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Tarzan (1999)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/12/2014

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/5/2014

Two years after the experiment which was Hercules, Disney once again went back to the well to bring us another action hero from ancient times, although they didn't go back so far this time. Tarzan, created by author Edgar Rice Burroughs, first appeared in print in 1912. Since that time, the character has been featured in many movies, comic books, novels, and other forms of entertainment. Universally known, Tarzan has had many iterations, so one couldn't help but wonder which way Disney's version would go.

Tarzan opens with a shipwreck in which a couple finds themselves washed ashore with their baby. They build a treehouse and attempt to make a life there. Unfortunately, a jaguar attacks the compound, killing the parents. Kala (voiced by Glenn Close), a female gorilla who lost her baby to the same jaguar, hears the baby crying and rescues it. Despite the protests by group leader Kerchak (voiced by Lance Henriksen), Kala decides to keep the baby and raise it as her own. She decides to call the boy Tarzan. Thinking that he is a gorilla, Tarzan grows to live in the jungle and loves to play with fellow gorilla Terk (voiced by Rosie O'Donnell) and elephant Tantor (voiced by Wayne Knight). As the years pass, Tarzan (voiced by Tony Goldwyn) becomes an athletic hunter. His world is turned upside down when humans Jane (voiced by Minnie Driver), her father Professor Porter (voiced by Nigel Hawthorne), and their guide Clayton (voiced by Brian Blessed) come into the jungle to study the gorillas. Tarzan is intrigued by these creatures who look like him and he's drawn to Jane. The ape-man suddenly finds himself pulled between two worlds.

I fully realize that traditional Disney animated films took years to make and were planned far in advance, but I can't help but wonder that the powers-that-be at Disney didn't look at Hercules and think, "Maybe we should approach this one a little more seriously." When you think of Tarzan, you typically don't think of light-hearted fare, thus the somewhat (and that's a huge somewhat) darker tone to this film. We could talk for hours about the lack of parents in Disney films (What is up with that?), but any movie which opens with the parents of an infant being slaughtered certainly leans towards grim. The sub-plot involving the poaching and abuse of gorillas is taken somewhat seriously and the battle between Tarzan and the jaguar is well-handled.

But, this is a Disney movie, so we also get a great deal of goofiness. The baboon chase could have been suspenseful, but it gets bogged down in acrobatic shenanigans. The Professor is solely there for comic relief and most of the first act, in which Tarzan is a youngster, is played mostly for weak laughs. The most important aspect of modern Disney animation is often the hero's sidekick and we've some great ones, such as Abu from Aladdin and Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast. However, Turk is a total miscue. I realize that O'Donnell's Brooklyn accent is supposed to be part of the joke, but it simply comes across as annoying.

To its credit, Tarzan does feature some fantastic animation, most notably when the titular character is swinging or branch-surfing through the trees. Again, if this could have been treated as a straight-forward action film, it may have been seen as a classic, not just another Disney also-ran.

Tarzan swings onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only the slightest hint of grain at times and no defects from the source materials. As one would expect, the film is loaded with greens and browns and these colors look fine here, as does the "pop" of Jane's yellow dress. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the multi-plain shots shows very nice depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Yes, you read that right, a 5.0 track, which was also featured on the original DVD release over 14 years ago. (All that time and they can't find the subwoofer track.) Despite this deficiency, we still get nice bass from the front channels during the songs. The action scenes show off nicely layered surround sound action which blends well with the audio coming from the front channels.

All the extras on the Tarzan Blu-ray Disc come from the 2000 DVD release. This includes an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Directors Chris Buck and Kevin Lima along with Producer Bonnie Arnold, four DELETED SCENES, a five-part "Making of" section, a DisneyPedia short about jungle life, and several pieces which profile Phil Collins and examine the film's music.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long