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Tarzan

Tarzan (1999)

tomatometer

88

Average Rating: 7.6/10
Reviews Counted: 102
Fresh: 90 | Rotten: 12

Disney's Tarzan takes the well-known story to a new level with spirited animation, a brisk pace, and some thrilling action set-pieces..

86

Average Rating: 7.3/10
Critic Reviews: 28
Fresh: 24 | Rotten: 4

Disney's Tarzan takes the well-known story to a new level with spirited animation, a brisk pace, and some thrilling action set-pieces..

audience

73

liked it
Average Rating: 3.2/5
User Ratings: 366,279

My Rating

Movie Info

Walt Disney Pictures' animated adventure "Tarzan" is an innovative and entertaining exploration of the classic tale by Edgar Rice Burroughs. With music by Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Phil Collins, "Tarzan" is an adventure that traces the story of a human baby who is orphaned in the African jungle and lovingly raised by a family of apes. Tarzan's peaceful and sheltered world is turned upside down by the arrival of a human expedition and the revelation that he is one of them. As he

Jan 1, 2000

Buena Vista Pictures - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (105) | Top Critics (28) | Fresh (90) | Rotten (12) | DVD (29)

The stylized physiques and movements of the characters in this exciting animated musical-romance-adventure are at once realist and fantastic.

November 13, 2009 Full Review Source: Chicago Reader
Chicago Reader
Top Critic IconTop Critic

No classic, but very enjoyable.

June 24, 2006 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
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Simply a smashingly well-done example of animated storytelling.

July 21, 2005 Full Review Source: Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
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It's both a little scary and a lot funny, and kids will no doubt lap it up.

February 21, 2004 Full Review Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic IconTop Critic

So far, the most entertaining film of the year.

June 18, 2002 Full Review Source: San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Travels light, moves quickly and leaves very little in its wake.

March 22, 2002 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Kids will be drawn to Disney's fast-paced version.

December 28, 2010 Full Review Source: Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media

The most legitimately touching Disney feature of the 1990s.

December 4, 2009 Full Review Source: Antagony & Ecstasy
Antagony & Ecstasy

Just as Disney animation has become increasingly impressive, so have Disney animated films become increasingly adult.

October 18, 2008 Full Review Source: Boxoffice Magazine
Boxoffice Magazine

Highly enjoyable, great looking animated adventure that combines its touching storyline with plenty of wit and style.

September 2, 2008 Full Review Source: Film4
Film4

A splendid, eye-filling adventure that harkens back in many ways to the 1967 animated version of The Jungle Book.

August 7, 2008 Full Review Source: Sacramento News & Review
Sacramento News & Review

There is not one frame of this film that I would change.

December 6, 2005 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

A technical marvel from Disney that shrewdly compresses and streamlines the Disney formula into a more efficient whole.

November 4, 2005 Full Review Source: Bangor Daily News (Maine)
Bangor Daily News (Maine)

An exciting, accomplished work that ranks with the wonderful Johnny Weissmuller movies.

November 3, 2005 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

...one of Disney's most beautiful, most spectacular visual treats, even if the story line and characters are watered-down children's fare.

October 26, 2005 Full Review Source: Movie Metropolis
Movie Metropolis

A beautifully crafted, well-paced and well-voiced feature that will easily become yet another Disney classic.

April 9, 2005 Full Review Source: Reeling Reviews
Reeling Reviews

The first half of Tarzan is Disney's best stuff since Beauty and the Beast ... [then it] declines into a typical showdown with a forgettable villain.

January 15, 2005 Full Review Source: Looking Closer
Looking Closer

If only the film had taken a few more risks instead of hewing so closely to the patented Disney formula, it might have been a truly outstanding movie instead of merely an entertaining one.

July 15, 2003 Full Review Source: Kalamazoo Gazette
Kalamazoo Gazette

How does Disney do it?

May 14, 2003
Palo Alto Weekly

This film is beautiful, fun, touching, and exciting.

February 8, 2003 Full Review Source: Film Quips Online
Film Quips Online

Tarzan is as full and seasoned a crop as one could expect from a field that has already been cultivated too many times.

January 10, 2003 Full Review Source: Nick's Flick Picks
Nick's Flick Picks

An exhilarating adventure with an aching emotional tale at its heart.

