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TARZAN

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Rosie O’Donnell, Wayne Knight, Nigel Hawthorne
Directors:  Kevin Lima, Chris Buck
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.0
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1:66:1
Studio:  Walt Disney
Features:  See Review
Length:  88 Minutes
Release Date:  October 18, 2005

Film ***1/2

Tarzan proved, at least for a little while, that the traditional art of pen-to-paper animation could still compete with the marvelous new computer generated kind.  Now that even the mighty Disney has abandoned the old school kind for the technological triumph of the new, Tarzan feels like the opposite bookend to Snow White, with each showcasing the beginning and end of an art form.

The look of this picture is extraordinary, with incredibly detailed art design and backgrounds, a beautiful array of colors, and most importantly, a new computer aided technique known as Deep Canvas, which allows absolute free simulations of camera movements through and around the drawings, with no restrictions as to speed, gravity, or other laws of physics.  To watch Tarzan scurry through the trees and swing on vines, chasing, eluding, and fighting, is to watch uninhibited motion the likes of which have never really been seen before.

There are many universal themes that run through the story of Tarzan, which may explain why it’s remained so popular through the years.  The ugly duckling concept of trying to fit into a world where you’re the only thing different.  The ideas of self discovery, of awareness, of loyalty, and finally, of learning to choose what you are going to be rather than have it dictated to you.

Of course, being Disney, do I even have to mention that a few creative liberties were taken with the story along the way?  No, I didn’t think so—but in all fairness, this version comes a lot closer to the spirit of the original Edgar Rice Burroughs novel than most of the Hollywood fare we’ve seen throughout the decades.  Mostly because through the freedom of animation, emphasis can be placed on the human boy’s relationship to the animals around him, and the gorillas who raised him.  One must fully appreciate this before they can begin to understand what makes Tarzan…well, Tarzan.

The one dramatic aspect lacking in this feature is a strong antagonist.  For such a splendidly realized jungle world, and such appealing characters in Tarzan and his animal friends, the story deserved a better plot device than the old tried and true human poacher element.  With his proper British mannerisms, Clayton comes across less like a serious villain and more like a nuisance.  As far as his angle of the story goes, there’s certainly no suspense as to what he’s eventually going to attempt to do.

But the other human characters are a delight, particularly Jane, who, as voiced by Minnie Driver, is a charming mix of sweet and comical, and makes for an appealing romantic lead for our hero.  And her father, Porter, played by Nigel Hawthorne, is a hoot as a gorilla expert who’s never really seen a gorilla, but whose enthusiasm is genuine and winning nonetheless.

Other remarkable voices include Tony Goldwyn as Tarzan, Glenn Close as Kala, his adopted ape mother, Lance Henriksen as the distrusting leader, Kerchak, and Wayne Knight as the neurotic elephant Tantor.

But special mention must go to Rosie O’Donnell, who provides in her character Terk one of Disney’s most delightful and memorable comic sidekicks.  After watching the film, it’s hard to imagine anybody else playing the role, or creating it in such a funny way.

Video ****

What a beautiful anamorphic transfer!  I mentioned what an amazing looking film this was, with an incredible palate of finely detailed colors…and not one of them is lost in the mix.  Images are sharp and clear throughout, without a hint of compression, grain, or noticeable debris on the print, but again…those colors!  Animated nirvana.  This is a glorious, gorgeous world captured perfectly.

Audio ***1/2

You read right…the audio mix is 5.0, not 5.1.  There is no signal to the subwoofer. No matter...this is still quite a fun, well crafted audio track, that manages to deliver a decent amount of bottom end without the extra channels.  The music and songs come across beautifully, as native instrumentation spreads across all speakers for a full, ambient sound, and there are plenty of scenarios when the surrounds add a good extra dimensionality.  It’s a good listen all around.

Features ***

Not a bad special edition.  For the adults, Tarzan contains a full length commentary by the producer and co-directors, along with some deleted scenes including an alternate opening.  For the kids, there are three new interactive games in "Terk's Tree Surfing Challenge", and a new DisneyPedia for "Living in the Jungle", where they'll learn about some of the real life counterparts of what they saw in the movie.  And finally, for all, there are music videos by Oscar winner Phil Collins, N SYNC, and Everlife.

Summary:

Tarzan is a beautiful, fast paced, fun animated picture that will no doubt appeal to kids and adults alike.  So enjoy the movie with your little ones, then feel free to tell them about a day when talented men and women actually drew these kinds of movies one frame at a time, so that we never lose the wonder.

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