Tarzan ©Buena Vista International, all rights reserved ©Burroughs and Disney Tarzan ® all rights reserved

It's a Disney moment. One of those wonderful Disney moments. Everyone can shout how much they like all those wonderful animated features (and nowadays they get pumped out at great expense, usually backed up by a team of super talented technicians, but "Tarzan" is really a special example of what the Disney experience is. Before I get too serious about the content, however, let me say that the film is terrific and because of that, it is a "must see."

Tarzan is orphaned and alone in the jungle when the gorillas take him under their wing (or hairy armpits). It is not until other humans happen onto the island in search of elephant tusks and other such animal treasures, that he becomes aware of his status (species-wise). Our cartoon friend also has the advantage of rapidly adapting his language skills. Soon becoming as adept in English as he has been in Animal (although, in this particular jungle, all the animals speak English too, so it's less of a problem). Well, kids, what did you expect? (Just don't point this out or it might ruin the fun for any little brothers or sisters watching.) Here, as in many cinematic predecessors, the "white ape" develops into a young man with all the instincts of a jungle animal and the physical prowess of an athletic superstar. (He could also well be the sexiest cartoon on record, next to Jessica Rabbit.)

An event for the whole family, children will undoubtedly laugh as much as adults. And underneath it all, there really is a fascinating story being told with a message that may make some people ponder. Isn't that, after all, one of the responsibilities of the fable, the fairy tale, and the legend? Tarzan is an outsider and, oddly enough, this aspect of his life becomes clearer in this cartoon version than in many others. He was separated from his culture by accident, lost his parents by cruel fortune, was protected from imminent death by another species, and has long remained unaware, during his growth into manhood, of his differences from those surrounding him and caring for him. He is a man who does not belong where he finds himself, but doesn't know it and has found no reason to suspect otherwise. He has become someone removed, an oddity, a creature of curiosity, not through his own fault, but by sheer coincidence. Nevertheless, he shines as an example of the noble savage because of his physical beauty, his natural abilities as a warrior, his ability to survive and his unbroken worldly innocence.

The Disney team decided to go on an emotional safari in dealing with the title character. Remaining faithful to Edgar Rice Burroughs*, they wanted an approach that would appeal to a contemporary audience. Their choice is a sensitive one that fits the tale perfectly, considering it is an inherent part of it. Tarzan is both an individual and an "outsider" not by choice, but by fate, and it is this aspect that makes his story relevant not only now, but in any given generation. Tarzan is a man placed in a strange environment which has become his own; a man displaced who reaches awareness both of his situation and himself; a man who must decide both who he is and where he belongs. Subject to fate and his own will, he becomes a hero in dealing with both once he is forced to make choices and take control. Nevertheless, despite these serious issues, it is a very funny and highly enjoyable movie.

Directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck have put all the appropriate pieces into place. It is Glen Keane, however, designer of the title figure, that really deserves top credit for successfully combining the movements of human and ape. Having just finished a study of anatomy and sculpture during a one-year sabbatical, Keane headed the team of 100 artists, animators and technicians at Disney's Paris studio that rendered the actions of the lead character. The most successful attempt to combine these physical attitudes previously is the choreography designed for the movement of Christopher Lambert as Tarzan (in "Greystoke"), who found himself surrounded by a group of ballet dancers in gorilla outfits. Animation, however, gives a much broader canvas with which to portray movement and most exciting and stunning of all to be found here are his travels through the trees, their branches and vines with speedy spirals and skate-boarding shifts. Want your breath taken away by the jungle man? Go crazy. The utilization of "Deep Canvas," a new system developed by art director Dan St. Pierre and his team especially for "Tarzan," adds an amazing depth to the home ground jungle of the ape-boy. Modern technology has allowed some breathtaking moments in this swinging romp through the jungle where several slips and slides circling round the trees makes one almost feel as if he's (she's) on a ride in Disneyland. Doubtless such an attraction is something to look forward to in the future, as well as the opening of a New York stage production at the Disney theatre on Times Square. I imagine that will be one performance not to be missed. For the time being, however, take advantage of the fun and enjoy the best Disney animation film that's been onscreen for some time.

Tarzan, for all you other aficionados, has seen many shapes and forms since the original written creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs found the written page. There have been 47 Tarzan films to date (and that's not including some of the non-official directly related cult derivatives). Not all incarnations have been successful; not all have been interesting; not all have had anything to do with the original creation. Be that as it may, some of the past variations (including ones far afield) have had an incredible pulling power for different reasons (among them Johnny Weissmuller, Lex Barker, Herman Brix, Joe Lara, Christopher Lambert, and let us not forget either Frank Merrill in his fabulous imitation leopard skin slippers or Gordon Scott with his 50's pompadour). Now, however, we are able to see the "white ape" in all his illustrated glory while listening to the golden voice of Tony Goldwyn. All the voices on the soundtrack are delightfully precisioned in their character renditions and immensely helpful in making the story come to life. Minnie Driver is an adorable Jane with a charmingly enticing sense of humor. Brian Blessed blasts his usual sonorous tones as the villainous Clayton (whose face more than slightly resembles that of the notorious Captain Hook). Glenn Close proves that even the biggest gorillas can be gentle. And Rosie O'Donnell is unmistakably present. Yes, the Tarzan gang's all here and the story, with the exception of slight alterations, is as familiar as it's always been. And let's not forget the addition of five fabulous songs to the action by Phil Collins.

Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!! Lucky Jane!

Edgar Rice Burroughs would approve.

* Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of "Tarzan" was born in Chicago in 1875 and failed at almost everything he did until 1912. He was, among other things, a cowboy, a gold miner, a soldier in the U.S. Calvary, and a pencil-sharpener salesman before he pushed his own pencil across the page and created the first Tarzan novel (for which he was paid the lucrative sum of \$700). He was also the first person to cleverly maintain merchandising rights on such a creation and pioneered in licensing bread, bubble gum and bathing suits, all articles related to his wonder boy "Tarzan." A total of 24 "Tarzan" novels and 70 other books (some dealing with missions to Mars) established his name in the literary chronicles.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett