Ranking Disney: #28 – Tarzan (1999)

Like most Disney movies post-Pocahontas, I didn’t see this film around the time when it came out. I didn’t see it until very recently. (The only Disney movies between Pocahontas and Bolt that I didn’t see for the first time within the past two months are Hunchback, Fantasia 2000, Emperor’s New Groove, and very, very few parts of Lilo & Stitch.) And I didn’t know what I’d make of it. I’m not the biggest fan of the Tarzan story. Most movies end up being the same for me. They have their fascinating aspects, but there’s only one way to skin that cat, you know?

But I figured I’d enjoy it enough to put it in this area, and from the start I assumed it would be in the 26-30 area. And when I watched it — it didn’t disappoint. I actually watched this one twice. The first time I saw it, I thought it was pretty good, but since I wasn’t totally invested in the story, I thought I might drop it to #31 or #32. But the second time I watched it, I realized how much I really liked certain aspects of it, particularly how they develop Tarzan and Jane’s relationship (aside from those goddamn montages they love doing these days), and how gorgeous the animation is.

Plus, who doesn’t love Phil Collins?

The movie begins with a shipwreck. A pair of British parents escape the flaming wreckage in a lifeboat with their infant child, as Phil Collins sort of narrates via song. It basically says, well, the humans and apes have two worlds, but they both love their children, so are we really all that different? Are we, Lawrence Welk?

We see the humans being industrious and building themselves a shelter out of wood and shit, and we juxtapose this with one of the apes getting into some shit with Shere Khan (basically). The baby is killed, and the mother, Kala is devastated.

But then she hears a baby crying and rushes to it. And we find baby Tarzan in the British people’s house thing, all alone. Parents are dead. Killed by “the elements.” She decides to raise the baby as her own, but not before fending off the tiger that killed her son, too. So it basically is Shere Khan. Though they call it Sabor. Pssh… whatever.

Kala’s husband, Kerchak, the leader of the apes, doesn’t want her to keep Tarzan, saying he’s not of their kind, and that she should send him back to the humans, but he relents.

We then cut to a few years later, as Tarzan is like five or six. He’s basically like Rudolph. They don’t want him to play in their ape games. They send him off to get an elephant hair, as that standard, “Let’s give you an impossible task so you leave us alone, but then you show courage, so we take you in anyway” scene. You know how it is.

Afterwards, he takes the blame for the incident, and also meets Tantor, a nervous elephant. Oh, and his best ape friend is Terk, who is apparently from Brooklyn.

Tarzan then dedicates himself to being the best ape ever after Kerchak says he doesn’t belong with the apes. Cue the montage:

Remember when these moments involved them singing and not songs over montages? Those were the days…

This takes us to Tarzan as an adult. The apes are attacked by Shere Khan (I’m just gonna keep calling him that) and Tarazan manages to kill it. This finally earns him Kerchak’s respect, though of course Kerchak doesn’t come out and say it.

Meanwhile, Tarzan hears a gun go off and goes to check out what the unfamiliar noise is. He runs into British explorers, Professor Porter, his daughter Jane, and Clayton, their guide.

Jane ends up lagging behind and wandering into the woods alone, chasing after a baby monkey, and ends up pissing off a whole bunch of angry Rafikis.

Naturally, Tarzan has to save her. And then he looks at her, fascinated. He sees that she has hands just like his. Somehow he can’t speak English except for his name. But it does allow them to do the “Tarzan. Jane” bit.

Then the apes (and Tantor) end up in the camp of Porter and the British explorers, and create a nice cacophony of sounds that turns into a nice little musical number. It has no relevance to anything, but it’s a lot of fun.

Tarzan and Jane arrive at the camp and Jane realizes he’s one of the apes. Kerchak then comes and tells all the apes to leave, and they do, just before Porter and Clayton arrive. They have a big council meeting, and Tarzan gets pissed at Kerchak for being afraid of anything that’s not like him (and also at Kala for not telling him there are people like him) and goes back to the camp.

At the camp, Jane and Porter want to learn from Tarzan, while Clayton wants to use him to get to the apes and capture and sell them. We then go into a montage as they teach Tarzan about stuff. And naturally Tarzan teaches Jane about some stuff too (wocka wocka wocka!). No, actually, he teaches her to swing on vines and shit. The wocka wocka comes later.

After the montage, Tarzan sees that a British ship has arrived to take Porter back to England. Jane wants Tarzan to go back to England with her, but he doesn’t like the idea, seeing as how he won’t be able to come back. He asks her to stay with him. She says she can’t (but it’s clear she wants to).

Clayton then manipulates Tarzan, making it seem like Jane will stay if she gets to see gorillas. So he agrees to let the humans come see the gorillas. They get Kerchak out of the way and Tarzan brings Jane, Porter and Clayton to the apes.

Kerchak then returns and freaks out when he sees Clayton has a gun. Tarzan fights him and holds him off long enough for the humans to escape. Kerchak is pissed and blames Tarzan for betraying them and endangering them all.

Kala then takes Tarzan to the place where she found him, and shows him a photo of his parents. He then decides to become a human. Gets all dressed up in a suit and goes off to leave with Jane.

Though once he gets on the ship, he sees that Clayton has planned to capture him and the apes, and locks him below deck with Porter, Jane and the non-evil crewmembers.

