tek's rating: ½

Tarzan (G)
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Caution: spoilers.

This came out in the summer of 1999, which was the one time in my life that I had the opportunity to actually go out to the movies far more often than I ever have before or since. So I did see this in a theater. There was a spin-off TV series called The Legend of Tarzan, from 2001-2003. I definitely saw some of that, but I'm not sure how much. There were also a couple of direct-to-video sequels, in 2002 (Tarzan & Jane) and 2005 ("Tarzan II"). Anyway, I've always wanted to see this movie again, but didn't get around to buying the DVD until summer of 2016, when an unrelated, live-action movie called "The Legend of Tarzan" hit theaters. (I'm watching and reviewing the 1999 movie a few weeks after the new movie opened, but it still counts as an example of my tendency to watch old movies on DVD that are related to- or just similar to- new movies I can't see in theaters. Because these days, I almost never get to go out to the movies.)

Anyway... it begins with a ship on fire. (Wikipedia says this is in the 1880s, though as far as I know the movie gives no indication of when it takes place. Still, I reckon that sounds about right.) A couple escape with their baby son, on a lifeboat. They reach the coast of Africa, and construct a shelter. Meanwhile, there's a gorilla named Kala (Glenn Close), whose baby runs off one night and ends up being killed by a leopard named Sabor. Later, Kala hears a baby crying, and follows the sound to the shelter, where she finds that the man and woman have also been killed by Sabor. However, their baby is still alive, and Kala decides to raise him as her own, and names him Tarzan. Her mate (and the leader of the group of gorillas), Kerchak (Lance Henriksen), disapproves, but grudgingly accepts Kala's decision.

The story then jumps forward to when Tarzan is a young boy. He's eager to win Kerchak's approval, but that seems unlikely. Meanwhile, his best friend is a young gorilla named Terk (Rosie O'Donnell). But he's still considered somewhat of an outcast among most gorillas, and wants to fit in. For reasons I won't get into, this leads to his meeting a young elephant named Tantor (who will later be voiced by Wayne Knight, as an adult). And... there's a montage of Tarzan working to improve his own gorilla-ness. Partway through the montage, he suddenly goes from boy to man, at which point we can see he's gotten pretty good at... stuff.

And then one day, a trio of British people show up. There's a woman named Jane Porter (Minnie Driver), and her father, Professor Archimedes Porter (Nigel Hawthorne), and their guide, Clayton (Brian Blessed). The Porters want to find and study gorillas. Clayton says he just wants to keep the two of them safe, but he seems kind of untrustworthy, like he has an agenda of his own (which isn't hard to guess). Anyway, Jane ends up getting herself attacked by a pack of baboons, and Tarzan rescues her. He's amazed to learn that there are creatures who look like himself, since he's never seen a human before (at least not that he remembers). Jane's afraid of him at first, but soon comes around. Meanwhile, Terk and Tantor and some other gorillas find the humans' camp while they're all away. They begin using common items as musical instruments, which rather put me in mind of Stomp. Anyway, the humans soon return to camp, and the animals all leave. And Jane tells her father and Clayton about Tarzan. At first they don't believe her story (or at least Clayton doesn't), but before long he shows up again. Jane teaches him English (in a rather short amount of time, which is kind of hard to believe, except that Tarzan has always had a knack for mimicking the sounds of other animals and things). And they show him slides with pictures of civilization, which fascinates him. He and Jane grow closer, but she's still disappointed at not having met any gorillas, since Kerchak had ordered his group to stay away from the humans.

Eventually, the ship that had brought the humans there returns, so the Porters and Clayton have to leave. Tarzan wants Jane to stay, and Clayton convinces him to take her to meet some gorillas. (Tarzan also starts teaching Jane to speak gorilla.) But she still ends up having to leave, and Tarzan decides to go with her. After that... well, Clayton does something that doesn't surprise me at all. Tantor and Terk end up rescuing Tarzan and the Porters, and they all go back to rescue the gorillas. And... well, bad things happen and good things happen. I don't want to spoil how it all ends.

Anyway, it's a good movie. Good characters, good story, nice animation, some pretty cool action (Tarzan's got the moves, yo), some decent humor, nice music by Phil Collins, and I guess the romance isn't bad. (It's a bit stilted considering Tarzan knows nothing about human society and Jane's the only woman he's ever met, but otherwise I'd say, given the period, it has an almost Merchant/Ivory feel to it, or as close as a Disney cartoon could get to such a thing.)


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