Come stop your crying, it'll be alright; just take my hand, hold it tight. I will protect you from all around you; I will be here - don't you cry.
Tarzan, released in 1999, is the 37th film in the Disney Animated Canon. Based on Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan series, it stars Tony Goldwyn as the eponymous hero, Minnie Driver as his Love Interest Jane, and BRIAN BLESSED as the antagonist, Clayton.The film opens in the late 1880s, with a couple and their infant son ending up in Darkest Africa after a shipwreck. Later, Kala, a gorilla whose infant son was killed by a leopard, Sabor, hears a baby cry in an abandoned treehouse. As she enters, she sees the human baby and blood covered paw prints that show the boy's parents were also Sabor's victims, and takes the boy away to save him from the predator. Her mate, Kerchak, the dominant male of the gorilla band, despises the human for his appearance, but Kala raises him anyway, naming him "Tarzan".Tarzan grows up to become a strong gorilla-like man, whose best friends are a tomboy female gorilla and a neurotic elephant (Rosie O'Donnell and Wayne Knight). One day, Sabor attacks the gorillas and is defeated by Tarzan, which earns him some respect from Kerchak. But then a British expedition team that came to study gorillas appears, led by Professor Archimedes Q. Porter. His daughter Jane is attacked by baboons, surviving only after being rescued by Tarzan. Now Tarzan must decide where he belongs - and also prevent the trigger-happy hunter guide Clayton from ruining everything...The film was very successful, outgrossing its predecessors Mulan and Hercules, and won an Academy Award for Best Song (Phil Collins' "You'll Be In My Heart"). It was the last Disney blockbuster until Lilo & Stitch 3 years later. The story was continued by an animated series, The Legend of Tarzan, and two direct-to-video sequels, a compilation film called Tarzan & Jane and an Interquel called Tarzan II.
Adaptational Heroism: Kerchak was a villain in the book. Here, while he disapproves of Tarzan, he is actually a benevolent leader of the gorillas.
Adaptational Villainy: Clayton. In the novels, he is Tarzan's cousin who inherits the title after Tarzan's parents are presumed dead. His worst fault is that he is not quite as brave or capable as Tarzan. Otherwise, he is a perfectly nice English gentleman, who is willing to sacrifice his life to save Jane.
In a non-zoology-related example, the books are filled with serial-style adventures with sci-fi and fantasy elements. The movie strips it down to keep focus on Tarzan's identity crisis and his relationship with Jane.
Some of these elements (notably the sorceress La and the dinosaur world Pellucidar) made it into the spin-off series.
Adult Fear: When Kerchak and Kala are asleep, their baby runs off just long enough for a predator to kill him.
Kala finds baby Tarzan alone, in a house that was obviously attacked. Not long after, she has to save him from the leopard.
Affectionate Gesture to the Head: The infant who would become Tarzan gets his hair ruffled by his human father after the baby points out a perfect tree in which to build their new home.
Anachronism Stew: Very mild case of mixing Victorian elements, but the Porters tell Tarzan that on returning to England he will be a celebrity who everyone from Charles Darwin to Rudyard Kipling will want to meet. However, Kipling did not publish his first collection of poems until 1886, four years after Darwin's death in 1882.
Aside from the Kipling reference, however, the elements are remarkably consistent; the penny-farthing bike, the transition from wooden ship at the beginning to steamship, the magic-lantern technology, and most tellingly the comet pin the date of the main story down to 1882.
Tarzan's often able to win over others' sympathy through his eyes, including the gorillas. In reality, gorillas do not like shared eye contact, perceiving it as a challenge. Locking eyes with one of them is demanding for a fight.
Also, a human walking on his knuckles as Tarzan does would be extremely painful, and cause severe damage to the bones in the hands. Gorillas get away with this due to thicker knuckle bones and arms longer than their legs, unlike humans. As he's spent most of his life walking on all fours, Tarzan's pretty fortunate that his back isn't wrecked as well.
Later on, said by Clayton: "Get up, get up! ... Don't get up."
Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Kerchak and Kala often bicker onscreen, but they do have their moments that show that they genuinely care for each other. Kerchak, for example, is visibly relieved when Kala returns from collecting Tarzan... then thumps his chest and roars angrily when she says she is keeping Tarzan... then gives in, but tells her Tarzan won't replace their son.
Later in the movie when all the Gorillas are imprisoned by Clayton, it is only when Kala is thrown in a cage that makes Kerchak utterly flip and tear the net imprisoning him to shreds.