He screams for help. Terk and Tantor hear him and swim out to the ship. They free Tarzan and he arrives as the mercenaries are putting all the apes in cages and Clayton is about to shoot Kerchak. He brings with him a stampede of elephants and other jungle animals.

Naturally they all fight the mercenaries and beat them, but not before Kerchak takes a bullet for Tarzan. Tarzan and Clayton then fight up in the trees, and Clayton ends up accidentally hanging himself from the vines. It’s a really nice image, actually.

Also, might I add, to save me a bunch of screenshots down below – that final battle is full of negative coloring. It’s awesome. Some great images there.

Anyway, Kerchak dies and tells Tarzan he’s a good son and appoints him the new leader.

The film ends with Jane and Porter about to leave back to England, but Porter convinces her she should stay and that she loves him, and she swims back to shore to be with Tarzan. And Porter goes back too. And they all live together happily.

Okay — I like this film a lot. I don’t love it, and that’s because it’s filled of those little things that make me annoyed with present-day Disney. But the animation is terrific. They did some amazing things with Tarzan swinging around the jungle. I’m a huge fan of how they did that. And I love how they dealt with him and Jane. Clayton, I felt was way too one-dimensional, as were a lot of characters, but on the whole, the film works. Though Rosie O’Donnell’s character was annoying as fuck. Seriously, what’s that about?

So, the film has its problems, but I’m always willing to trade childish humor and somewhat flimsy storytelling (but even that’s a matter of opinion) for gorgeous animation. The film looks great, and Phil Collins is terrific, so I’m willing to not pay attention to how flat the plot really is and how dumb some of the humor is as long as I’m treated with great visuals, some great moments of humanity, and Phil Collins music. (Though again, with the singers singing over the action instead of the characters. What the hell, Disney? I’ll allow it here, since it’s Phil, and it’s not really a movie where songs make that much sense, but it’s not relegated to this movie, so this isn’t a pass.)

– – – – –

Official Disney Number: #37

Run Time: 88 minutes

Release Date: June 18, 1999

Budget: $130 million

Box Office: $171.1 million domestically, $448.2 million worldwide

– – – – –


  1. “Two Worlds,” performed by Phil Collins
  2. “You’ll Be in My Heart,” performed by Phil Collins
  3. “Son of Man,” performed by Phil Collins
  4. “Trashin’ the Camp,” performed (mostly) by Phil Collins
  5. “Strangers Like Me,” performed by Phil Collins

– – – – –

Voice Cast:

Tony Goldwyn, as Tarzan (Alex D. Linz, as Young Tarzan)
Minnie Driver, as Jane
Glenn Close, as Kala
Lance Henriksen, as Kerchak
Nigel Hawthorne, as Professor Porter
Brian Blessed, as Clayton
Rosie O’Donnell, as Terk
Wayne Knight, as Tantor

– – – – –


  • This film won the Oscar for Best Original Song for “You’ll Be in My Heart.” (It beat “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2, “Save Me” from Magnolia and “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Sadly, “Uncle Fucka” wasn’t nominated.)
  • This, both critically and financially, was the last success of the Disney Renaissance.
  • Apparently the Professor has a beanbag of Mulan’s dog in his pockets when the gorillas turn him upside down near the end.

Not much trivia here. Most of it’s not particularly interesting for my purposes.

– – – – –

Disney Motifs:

1. This is almost the exact same shot as one in Dinosaur (also, negative coloring).

2. I love lightning. That is all.

3. I’m sure there are very similar images in the Disney canon, but I just love this shot, to the point where I can’t even think of anything similar, because all I want to do is just look at how gorgeous this shot is:

4. Reflections in water. Pure Disney:

5. I love the motif of the hands and hearts in this. I put the first one because it’s similar to Lilo & Stitch, with the hands, and I put the second one because I realized I never got a chance to put a shot of it up there in the synopsis.

6. Tell me you don’t look at this and go — “Ha ha ha, Shia LaBeouf.”

7. I think I made a note about a shot like this in Atlantis. Figured I’d put this one up to compare.

8. Look, pissed off Rafikis (try not to shit yourself):

9. The exact same thing happens to Captain Hook (though in a croc’s mouth. Still — a groin pull is a groin pull is a groin pull):

10. Negative coloring. Lots of it:

11. Well I don’t think I need to say anything about this one:

12. Just like Cinderella:

I guess I should also mention that I respect that not one of the apes is given a stereotypical “black” voice (or mannerisms). Though I guess that also makes everyone in the film white. So I don’t really know if that’s better. (You can’t really win with Disney racism/lack of racism, can you? It’s like a noir. The best you can hope for is coming out totally even at the end and back to square one.)

13. This reminds me of that final shot in Cast Away when Hanks takes one more look at the island before going out to sea. (Note: This happens right as Tarzan takes one last look at the island before climbing aboard the ship.)

14. I really like the cool/warm coloring they do sometimes. Also, this reminds me of the mob in Beauty and the Beast (you’ll see what I mean when that comes up, if you don’t already).


3 responses

  1. Chrissie

    I enjoy this movie a lot, but I wonder how much it would improve in my mind if they left out that Rosie O’Donnell character? I HATE it. Maybe another voice actor would work, but I’ve grown to hate that thing so much it makes it hard to imagine.

    May 26, 2015 at 2:33 pm

  2. Pingback: 12 Underrated Fictional Mothers | lgalfonso

  3. Pingback: 12 Underrated Fictional Mothers | LG Alfonso

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