Poor Tarzan. Until just a few days ago, he was the King of the Jungle. Now, thanks to a bunch of Internet wisenheimers, he might be more aptly known as the Master of His Domain.
Mattel--which produced a Tarzan doll tied to the new Disney movie--is modifying the doll's packaging to make sure Tarzan cannot be manipulated in a sexually suggestive manner while on store shelves.
The $19.99 doll is sold in what Mattel calls a "try-me" package--an open-front box that lets customers pull Tarzan's right hand up to his mouth, activating a microchip inside that produces his famous jungle yell. Great idea--but the seemingly innocuous gesture was immediately seized upon by online chat groups, who began spreading smarmy messages about what prompted his cry because, when the doll's right hand is at rest, it is positioned over a (tiny) loincloth. That, coupled with the doll's fierce grin, was enough to persuade the toy manufacturer to tie down Tarzan's right arm in the package, so customers wouldn't think Mattel "had packaged anything that would be offensive," says Sara Rosales, Mattel's director of public relations in El Segundo, Calif.
"What we're doing is securing the arm so it doesn't get . . . " she starts, then stops, trying to find the right words. "We're doing that as a result of where his arm is placed or has been placed or has been moved . . . so it isn't in a position . . . so it doesn't have . . . how can I say this gracefully?"
You probably can't.
"So that he's not in a pose with his hand," she says, bailing out.
Mattel has received no complaints from customers or retailers but is responding instead to the Internet buzz, Rosales says.
Rosales says Mattel will continue to produce and ship the doll, and it will not be recalled. It is selling extremely well, she says.
Disney, which produced the film version of "Tarzan," has been hit with allegations of subliminal sexuality in its movies in recent years. A photo of a topless woman was inserted into two frames of 1977's "The Rescuers"--and were not discovered until last year--and, in 1995, a Christian group alleged sexual undertones in "The Lion King."
Rosales says Mattel did not make special efforts to modify the packaging because of the Disney tie-in. Mattel has been producing Disney toys since the 1950s, she says.
Locally, DC101 radio (WWDC-FM) has jumped on the joke. The station has a photo of the Tarzan doll on its Web site and is asking listeners to come up with the funniest jungle-oriented euphemisms.
When told this, Rosales said: "Oh, my God."
"If you look at the product through the eyes of a child, it doesn't have that kind of meaning," she says, exasperated.
It's just a doll, she says.
Precisely, she elaborates: "It's a 12-inch action figure."
CAPTION: Mattel doesn't want anyone monkeying around with its Tarzan action figure.