Battle Strip: As Tarzan swings to the rescue of Kerchak and the other gorillas from Clayton and his men, we're treated to a shot of him stripping off his shirt mid swing and leaving it on a log behind him. By the time he arrives at his destination, he's back in the loincloth. We never see what happens to his pants. However, given that he wears them in the series that follows this film, we can assume he later retrieved them.
Berserk Button: After Tarzan comes home and is shot - and Kala is only just missed by the bullet - Kerchak goes into one humongous rage.
Big Damn Heroes: Tarzan gets to lead one, swinging in yelling at the last second, but that's par for the course.
Bilingual Dialogue: Implied to be the case with the elephants and the gorillas/Tarzan. We generally only hear them talking to each other in Translation Convention, but when Tantor rescues Tarzan, he greets him with a trademark elephant trumpet that seems to be intended to mean something beyond, well, just being an elephant trumpet.
Brick Joke: One of the educational slides inspires Tarzan to present Jane with flowers, and later when he tries to give her the flowers he kneels in the exact same pose as the man in the slide, and in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it gag he almost forgets to put his hand over his chest.
Bring It Back Alive: Clayton aims to do this with Tarzan's gorilla family. Aside from Kerchak, who he decides he'd rather prefer "stuffed."
Calling the Old Man Out: It's downplayed, but when Kerchak is telling the troop to stay away from the humans, Tarzan, whom Kerchak has shunned all his life for being different, runs up to him, takes a fighting pose, and shouts, "Why are you so threatened by anyone different from you?!"
Tarzan teaches Jane a phrase in the gorilla language, and at the end of the movie, she repeats the phrase to the gorilla tribe. The phrase was "Jane will stay with Tarzan." (pronounced as "eh oh oh ah")
Tarzan's ability to imitate the sound of a rifle with his mouth - he uses it to intimidate Clayton.
Composite Character: Kerchak. He's still the leader, but this version has more in common with Tublat (who was Kala's mate, didn't care much for Tarzan). He was also much more benign than both Kerchak (who was dangerous, especially during bouts of madness) and Tublat (who was at least a very 'disagreeable' fellow who no one missed when Tarzan killed him) from the novel.
The character named Tublat, on the other hand...
Conspicuous CG: Much of the scenery, though it's integrated well thanks to the revolutionary "Deep Canvas" process.
Cub Cues Protective Parent: Jane encounters a cute little baby baboon which steals her journal. After Jane steals it back, the baby baboon starts crying, calling the attention of its mother and the rest of its family.
Cut Song: A few songs cut from the film were actually demo versions of the songs that later appeared in the film. One notable mention goes towards 6/8 Intro which was actually Phil Collins' proposition as to how the music in the film should sound like. Another one is I Will Follow which served as a precursor to Strangers Like Me, but it sounds more like Tarzan is trying to make Jane feel happy.
Dark Is Not Evil / Light Is Not Good: As explained in the directors' commentary, for the jungle scenes the usual symbolism is intentionally inverted—shadows represent shelter, thus safety, and light represents exposure, thus danger. Pay particular attention during the fight between Tarzan and Sabor.
Disc One Final Boss: Sabor would likely qualify for this. Though she's not related to Clayton in any way, she had still been a threat to the gorillas and defeating her helps Tarzan begin to gain Kerchak's respect.
Disneyfication: The original novels were much more violent, as well as xenocentric and overtly racist, all of which had to be slashed for the animated film. Also, in the novel, it was the much-more-savage Kerchak who was responsible for the deaths of Kala's infant and Tarzan's father, John Clayton Sr. (as Tarzan's mother, Alice Rutherford Clayton, died of natural causes). One of the few examples of a work being improved by this trope.
In the novel, William Clayton (portrayed as a villain in the film) is Tarzan's cousin and Jane's fiancÚ, and Tarzan's real name is John Clayton Jr.! That film is still creepy.
As Tarzan in the novels and possibly Disney World is a Lord, making Jane by marriage a 'Lady' in title. Even if he isn't a lord in the Disney World, Jane is still a lady as Tarzan is "Lord of the Jungle".
Kerchak and Kala's infant son is a little too energetic and curious for his own good when he chases a frog while his parents sleep, and he runs into the leopard Sabor. Sabor pounces on him and the movie cuts to his devastated parents' reaction when he shrieks as Sabor kills and devours him.
We see the mother ape happen upon the treehouse Tarzan's family built. She goes in curiously and we find it a bit too quiet. She soon see why, the place has been trashed and the bodies of Tarzan's family are seen next to a set of bloodied pawprints on the floor.
Clayton get tangled up in a cluster of vines high in the trees, and then proceeds to cut his way out of them, all the while the vines are tightening around his neck. Unfortunately for him, he cuts one too many vines and falls to his death. While the film does cut to a Gory Discretion Shot, lightning flashes and we can see Clayton's hanging silhouette on a nearby tree. No wonder why it's the most disturbing death seen in any animated Disney film!
