Tarzan, the latest from the gurus in the Disney machine, is, somewhat surprisingly, excellent. After a string of mediocre (Hercules) and abysmal (Pocahontas) films, the animation studio has finally recaptured some of the magic that made Lion King and The Little Mermaid so good.
First of all, the technical aspects of this film are top notch. Seldom has traditional and computer animation been integrated in such a fluid way. Tarzan's vine travels in particular are a dizzying feet of dexterous foot work, as the jungle man slip slides his way among the vines and trees. The apes maintain a classic Disney flat look without being lost among the dense and lush jungle drawings. Even the supporting characters are used to good extent, avoiding the inevitable overuse that the more obnoxious auxiliary players tend to play in a Disney flick.
Secondly, the narrative actually works quite well. The story flies (swings?) by, and has a nice balance of affection and action sequences. Clichés are kept to a minimum, and Tarzan is neither hopelessly characterized as 'noble savage', nor is he promoted overmuch as unintelligible jungle beast. Compressed pedagogical sessions are forgiven due to clever uses of the plot to show off both Tarzan's acrobatic prowess and Jane's more scientific endeavors.
Phil Collins makes some of his best music in years, which, pathetically, isn't saying much. Falling hideously from grace since his early days with Genesis, he has been producing mostly pallid adult contemporary songs that slog along with little percussive effort. With Tarzan, Phil reminds us again that he is in fact a drummer, bringing forth a strongly rhythmic and percussive score. The songs are melodic and catchy, and aide greatly in setting the mood for the film.
Unlike the more Broadway-style of recent Disney animation films, the songs are almost exclusively used as soundtrack rather than as a Busby Berkley musical piece, and singing and dancing gorillas are gladly kept to a minimum. However, when a scatting Rosie O'Donnell apes around Stomp-like smashing dishes to a syncopated rhythm, the film exhibits both its cleverness and its exuberance.
Many narrative corners are cut, and the film is hardly a sophisticated retelling of the Burrows text. It does, however, make for a greatly enjoyable hour and forty minutes of kinetic fun. Before the cross promotion makes you want to vomit, I highly recommend a visit to the multiplex to see this wonderful film.
Remember, midnight screenings are best for avoiding the children that tend to congregate at films like this one. Take heed.
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