October 15, 2002 Full Review Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Enquirer

Audience Reviews for Tarzan

Edgar Rice Burroughs famous dream imagining of a human baby raised by animals gets the Disney touch (including a pop soundtrack by Phil Collins). Purists might disdain the pairing - as they've a right to - nonetheless the meld works in its way, for its target audience.
The animations highlight, no doubt, is the entire swinging-through-the-trees sequences, a mystique that has worried moms since its inception, herein cleverly expanded upon to include some tree/ice skating routines! Once you've bought the original fantasy though why quibble over the loss of any reality?
Fun.
March 15, 2014
ApeneckFletcher

Super Reviewer

Disney has always been at its best when it allows the material to shape its storytelling, rather than the other way around. The fact that many of Disney's greatest works are based on fairy tales is not simply down to the inherent appeal or potential of these stories. It is because Disney worked hard to tell these stories the right way, playing the likes of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty to their own strengths.

But as the company has grown and diversified, having recognisable conventions (for the purposes of branding) has often been a higher priority. This in turn has pushed the company into more conservative and conflicted filmmaking, where the many entrenched Disney conventions often trample on the material. Tarzan is not as disastrous as Atlantis in this regard, but it is another example of how the company's brand paranoia often comes at the expense of genuine creativity.

Like its immediate predecessors, Tarzan finds Disney attempting to apply the tropes that underpinned the Renaissance to stories that simply don't suit them. All the more marketable aspects of Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin or The Lion King are here, but they don't so much serve the story as tick the boxes of audience expectations. The two sidekicks, one a wise-cracker, one a coward, are clearly trying to fill the roles of Lumiere and Cogsworth, but they are as unnecessary and incongruous as the talking gargoyles in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

There have been many different approaches to Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel throughout the history of cinema. At one end we have the Johnny Weissmuller films of the 1930s, which embraced the pulpy nature of the story and played up both the fan-service and the spirit of adventure. At the other, we have Hugh Hudson's Greystoke starring Christopher Lambert, which attempted to redress this portrayal of Tarzan as a simpleton, and interwove many characteristics of the Pocahontas myth.

Disney's approach is closer to the former, in that it emphasises the incredible physicality of its main protagonist. The film has a big advantage over its live-action cousins, being able to create incredibly dangerous situations on screen in which no real actors could survive. Some of the action scenes are frenetic, such as Tarzan's rescue and escape with Jane; the fluid camera movements compliment the agile nature of Tarzan's body as he improvises a way out through the jungle he knows so well.

The film as a whole is visually strong. The sweeping, painterly backgrounds were created using a new technique called 'Deep Canvas', which allows CG artists to 'paint' in 3D space; the computer keeps a record of each brushstroke made, so that the finished product has the glossy sheen of a modern film but the detail of a traditional painting. This technique was subsequently applied on Atlantis and Treasure Planet, but it is at its best here, with the painterly style complimenting the character models, which take after some of the earliest comic book depictions of Tarzan.

On a technical level, then, Tarzan is pretty impressive. But sadly the narrative of the film can't live up to the high standards set by the visuals. This is an example of how Disney's early-2000s decline differs from the malaise that set in after Disney's death.
In the 1960s less and less money was being devoted to animation, so standards naturally fell as the likes of Wolfgang Reitherman sought to save money by cutting corners. With Tarzan and its successors, the same levels of money are involved as earlier in the decade, but all the energy is being devoted to keeping the visuals great without the same level of concern being applied to the story.

To its credit, Tarzan does get the basic beats of its source material down pat. We see Tarzan being orphaned and adopted by the gorillas, being raised like an ape, and encountering his own kind for the first time as an adult. Both his upbringing by Kala and his developing love for Jane have a genuine emotional weight - though we have to put up with a lot of repetitive comedy to get to that point in the latter case.

All this seems fine, but there is one big problem with Tarzan. All of these events from the original story have been packaged around tried-and-tested Disney structures, so that it becomes less 'Tarzan, as told by Disney' and more 'a Disney film that just happens to have Tarzan in it'. The result is still passingly entertaining, but all the distinctive elements from Burroughs' story have been shoe-horned into marketable character arcs and archetypes, making the whole experience rather forgettable.

More specifically, this film is attempting to take the story of Tarzan and tell it like it was Pocahontas. The central relationship between Tarzan and Jane is constructed just like that of Pocahontas and John Smith, with an initial period of misunderstanding (in this case comedic) giving way to a vital knowledge of each other's cultures. Clayton effectively stands in for Radcliffe, as the blinkered oaf who manipulates the hero for material gain, and the Professor doubles up for Radcliffe's foppish sidekick who occasionally speaks a lot more sense than Radcliffe himself.

This misplaced adherence to formula spills over into other aspects of production. Phil Collins' inclusion on the soundtrack feels like a blatant attempt at recapturing the Oscar success of The Lion King (Elton John won Best Original Song for 'Can You Feel The Love Tonight'). Collins' songs are well-produced but completely bland and forgettable, as is Mark Mancina's Grammy-winning score. The whole production is forgettable, being so by-the-numbers that it never offends and never makes too great an impression.