Flowers Of Romance: Tarzan goes through a slideshow and sees an image of a man giving flowers to a woman. He puts together that this is how the English propose to each other, so he goes about the jungle collecting flowers to make a bouquet for Jane. He accidentally bumps into her in the process, bursting the bouquet apart and leaving him with only two flowers, which oddly makes his request for Jane to stay even sadder.
Genius Bruiser: Tarzan. From an early age you can see that he's pretty smart, learning several animal languages, though at first that seems just like his increased mental capacity compared to the apes. Then he starts to show basic engineering capabilities, building spears, umbrellas, and various other useful things. Then, when Jane and the others arrive, he learns English extremely fast, and is a voracious reader. But he can also kill leopards by himself.
Also more blatant when you consider that Tarzan first met Jane by picking up her entire body (by her clothing) with one arm while swinging from a vine. Or actually wrestling a male silverback into submission with his bare hands. Muscles Are Meaningless.
Considering he's been wrestling with gorillas and elephants and leopards his entire life, his muscles are probably extremely well adapted to that sort of thing.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: When Jane almost falls off a tree, Tarzan props her up by poking her in the chest, and shortly afterwards presses his head between her breasts to listen to her heartbeat.
Gilligan Cut: When Tarzan tries to get Terk and Tantor to distract Kerchak:
Grind Boots: With his bare feet! You can tell they were going for sliding on the moist tree moss, but nobody's buying it. Prominent enough that it became a key level element when the Deep Jungle appeared in Kingdom Hearts 1.
Handy Feet: Tarzan has them, taking the idea of being raised by apes to its logical conclusion by having him grasp things with his feet.
Happily Adopted: Tarzan. Invoked after Kala shows Tarzan the treehouse where he was found.
Heel-Face Turn: The baboons that caused Jane and Tarzan so much trouble are part of the horde of animals that come to help him fight Clayton and rescue the gorillas.
Held Gaze: This trope happens between Tarzan and Jane when he first meets the girl, and they stare into each other's eyes in wonder.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Clayton brings about his own demise when, after being caught and suspended in some vines, he sinks into a Villainous Breakdown and starts mindlessly hacking away at them to get to Tarzan. He doesn't notice the one wrapped around his neck until it's too late.
Hulk Speak: Tarzan. He mostly grows out of it by the end.
Killer Gorilla: Unlike the book it is based on, the movie averts this trope. The only character who shows signs of it is Kerchak, with his Papa Wolf tendencies.
Large Ham: Terk, and arguably young Tantor. Oddly enough, not Clayton despite being voiced by BRIAN BLESSED, as his animation was more over-the-top than his voice acting.
Laser-Guided Karma: It took twenty years, but Tarzan is ultimately the one to bring down the one responsible for his parents' deaths. And, again, he's not even aware of that significance; he only killed Sabor because she was threatening his adoptive parents.
Lost in Translation: The poetry of the song "Son of Man" relies on man being both a term for humankind in general as well as literally for a grown male adult; the former references Tarzan's species, the latter his coming of age. Many other languages don't have this kind of ambiguity, so they had to go in either one direction or the other, eliminating some of the poetry of the song.
Misplaced Wildlife: Averted and parodied: the movie replaces the lions and tiger in the book with a leopard, and when young Tantor says the river has piranha, another elephant quickly remarks they live in South America.
Mostly averted. A couple of ring-tailed lemurs, exclusive to Madagascar (where there are no gorillas), show up near the start.
The licensed game based on the movie actually features piranhas as a water-based enemy on one of the later levels. Made all the more egregious by the fact that the elephants' "there are no piranhas in Africa" conversation is actually included in the game, as a cutscene.
Missing Mom: Archimedes references her once while Jane is excitedly recapping her swing through the trees with Tarzan while chased by raging babboons.
Archimedes: she gets that from her mother. She would come up with stories like this. No gorillas, of course.
Muscles Are Meaningless: Tarzan has an extremely toned athletic build... Yet he's able to wrestle Kerchak, a male silverback with forearms thicker than Tarzan's torso.
It makes sense, in a way, if you think about it. He grew up with them. He probably learned how to overcome Kerchak (and any other silverback) just by doing what he always does. Observing and copying.
Tarzan's legs (particularly his thighs) are drawn much heftier than the rest of his body though, signifying how much he uses him with all of his running and jumping. It doesn't justify his super-strength but it makes his abilities a little more believable.
