The last film from this very productive era is not often as well remembered as some of the Renaissance's biggest films, but when you look back, you can see that Tarzan ended this period with a palpable bang. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs's famous novels, Tarzan tells the origin story of the popular hero. As usual with the films from this period, Tarzan excels, with stellar animation, compelling characters and a heartfelt story. Moreover, this was the last Disney film I was interested and excited about, before I became indifferent with their filmography and turned myself completely over to Pixar. That's why Tarzan remains a bright spot, as it comes before a very dark age began at the studio.
One element that still remains impressive to this day is how Tarzan moves through the trees. Using a new technique called "Deep Canvas", the animators were able to give unprecedented depth to the jungle and allowed the characters to move in ways that seem impossible but nonetheless feel absolutely real. The animation is wonderful with Tarzan (animated by master animator Glen Keane), becoming a very complex and layered character. Anatomically speaking, Tarzan is perfect, with every every part of the body moving as they are supposed to and every muscle flexing when they have to. The rest of the animation is beautiful as well, with the jungle being completely lush and colourful, and the gorillas looking as real as possible but still conveying human emotions.
The highlight of the film is the relationship between Kala and Tarzan. Their relationship is the heart of the movie, eliciting a wide range of emotions from the viewers. Most Disney characters have a father figure to relate and mothers are non-existent or not very important. It's nice to see a change of the formula here where you have a wonderful mother-son relationship full of pathos and different layers. The rest of the characters are also strong with only Terk being annoying from time to time. Tarzan and Jane's relationship grows very nicely and it's great to see the shock our main character has when his two worlds collide for the first time.
Music and songs are heavily employed in the film, but, in a departure from its predecessors, no characters sing in the film. Instead of that, composer and singer Phil Collins provides his voice as an omnipresent through-line during the movie, which surprisingly works very well. His most memorable songs are "Two Worlds" which opens the film in a wonderful way; employing just song and images, we are introduced to our characters and how they meet in the face of tragedy. "Strangers Like Me" plays very well, conveying Tarzan's curiosity for the human world as his feelings for Jane start growing. And of course the Oscar-winning (the last Oscar received by a Disney animated film to date) "You'll be in my Heart" which beautifully sums up the relationship between Kala and Tarzan; it's easily the film's most memorable tune.
Not everything is dark and deep though. Tarzan is full of humour (some moments don't work, but they're not that often) and action-packed scenes that increase your excitement as you watch the film. Directors Chris Buck (director of the upcoming Disney film Frozen) and Kevin Lima (director of the wonderful Enchanted), strike a nice balance between humour and drama, making the story more fluid than previous efforts like Pocahontas and Hunchback where the tonal shifts are more problematic.
Tarzan represents the end of a wonderful era. An era of ambition, expansion, and the creation of some of the best movies that ever came from the Disney studio. In a way, Tarzan represents a swan song for an era that hasn't been repeated, and one I doubt ever will be (even if the studio seems to be going in the right direction these past few years). For that reason alone, Tarzan should be seen by any Disney fan, but, fortunately, it also offers top-notch entertainment that elevates the film to a grander level, and makes it a must-see film for everyone. Rating: 4.5/5.
Next Week - Animated Classic #38 Review: Fantasia 2000 (2000).