The Disney animation unit caps its 1990s winning streak in high style with Tarzan, a fast-paced, consistently entertaining retelling of the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, with appeal to both young and adult audiences. An especially lively voice cast and often breathtaking blend of traditional and computer animation should make this one of the bigger hits in the Disney cartoon canon.
The screenplay by Tab Murphy (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gorillas in the Mist) and Bob Tzudiker and Noni White (Hunchback, Anastasia) wastes no time in getting down to business, as the infant Tarzan's parents are shipwrecked off the coast of Africa and quickly dispatched by a leopard. The gurgling orphan is discovered by a female gorilla, Kala, who has recently lost a child and saves the boy from that same hungry cat. Against the wishes of her fierce mate, Kerchak, Kala raises the human as her own. Viewed as a freak by the young apes, Tarzan hones his survival skills until he becomes the most agile creature in the jungle. The boy grows to manhood in a brisk montage sequence, gliding along branches and vines like an ultra-buff surfer dude.
The movie comes alive for the adult audience with the arrival of anthropologists Jane Porter and her doddering father, guided by a surly white hunter, Clayton. In a standout sequence, Tarzan rescues Jane from a baboon attack, and romance blossoms between the prim scientist and this curious primitive hunk. Clayton isn't nearly as vivid a villain as one usually finds in Disney cartoons, but he's a scoundrel nonetheless--as Tarzan and Jane live to regret leading him to Tarzan's ape family. The script veers from Burroughs in the finale--Tarzan never goes to England to ponder his place in the world, and he manages to reclaim his original jungle clan, accompanied by Jane and her father.
Crisply directed by Kevin Lima (The Goofy Movie) and Chris Buck, Tarzan never approaches a dull moment. Instead of songs that stop the action, the movie utilizes drum-heavy numbers written and sung by Phil Collins as background to narrative montages. Though catchy and top-40-friendly, Collins' tunes have an aural sameness that may be a bit monotonous for non-fans. But, luckily, the virtuosic animation makes up for the general absence of other singing voices. Collins' percussive talents, meanwhile, get a prime showcase in 'Trashin' the Camp,' a cute sequence in which Tarzan's animal friends lay waste to the human intruders' campsite.
Actor-director Tony Goldwyn is robustly persuasive as the voice of Tarzan, and Glenn Close brings great warmth to the maternal Kala, evoking memories of Kim Hunter in Planet of the Apes. The inimitable Rosie O'Donnell and Wayne Knight are the comic sidekicks this time out, and Nigel Hawthorne bumbles well as Professor Parker. But the movie's true vocal standout is Minnie Driver, who brings exceptional comic timing to her Jane--especially in the early scenes where she deals with the shock, surprise and erotic thrill of meeting such a rare specimen of man. Tarzan is truly fun for the whole family, and is bound to capture a sizeable share of the summer movie audience.