Tarzan is one of those stories like Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz where you end up getting a whole bunch of different versions of it with a new take coming out every few years. You have to set yourself apart in some way such as being a super serious and gritty take on it (Tarzan and the Lost City) or making it an over the top parody of the source material (George of the Jungle). The way in which Disney decided to make their version of the Tarzan story stand out was to cover as much of the run time as possible with Phil Collins. This is, of course, the best decision that they could have possibly made.
The basic story of Tarzan remains the same. Baby gets stranded on island, is raised by gorillas, and breaks the beauty standards that his ape society has pushed on him since birth by falling for Jane. The few twists come from where is focuses in particular. It gives more of the backstory of the childhood of Tarzan instead of just dealing with him as an adult. This gives us more insight into the familial monkey relationship he has and where he learns to do things like swing from vines and imitate animal sounds since gorillas don’t do that shit. It also ends up entirely ignoring the whole “royal lineage” thing where he is supposed to be some sort of noble. So the fact that a dude was able to be raised by apes isn’t immediately overshadowed by him also being a Lord somewhere that he needs to get back to.
The main villain of the story is the hunter Clayton, voiced by Brian Blessed which made me happier than it has any right to. Tarzan’s main friend is Terk, voiced by Rosie O’Donnell which made me grumpier than it has any right to. Since the movie devotes a good amount of time to young Tarzan and the way he finds his place in the world and the film has a run time that clocks in under an hour and a half, the main conflict of the movie is extremely rushed. We don’t even meet the humans till 32 minutes in. Even when we do meet them, it’s almost another 30 minutes of “Tarzan learns about humans in a Phil Collins music montage” till the plot progresses forward. Don’t get me wrong, I love a Phil Collins montage…well, probably way more than the next guy but still. The movie felt more like an hour long cartoon that got stretched in order to make it qualify as feature length.
The movie manages to have a couple weird messages it throws in there. It seemed like it wanted to say something about family being more than just blood relation but then Tarzan’s ape daddy pretty much hates and refuses to acknowledge him for the entire film until Tarzan manages to fuck up so badly that he almost gets the entire group captured by hunters. That Tarzan manages to un-fuck his own stupid mistake (while getting his ape dad shot in the process) is apparently enough to make him finally accept Tarzan. It’s some weird thing where like in order to be loved by the father you must kill him and take his place. Some weird shit. Oh, it also has the message of “everything is better in nature and we should all live in trees and shun society” but that tends to take a back seat to the more compelling antagonistic paternal struggle.
In all, this is probably one of the weaker Disney animated movies. There isn’t really much to cheer for and it doesn’t devote enough time to any one thing for it to become truly compelling. I’d probably give it a 3 but I’m going to bump it up to a 3.5 out of 5 because I love me some Phil Collins.