Adaptation Adventure

Chest-Thumping Blu-ray Review: Tarzan

August 19, 2014Ben MK

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Untamed heart...

One look at Tarzan and one might be reminded of another feral child by the name of Mowgli. In fact, Rudyard Kipling's wolf-child character is often cited as a major influence on the creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' so-called king of the apes. And similarly, Disney's 1999 take on the legend of Tarzan can be considered as a spiritual successor to its 1967 adaptation of Kipling's The Jungle Book — for despite the three-decade-long gap between the two films, both are, at their core, stories about how familial bonds are forged not by blood, but by loyalty and friendship.


The Film The film's opening sequence succinctly sums up Tarzan's (Tony Goldwyn) backstory: When he was a baby, the ship carrying him, his mother and his father is engulfed in flames and sinks off the coast of Africa, and the family finds themselves marooned and having to survive by acclimating themselves to the wilds of the jungle. For a while, they get by quite ably, even building a home in the trees from the wreckage of the downed ship. But one day tragedy strikes when a leopard named Sabor mauls Tarzan's family, leaving the tiny infant helpless and alone.

Enter Kala (Glenn Close), a gorilla mother mourning the loss of her own cub when she follows her maternal instincts and responds to the young Tarzan's cries for help. After rescuing the bouncing baby from Sabor's clawed clutches, she brings him back to her family, where she intends to raise him as her own child, despite the misgivings of her mate, the stern and strict ape leader Kerchak (Lance Henriksen).

Growing up among the apes, Tarzan develops into a rambunctious, inquisitive boy who then matures into a skilled hunter. In the company of his good-natured pals, an ape named Terk (Rosie O'Donnell) and an elephant named Tantor (Wayne Knight), he explores the jungle, determined to prove himself worthy to Kerchak and the rest of the ape tribe. But Tarzan's world is turned upside down when they unexpectedly encounter a group of explorers — Professor Archimedes Q. Porter, his daughter, Jane, and their guide, big game hunter Clayton — whose presence threatens to upheave their very existence.

In adapting the legend of Tarzan for the big screen, directors Chris Buck (Frozen) and Kevin Lima (Enchanted) and writers Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker and Noni White have significantly reshaped elements from Burroughs' original stories, giving them a more family-friendly feel. The most notable alteration is to the character of Kerchak, who's more of a villain in Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes — even playing a role in the death of Tarzan's parents — than he is here. Likewise, Tantor, Tarzan's faithful elephant companion from the original books functions more as comic relief here, as does Terk, who was originally an aggressor whom Tarzan defeated.

But despite how jarring the differences between Disney's version and the source material may be to those who are deeply familiar with Burroughs' Tarzan books, at least the stories' heart — Tarzan himself — remains unchanged. Still as noble as he's always been, Tarzan is the epitome of courageousness. He's the rock that anchors the picture, and even with all the traditional Disney humor the movie throws at the audience, Buck and Lima never let us forget that. Tarzan represents not only that most primal aspect of our own nature, but also that which is most pure, and it's that inherent quality of the central character that allows Tarzan to claim its place among Disney's truly timeless animated films.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Tarzan pounces onto Blu-ray with a striking — yet imperfect — A/V presentation, bringing to life the sights and sounds of the African jungle like never before. In fact, the watercolor-like shades of green that form the dense jungle foliage are rendered so richly and with such convincing depth — thanks to the highly-touted Deep Canvas process, which uses CG animation to enhance the film's hand-drawn art — that it borders on photorealism at times. Otherwise, the hi-def transfer renders the traditional cell animation just as impressively, with sharply-defined line art and bold splashes of color, such as the orange spots on Sabor's fur, Jane's canary yellow Victorian dress and Tantor's reddish-brown elephant hide. Unfortunately, the image falls short of being a five-star visual presentation, due to rampant macroblocking. Thankfully, the problem doesn't affect the many fluid camera movements that track Tarzan's acts of acrobatic athleticism through the treetops — which look fantastic — and isn't too noticeable to the untrained eye, but is largely relegated to swaths of the same color (such as the gorillas' fur), which come across looking noisy more often than not.

