. Effective use of non-diegetic music
While it’s not uncommon for the songs in Disney animated features to be sung off-screen, I think that Tarzan really pushed the notion of non-diegetic songwriting to a new extreme, by having nearly the entire score be conceived as such. Even though this choice breaks from the conventions of Disney feature animation at the time, the songs still effectively serve their purpose of telling the story. What makes it work, I think, is that songwriter Phil Collins basically serves as supplying the voice of the characters’ inner thoughts (in the cases of “Strangers Like Me” and “You’ll Be in My Heart”), as well as the traditional off-screen narrator (“Two Worlds” and “Son of Man”).
At the risk of repeating myself, Tarzan still stands tall as one of the most affecting and inspiring films in the Disney canon. It brought fresh life to a decades-old cultural icon, and is a testament to the power of animation as an art form.
Do you agree? What makes Tarzan stand out to you?
Edited by: Kelly Conley