Saturday, 27 August 2011

Tarzan: Where have I seen that before?

Disney's Tarzan is one of the studio's unsung greats. Their telling of the tale of the ape man is surrounded some of the best animation/ computer effects ever done in a film, Disney's animators created a jungle that seemed real enough for us as an audience to become lost in it, and fall in love with it. Again, Disney does not fail with it's characters who are just as lovable as any of it's predecessors. And of course, the soundtrack, although it is all mostly sung by Phil Collins, is full of upbeat, exciting songs, along with a very beautiful score in the more serious parts of the film. Yes Tarzan has everything and more you would expect from a Disney film, and I'm sure that Walt Disney would be more than proud of it.

The aim of this blog post is to share my thoughts on the many references to previous Disney films in Tarzan, which cannot be ignored. They are not signs of Disney getting sloppy and using material that they have used before, not at all. I see Tarzan as a homage to all the Disney classics, as well as a classic in it's own right. We could even call it, the Once Upon a Time in the West of Disney's animated films.

I think the most obvious reference in Tarzan is to The Jungle Book, and before you roll your eyes, it's not because they are both set in a jungle. Both follow the story of male being brought up by a group of animals; for Mowgli is was a wolfpack, for Tarzan it is a family of gorillas. However, where Mowgli can seemingly act like any animal he wants but is ultimately still human in how he walks, Tarzan has become the link between man and ape. That is one of the aspects I think Disney did brilliantly in this film, they made it believable that Tarzan was one of the gorillas, even to the point where he had to learn English to speak to the humans that arrive, because he only speaks in 'gorilla'.

Another big reference to previous films was the character of Kerchak, leader of the gorilla family. This character is impressive in his sheer size, imposing presence and his wisdom for the group. But this character has elements of so many other characters: namely Mufasa, the Beast, Chief Powhatan and the Great Prince of the Forest (Bambi's father). Kerchak has a similar role to Mufasa and Powhatan- they are both leaders and both have wisdom of age that helps them protect their family. There are many moments in Tarzan where they show Kerchak looking down at Tarzan, always alone and high up- this is very similar to Bambi's father. As for his similarity to the Beast, both have the same voice- frightening but tender, much like their character.

The character of Tantor as a baby elephant, I think everyone will have noticed, is remarkably like the baby elephant in The Jungle Book- similar blocked-noise, squeaky, cute voices. Both are adorable friends to our main characters. In fact, even the mother of Tantor is pretty much identical in voice and character to the mother of the elephant in The Jungle Book.

As for the villain, he is quite unique apart from a slight similarity to Governor Ratcliffe. Both British explorers who have no respect for the foreign people/animals who inhabit the land they are trying to take over or make money from.

We cannot forget Jane's father, Professor Porter who looks like nearly every father figure in the Disney filmography. The sultan, King Hubert, the King from Cinderella and Maurice are all short, with a white hair and a big white moustache. Aside from that similarity, this character is very fun and original, bringing a lot of comedy to the film.

On the other hand, our damsel in distress is breath of fresh air after the other Disney heroines. I love Belle, Ariel and Jasmine, but compared to Esmeralda, Mulan and Meg who have a sharpness and strength that you don't find in the princesses. Jane is also British, making her incredibly funny for you can see the American view of the Brits- the characteristics usually being prim 'n' proper, and a little silly times.

As for the character of Tarzan himself, he is really very different to other Disney males. There is so much intensity with this character, and for once, I do feel that our hero really does love our heroine. Like Hercules, it feels that the hero loves her personality, instead of the 'love at first sight' formula that is found in so many of Disney's films. Wonderful as these conventions are, it is lovely to see a romance blossom throughout the film, and is beautifully expressed in the number 'Strangers Like Me'.

What I really love about Tarzan is that it is a real journey. It starts with Tarzan's biological family's journey, then with Tarzan's journey to become an ape, then his journey to learn from humans- ultimately his journey of life and we totally feel a part of that. Phil Collin's does a fantastic job with the soundtrack, so much so that we want to be in that jungle, and we even feel a bit tearful with his almost ambient score when Tarzan finally finds his original home and discovers his real parents.

Last but not least, the visuals in Tarzan are out of this world. Thanks to computer technology, Disney's animators managed to create intricate jungle branches and vines that appear like a video game or a rollercoaster, taking us on this fun ride that Disney has never visually been able to do before.

Tarzan is one of Disney's most exciting films boasting wonderful characters, memorable songs and breathtaking visuals, it a must for anybody who just wants to escape for a couple of hours. And for all you Disney fans out there, keep an eye out for the many references to it's predecessor, there are many more which I have not mentioned but are well worth noting. It is Disney's homage, and finale to a decade where the studio came back to life bigger and better than ever, before continuing with lesser films, and having only Pixar to redeem the company's former glory.

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