As for the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 soundtrack, it too is quite immersive, even though it could benefit from the occasional subwoofer rumble now and again. From a thunderous elephant stampede to the maniacal screeches of a group of wild baboons, the jungle atmospherics are in full effect, punctuated with great dramatic effect by Tarzan's distinctive yell or the sound of gunshots from Clayton's rifle. Likewise, the music by composer Mark Mancina and singer/songwriter Phil Collins really strikes a chord, especially Collins' vocal performances for the film's handful of original songs — 'Two Worlds', 'You'll be in My Heart', 'Son of Man' and 'Strangers Like Me' — which help set the movie apart from the pack.

Special Features Disney's Blu-ray release includes DVD and iTunes digital copies of the film, as well as a slew of standard definition "Classic Bonus Features" carried over from the earlier DVD releases, beginning with a feature-length audio commentary with directors Chris Buck and Kevin Lima and producer Bonnie Arnold.

This is followed by 10 minutes of Deleted Scenes, in which Arnold introduces four excised scenes (Introduction, Alternate Opening, Terk Finds The Humans' Camp and Riverboat Fight) in storyreel form.

Then there's Backstage Disney, which collects numerous featurettes dedicated to exploring the film from a story, animation and marketing perspective. History and Development is sub-divided into the 3-minute From Burroughs to Disney (which briefly highlights the evolution of Tarzan as a character), the 2-minute Early Presentation Reel (which consists of pieces of concept art set to music) and Research Trip To Africa (a 3-minute look at the animation team's fact-finding excursion that took place prior to production). The Characters of Tarzan spends 20 minutes exploring the creation and animation of Tarzan, Jane, Kala, Kerchak, Terk, Tantor and Clayton. Animation Production consists of a 3-minute look at The Deep Canvas Process, a 5-minute Deep Canvas Demonstration, a 5-minute Production Progression Demonstration (which shows the progression of a scene from storyreel to rough animation, clean-up animation and final scene) and Intercontinental Filmmaking (a 2-minute look at how the film was animated by teams in both California and France). Story & Editorial contains a 3-minute piece on Building The Story and a 3-minute Storyboard-To-Film Comparison for the film's opening sequence. Publicity showcases three trailers for the film, totaling 5 minutes. And DisneyPedia: Living In The Jungle is a 6-minute educational piece aimed at kids, which teaches about the various creatures that call the jungle home.

Finally, there's Music & More, under which you'll find a 3-minute featurette on The Making of the Music (in which Phil Collins and composer Mark Mancina talk about the soundtrack and the collaborative process), the 2-minute Tarzan Goes International (which samples Collins vocals for the film's songs in multiple languages), 11 minutes of music videos ("You'll Be In My Heart" Music Video Performed by Phil Collins, "Strangers Like Me" Performed by Phil Collins and "Strangers Like Me" Performed by Everlife), a 2-minute "Trashin' The Camp" Studio Session With Phil Collins and 'N Sync and the 22-minute Original Phil Collins Song Demo With Intro by Chris Montan (in which executive music producer Chris Montan introduces Collins' demo versions for '6/8 Intro', 'Lullaby', 'Son of Man/Celebration', 'Rhythm Piece' and 'I Will Follow').

The Bottom Line Considering how many different film adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan stories there have been over the years, Disney's Tarzan certainly ranks among the best. The filmmakers may have taken their fair share of liberties with certain aspects of the story, but they stay true to the essence of the character; and with plenty of humor, adventure and emotion woven throughout, that makes for an engaging film for the whole family. Likewise, Disney's Blu-ray release will surely engage home audiences with its sturdy A/V presentation and plethora of bonus features; and that makes Tarzan on Blu-ray worth going ape over..  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  

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