Pretty much the only thing that makes Tarzan intriguing - or memorable for that matter - is that there are moments in which it does try to cut loose and carve out its own identity. Unlike The Great Mouse Detective, which never really hit its stride and made the very least of its prestigious source, there are a few select moments which are either very poignant or very funny.

The scene where Tarzan remembers his parents is genuinely sad, while the 'Trashing The Camp' musical number has hints of Snow White in its rhythm and comedic choreography. But both of these are never allowed to develop into more than moments, and as soon as they are over it's back to by-the-numbers box-ticking as though nothing had happened. Every time the film begins to show promise, it backtracks and takes the safe, boring or unfunny way out.

The performances in Tarzan reflect this feeling of creativity being forcibly reined in. None of the main performers are obviously bad, but neither do any of them make such an impression that they make the role their own. Tony Goldwyn and Minnie Driver are both passable as Tarzan and Jane, but nothing more: they make us chuckle but not laugh, smile but not grin. Nigel Hawthorne is phoning it in as Professor Archimedes (a possible nod to The Sword to the Stone) and Rosie O'Donnell is doing much the same - though she is at least annoying enough to be memorable. Most frustratingly, Brian Blessed is given so little to do that you'd almost say he was miscast. Clayton just isn't that memorable a villain, and Blessed isn't given the same room for manoeuvre that George C. Scott enjoyed on The Rescuers Down Under.

Tarzan is a boring disappointment from Disney, which looks as good as any of its counterparts but falls flat in all the place where it should soar. While the overall plot is less episodic than, say, The Jungle Book, it remains a film with several great moments which are so thickly smothered in Disney convention that they cease to be memorable. Disney would go on to make much worse films, but this remains one of the big let-downs of the Renaissance.
August 17, 2013
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

Aside from such lovely designs, another major highlight of this film is the adoring soundtrack by Phil Collins. His songs, especially 'You'll Be In My Heart' are very touching. Ultimately, lets not forget the superb voice cast for this film, from Glenn Close, to Brian Blessed, Wayne Knight and even Lance Henriksen. This may not be the greatest Disney film of all time, but its one that's more than worth returning to.
November 26, 2012
Samuel Riley
Samuel Riley

Super Reviewer

It is well drawn and the songs are beautiful, but the story is fairly uneven, jumping from the absurd to the probable. The film tries to place the characters in a period of history. It's hard, however, to get past the talking elephant (the apes of course can talk to Tarzan because he was raised by them).
July 28, 2012
Matthew Samuel Mirliani

Super Reviewer

    1. Kerchak: Everyone, we will avoid the strangers. Do not let them seek you and do not seek them out.
    2. Tarzan: They mean us no harm.
    3. Kerchak: Tarzan, I don't know them.
    4. Tarzan: But I do. I spent time with them.
    5. Kerchak: You may be willing to risk our family, but I'm not.
    6. Tarzan: Why are you threatened by anyone different than you?
    7. Kerchak: Protect this family, and stay away from them!
    – Submitted by Anthony E (11 months ago)
    1. Clayton: I'm so sorry about the rude welcome, oh boy, but I couldn't have you making a scene when we put your furry friends in their cages.
    2. Tarzan: Why?
    3. Clayton: Why? For three hundred pounds sterling ahead. Actually, I have you to thank, dear boy. Couldn't have done it without you.
    – Submitted by Anthony E (11 months ago)
    1. Jane: Put me down! Put me down! *scary monkeys appear*
    2. Jane: Pick me up! Pick me up! Pick me up!
    – Submitted by Raha R (20 months ago)
    1. Tarzan: *to Kerchak* Why are you threatened by anyone different than you?
    – Submitted by Raha R (20 months ago)
    1. Kerchak: Kala, look at him, he will never be one of us.
    – Submitted by Raha R (20 months ago)
    1. Kala: Close your eyes. *puts Tarzan's hand to his chest* now forget what you see what do you feel?
    2. Young Tarzan: My heart.
    3. Kala: Come here. *brings Tarzan to her chest*
    4. Young Tarzan: Your heart.
    5. Kala: See? They're exactly the same, Kerchak just can't see that.
    6. Young Tarzan: I'll make him see it, I'll be the best ape ever!
    – Submitted by Raha R (20 months ago)
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Latest News on Tarzan

February 11, 2014:
Tarzan Set for July 2016
Alexander Skarsgard is set to star as the King of the Jungle and Margot Robbie is on board to play...
September 26, 2013:
Christoph Waltz in Talks for Tarzan
He'd play the bad guy.
April 11, 2013:
Warner Bros. Having Second Thoughts About David Yates' Tarzan
Maybe it'll start production next year instead.

Foreign Titles

  • Tarzan (DE)
  • Walt Disney's Tarzan (UK)
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