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Animated 'Tarzan' Really Swings

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 1999

  Movie Critic

Tarzan confronts a bloodthirsty leopard in Disney's beautifully animated adventure. (Disney)

Chris Buck and Kevin Lima
Tony Goldwyn;
Minnie Driver;
Rosie O'Donnell;
Glenn Close;
Wayne Knight;
Alex D. Linz;
Nigel Hawthorne;
Brian Blessed;
Lance Henriksen
Running Time:
1 hour, 28 minutes
Contains loud gunfire, the shooting death of an ape, knife fights, and leopard gorilla fights
Sit back and enjoy yourself, Moms, Dads and Significant Olders. The kids are going to enjoy "Tarzan."

So will you. This Walt Disney animated feature isn't up there with "Aladdin," "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid," but it's easily above the riffraff ranks of "Hercules" and "Pocahontas."

The animation is the key. Employing a three-dimensional, zooming-in technique known as "deep canvas," it gives you a junglecam, you-are-there sensation as Tarzan scurries, somersaults and practically skateboards up and down the limby, leafy highway of Darkest Africa.

Sometimes you can't tell if you're in a movie theater or riding a Tarzan theme ride at Kings Dominion – especially with all the Phil Collins songs on the soundtrack. (I cringe at Phil Collins's soft-rock music as a rule, but his music works really well here.) There's ne'er a dull visual moment. The humor may not reach Robin Williams level, but the story's well done. For silverbacked fidgeters like myself, this is essential.

"Tarzan," based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs books, starts with the meeting between a female ape called Kala (voice of Glenn Close) and a small English infant in a treetop house.

The baby's parents appear to have been killed by the same leopard who is presently stalking the wooden shack. With the wild cat licking its chops for that human baby, Kala spirits the child away, calls him Tarzan and raises him as her own.

The human ape has a problem blending in with the gorillas, especially under the resentful scrutiny of ape leader Kerchak (Lance Henriksen).

Nonetheless, the young Tarzan (Alex D. Linz) makes friends with an elephant called Tantor (Wayne Knight – Newman!!!) and Terk, a personable, wisecracking ape whose only problem is that Rosie O'Donnell screeches off-screen for her in that irritating New Yawk shtick of hers. Why a young ape from the jungles of Africa would carry on like a Manhattan cabdriver – or a cheesy talk show host – I don't know. But this seemed like a minor price to pay for an otherwise enjoyable film.

One day, Tarzan (now voiced by Tony Goldwyn), who has grown up to be a studly, slouching dude, encounters a group of English explorers: the arrogant, rifle-toting Clayton (Brian Blessed), the kindly professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne) and his sweet daughter Jane (Minnie Driver), who wanders off into the jungle.

Tarzan like Jane. Rescue her from angry monkeys. Learn English from her – enough to graduate American high school, anyway. But now find himself stuck between two worlds – human and animal.

The story progresses along a familiar but diverting course. Collins's songs propel you along. And there are plentiful moments for kids to giggle: Kala dubiously sniffing the kid's diaper in that first scene; Tarzan mimicking and making fun of the arrogant Clayton; and Jane abandoning her politeness to yell "GET OFF!" when Tarzan's sniffing exploration takes him a little too far up her leg.

Speaking of Jane, Minnie Driver gets the big banana for top off-screen performance. She brims over with prissiness and pep, tenderness and visionary appreciation, as she realizes the potential in this beautiful young man with animal instinct, a good heart and raw intelligence. Wait a minute, that was me 25 years ago! Too bad Jane has to spoil everything by puckering up her lips for Tarzan and eeeeeoooooooohhhhh!!! You know what I mean. Anyway, don't let a little smooching interfere with the chance to vicariously cruise the boughs, yodel your way through the tendrils and enjoy Disney's time-tested way of doing things.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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