Also he wasn't just wrestling Kerchak, he was strangling him, which presumably put a bit of a damper on his ability to fight, or do much of anything, really.
Mythology Gag: In the books, "Tantor" is a term for elephants in general.
Jane's sketch of Tarzan is titled "Tarzan of the Apes", which is the title of the first Tarzan novel.
Tarzan fighting Sabor out of sight and slowly lifting her corpse into sight is directly taken from Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, where Tarzan fights and kills an ape underwater. That movie's Tarzan also appears to be an influence on the Disney version's design.
Tarzan smashing Clayton's gun is a throwback to the old Johnny Weissmuller films, where Tarzan developed a habit of smashing stranger's guns on sight after seeing several of his friends shot (and been shot at himself).
Nature Versus Nurture: A big part of the conflict, probably the main one, revolves around Tarzan's struggle to decide whether he belongs with those who raised him and who he's been friends with his whole life, or with the creatures who look like him, think like him, and whom he came from.
Neck Snap: How Clayton dies, when a vine wraps around his neck and he plummets from a tree. The vine snags during the drop and..well, you imagine the rest.
Oh Crap: The look on Clayton's face is quite understandable when Kerchak charges at him.
The expression on the face of the nameless hunter is quite funny when he has Jane imprisoned in a corner; he's smug at having won... then there's a serious OH CRAP!expression when a whole freaking herd of baboons - one of whom is armed with an umbrella - charges at him.
Papa Wolf: Kerchak, to his herd, and at the end, to Tarzan.
Parental Love Song: "You'll Be in My Heart". Kala sings it to Tarzan, promising that she'll care for him and he will "be in [her] heart always."
Pop-Star Composer: Phil Collins. Notably, most foreign versions (that Phil Collins didn't sing himselfnote He also sang the German, Spanish, French and Italian dubs), got a major pop star to sing the dubs; Hesham Nour in the Arabic version, Pella Ankarberg in the Swedish version, and Alex Panayi in the Greek version, just to name a few.
Primal Chest-Pound: Kerchak thumps his chest angrily when Kala tells him he wants to adopt Tarzan, and later when he menaces Jane. Tarzan also does this in the closing scene.
Required Secondary Powers: Tarzan's ability to pick up English so fast can be attributed to his ability to mimic animal noises, which also allows him to have many jungle friends and imitate gunshots (although, given that he doesn't need to make elephant noises at Tantor, obviously it's not just gorillas that speak "gorilla").
Rule of Animation Conservation: The reason for Tarzan's knuckle walking, tree surfing and other acrobatics. They wanted to have Tarzan do things a normal human actor simply couldn't do. Being animated also makes it much easier to show Tarzan having a legitimate bond with his adoptive family.
Rule of Cool: The guy is surfing down giant vines. Either he has really smooth feet, or the vines are greased. Otherwise, there is a going to be a lot of friction.
It becomes Fridge Brilliance when you realize that the branches and vines are covered in very slick moss.
Friction actually does come into play for a few moments during the escape from the baboons. You can actually see Tarzan's hand start to glow from how red it's turning.
During the start of the "Trashin' The Camp" sequence, as Tantor is frightened by every single object in the Porter camp, the object that scares him the most is a tea kettle and cup that bear a striking similarity to Mrs. Potts and her son.
Terk dances with a white skeleton in similar fashion and design to the classic Disney short The Skeleton Dance.
The Smurfette Principle: Does better than other Disney Renaissance Movies. Jane is Tarzan's prominent love interest. His mother Kala plays a big role in the story and his best friend Terk is also female (though voiced by Rosie O'Donnell leading to some Viewer Gender Confusion). Word of God confirms that Sabor the leopard is female too.
Time Skip: Once from baby Tarzan to kid Tarzan, and then kid Tarzan to adult Tarzan. Both happen near a musical number, too - the first is immediately after "You'll Be In My Heart" and the second is during "Son Of Man".
Translation By Volume: Clayton tries to get Tarzan to understand the world "gorilla" by shouting it at him.
"Well Done, Son" Guy: Tarzan is constantly seeking the approval of Kerchak, who refuses to accept Tarzan as a member of the gorilla pack, much less as his adopted son. That all changes when Tarzan comes back to save them. Sadly, it doesn't last that long, as Kerchak receives a fatal bullet wound from Clayton. After Clayton's death, Tarzan kneels over Kerchak, who passes on leadership of the pack to Tarzan and acknowledges Tarzan as his son with his last words.
You and What Army?: Tarzan may have been a pest as a child, but a baboon herd, a whole herd of elephants, a whole herd of gorillas - once freed, at least - and a freaking rhino and hippo ally with him to stop Clayton and the hunters.