Rated G - Running time: 1:28 - Released 6/18/99

Ever since the so-called "Disney renaissance," which began 10 years ago with The Little Mermaid, that large-eared company has been producing impeccable, awe-inspiring animations, using huge-name stars for its voice actors and musical composers, and moving right along with the computer age in graphic design. The idea behind spending all that money and effort (when the kids would be perfectly happy with the lamest, cheapest cartoons available) is to pitch to adults as well as children; to romance the baby-boomers who grew up with titles like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. This has worked beautifully, of course, bringing them trillions of dollars in box-office receipts, toy and video sales, and theme park tickets. And Disney's latest release, Tarzan, will be sure to heat up the cash registers one more time.

Is there anyone not familiar with this story? (Actually, until I set them straight, my kids thought it was based on George Of The Jungle.) Originally published in 1914 as the novel Tarzan Of The Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the story is thus: A baby is orphaned in the African jungle in the early 20th century, when his British parents are killed. He is discovered by a family of gorillas, reared as one of their own, and doesn't discover he is human until adulthood, when he is found by explorers. Then he must choose between savagery and civility, between the apes who were his family and the humans who are his species. In this version, adapted for the screen by Tab Murphy and Bob Tzudiker & Noni White, young Tarzan (voice of Alex D. Linz) is rescued by mother ape Kala (Glenn Close) and brought into the clan despite the reservations of its leader, Kerchak (Lance Henriksen). He makes friends with a rambunctious kid gorilla named Terk (Rosie O'Donnell) and an elephant named Tantor (Wayne Knight).

When Tarzan is an adult (voiced by Tony Goldwyn), he is discovered by a young explorer named Jane (Minnie Driver), who has come searching for apes with her father, the affable Professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne), and an opportunistic scoundrel named Clayton (Brian Blessed). After winning his friendship and trust, Jane convinces Tarzan to show her the apes' home, but Clayton has plans to trap the animals and transport them home to sell, so he doublecrosses his colleagues, taking Tarzan and the Porters hostage.

This film is beautiful, fun, touching, and exciting. The characterizations are enjoyable, especially Driver as Jane, who brings a sense of independence to this turn-of-the-century female. Some definite updates to Tarzan's character are his sensitive side with Jane and his skater-style "tree-surfing" high in the jungle canopy. The CGI background animations are astounding, and the music is some of Phil Collins's best work to date; however, unlike most Disney films, Tarzan does not feature a soundtrack full of rousing musical numbers. The most memorable piece is an instrumental percussion jam, as would be expected from Collins, still a drummer at heart.

This Africa-based film bears some resemblance to its Indian predecessor, The Jungle Book (1967), the last feature produced by Walt Disney himself. But Tarzan brings us fully into the 21st century, using computer technology on the technical side and fitting the social-sexual roles of its principal characters to our ever-so-enlightened 1990s sensibilities. ****½

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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