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Laramie Movie Scope: Tarzan

Disney hits another grand slam with Tarzan

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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June 20, 1999 -- "Tarzan," the latest feature-length cartoon musical from Disney Studios is another beautifully-crafted film with a compelling story line from the people who seem to churn this stuff out like clockwork.

As I was watching this film I found myself wondering why so many other films I have seen lately fail to tell a story as effectively as this one does. Take "Star Wars," for instance. Although it is a stunning visual spectacle, its plot doesn't develop in a convincing manner and none of its characters seem as real as any of the main characters in "Tarzan."

My theory for this is that it is because of wasted motion. In most movies the characters are required to go through a lot of wasted motions such as car chases, explosions, arguments, fights, jokes, sex, in short, just about any activity which does not advance the plot. Most of the dialogue in most Hollywood films nowadays is a waste of time, it is written just to fill in the time between explosions. As a result of all this, the story moves along very laboriously.

Watching "Tarzan," however, you see that dialogue and action are used sparingly. Much of the plot is driven by images, almost like a silent movie. There is plenty of action, but it is always done to a purpose. The dialogue is used judiciously. The movie is also short, at around 90 minutes. That used to be a fairly typical running time for a movie. Now it is not unusual for a film to be an hour longer than that. Good editing can tighten just about any story.

"Tarzan" is one of the most often-filmed stories of all time, with scores of versions made for television and films. Based on the books by Edgar Rice Burrows, the story is of an orphaned boy being adopted by gorillas in Africa. Raised as an ape, he becomes the defender of animals being hunted by humans.

The relationship between Tarzan (voice by Tony Goldwyn) and his ape mother, Kala (voice by Glenn Close) is convincingly portrayed, as is Tarzan's strained relationship with his ape father, Kerchak, (voice by Lance Henriksen). Tarzan's relationship with Jane (voice by Minnie Driver), the hunter Clayton (voice by Brian Blessed) and the professor (voice by Nigel Hawthorne) is less convincing. These three are stock Disney characters. It is the nuclear ape family that really shines here.

The artwork is first-rate and the scenes of Tarzan swinging from vines and skateboarding along tree-trunks are dazzling. The music by Phil Collins is also good, but not up to the standards of the best Disney films such as "Beauty and the Beast," "The Lion King," or "Aladdin." Although there is some violence in the film, and some main characters do die, it is basically an O.K. film for kids. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 1999 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]