If Tarzan had come from any studio other than Disney, it would be considered a masterpiece. Unlike most of the Disney wanna-bes, the animation here is lush, a real treat for the eyes. Every leaf in Tarzan‘s jungle looks as though it’s been buffed. (And speaking of buff, check out the title character! He should do for women what Roger Rabbit’s wife Jessica did for males.)
But The Disney Co. has its own, admirably high standards for animated movies, and based on those standards, Tarzan disappoints at every level. Here are its most notable flaws.
* Songs. This has been Disney’s major shortcoming lately. Try to think of the last Disney cartoon that had really memorable tunes. Well, it won’t be Tarzan, for sure. None of the characters sing here; instead, sort-of-rocker Phil Collins tries to function as a Greek chorus on the soundtrack. But all he does is take subtle visuals and bluntly spell them out with his trite lyrics and bubble gum melodies.
* Female Characters. After seeing Disney heroines who can hold their own (most notably in Mulan), Tarzan’s women seem a throwback to the days when Snow White washed dishes for dwarfs. Kala (voiced by Glenn Close), the gorilla who raises Tarzan as her own son, is too shuddery for my tastes. Whenever she’s in danger, she gasps and takes a few steps back, as though she was Fay Wray instead of the ape. (Even Dumbo‘s mom, in chains, had more moxie than this gal.) And Jane (Minnie Driver), of “Me Tarzan, you Jane” fame, spends the first few minutes of her opening scenes screaming and falling all over herself, and she never gets any easier to take.
* Comic Relief. Lordy, am I sick of wisecracking sidekicks! Tarzan, an almost mythical character, ought to rate a better partner than Terk (Rosie O’Donnell), an orangutan with a Brooklyn accent.
* Disney Rehashes. Professor Porter, Jane’s fluttery father, is just another take on the bumbling sultan from Aladdin. And Clayton, the he-man villain, is only a variation on Beauty and the Beast‘s windbag Gaston.
* Plot Line. The story here is decidedly earthbound. There’s no plot development you can’t see a mile away. And some of the dialogue is laughable, New Age psycho-babble, such as “Why are you so threatened by anyone who isn’t like you?” and “Tarzan, I just want you to be happy.” When the dialogue makes its points that plainly, there’s not enough going on in the visuals.
At the very least, Tarzan is the kind of cartoon you won’t be embarrassed to watch with your child. The irony is that the much-ballyhooed “Disney renaissance,” which began with The Little Mermaid 10 years ago, was meant to transcend that kind of thinking and make cartoons the kind of movie that everyone could enjoy, with or without a child in tow.