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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Disney's Tarzan (1999)

Updated: May 5, 2023

With rumours that Disney are planning a live-action re-make of Tarzan (1999) starring Ryan Reynolds, thought it an opportune time to go back and re-visit the original. In the wake of the revitalisation that began with The Little Mermaid, audiences expect the animation to be slick, but the characters have to be fully rounded, full of funny and tragic moments, stunning sets pieces, narrative driven and entertaining, life inspiring messages, witty dialogue and catchy songs. Amazingly Tarzan comes pretty much close to fulfilling all these requirements.

Considering the source material, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s incredibly popular novel Tarzan of the Apes, it is a story that is familiar to most people and therefore the question is how you make it different, whilst staying the same: Tarzan is brought up in the jungle by a family of apes. As he grows up he realises he different from the rest of his family. Into the woods come a party of scientists, their guide hoping to study jungle animals. Professor Porter and his daughter Jane have every intention of treating the jungle and its occupants with the respect it deserves, their guide Clayton has other ideas, and soon he is hunting down Tarzan’s family to take back home.

The jungle is lush and green, and the animation rich and textured, creating a fully three-dimensional world for Tarzan’s stunning flights across the jungle as he swings from vine to vine, or ‘skateboards’ down trees.

The characters that inhabit this world are also three dimensional. What makes Jane so refreshing is Minnie Driver’s comic delivery and timing. She transforms what could have been a stereotyped prim Victorian English ninny into an independent woman, able to fend for herself, but quite happy to accept Tarzan’s assistance when it suits her. Tony Goldwyn is the voice behind the ‘hunky’ Tarzan. He carries off his transition from grunting ape-man to charming romantic lead, with great aplomb.

The supporting cast of starry names with polished performances all add to the quality of the writing. Nigel Hawthorne plays Jane’s scatty father. Naturally another English actor had to play the villain, and Brian Blessed more than adequately provides the vocals to match the rotten hunter happy to exploit the jungle for his own financial gain. Glenn Close takes on the role of Tarzan’s ape mother, and is there to guide Tarzan on his way with wise words of wisdom. Brooding actor Lance Henriksen plays the role of Tarzan’s ape father, Kerchak. Their relationship is antagonistic, one which many children can identify with. Tarzan’s best buddies and the film’s comic characters are voiced by Wayne Knight as the elephant Tantor and Rosie O’Donnell as the New York accented ape, Terk.

The songs, written by Phil Collins, are not the usual showstopping style such as Be My Guest from Beauty and the Beast, but they do help capture the mood of the jungle and its occupants and as such blend with the film rather than standout. The key difference being is that in most cases the characters don’t stop to sing. The songs are in the background whilst montage sequences and set pieces occur on screen.

As refreshing as its lush jungle setting, Tarzan is a real breath of fresh air. A great example of a Disney movie with all the components coming together to create a fun film with messages for everyone.


Prd. Bonnie Arnold, Dir. Kevin Lima, Chris Buck. Based on Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs Songs. Phil Collins

St. Brian Blessed (Clayton), Minnie Driver (Jane), Tony Goldwyn (Tarzan), Glenn Close (Kala), Nigel Hawthorne (Professor Porter), Lance Henriksen (Kerchak), Wayne Knight (Tantor), Rosie O’Donnell (Terk)

Rel. 1999. Run. 88m.


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