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Tarzan: 2005 Special Edition DVD Review

Tarzan: Blu-ray + DVD combo pack -- click to read our review.
Tarzan is now available in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack.
Click here to read our review of that newer edition or read on for a full critique of the out of print 2000 Collector's Edition DVD.

Tarzan

Theatrical Release: June 18, 1999 / Running Time: 88 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: Kevin Lima, Chris Buck

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

Songs: "Two Worlds", "You'll Be in My Heart", "Son of Man", "Trashin' the Camp", "Strangers Like Me"


By Aaron Wallace

Released in the summer of 1999, Tarzan brought to a close what many view as a third golden age of Disney feature animation. It also marked a notable departure from the traditional Disney musical, to which the studio has still not returned.
While none of the features that have followed 1994's The Lion King have been able to rival it, Tarzan is one of a small few that have come close.

Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs' popular stories, it is the story of human child orphaned in the jungles of Africa and found and raised by a family of apes. Structured in two parts, the first portion of the story centers around the young ape boy's struggle to understand his differences from his family, while the second portion complicates that struggle with the introduction of an older Tarzan to a father-daughter team of human explorers and their ruthless protector, Clayton. While the sight of others like him is a startling one, it is the fair young woman, Jane, who most interests Tarzan and as the story develops, his feelings for her puts him in conflict with his family, which views the strangers as a threat.

From beginning to end, Tarzan is packed with action from one riveting scene to the next. One thing that can be said for the movie is that something exciting is constantly unfolding on the screen, amplified by beautifully animated scenery that fully realizes the potential of computer use in traditional animation (courtesy of the "deep canvas process" that was cultivated for this film). Another is that it is effectively poignant in its exploration of identity and of relationships, both familial and romantic. That's accomplished in spite of the title character having relatively little dialogue because, even without words, Tarzan is a commanding lead. The other performances, particularly those of Minnie Driver and Rosie O'Donnell as Jane and Terk, respectively, add a welcome dash of spunk to the mix. There's a lot going for the film; however, it is not without flaws.

The star of "Tarzan II." Tarzan and Jane, the stars of "Tarzan & Jane."

Phil Collins is a talented musician with quite a reputation for truly popular pop music. That's likely what Disney had in mind when they asked him to provide Tarzan's entire soundtrack (and Brother Bear's too). The filmmakers were concerned with being tied too strictly to what had emerged as a new Disney formula of musicals in the 1990s, and so the decision was made to bring in Collins. As expected, he delivers a collection of a catchy compositions with appropriate and even inspiring lyrics. I have to admit that the songs themselves work remarkably well in the final product, yet, the idea of Collins as an omnipresent musical narrator who shows up to deliver each and every song is a bit much to swallow. To be sure, every Disney movie needn't be a musical, but it's not as if Tarzan completely bucked the format. Occasionally, characters will themselves belt out a few notes, leading to disappointment when the performance the audience hopes for instead transitions to yet another Phil Collins number. With only a little effort, though, any non-diegetic connotations can be ignored and it becomes a little easier to get lost in the moment.

As Tarzan's chief villain, Clayton doesn't quite compare to the leading baddies in preceding classics. The story requires a threat to the protagonists, and in the second half of the film, Clayton delivers on that demand. Aside from a brief but suggestive shot of what appears to be a real estate map, however, his motives go unexplained and there isn't enough time spent on developing his character to justify calling him "just a really bad guy," as the producer suggests in the commentary track. Fortunately, the conflict is executed skillfully enough to go mostly unaffected by a weak villain.

Tarzan is at times reminiscent of other Disney classics, particularly those that take place in Africa. It also borrows a page from Pocahontas' book in solving language barrier problems (we always see Tarzan and the apes communicate in English except when Englanders are around, at which time we hear everyone in their native tongue). There are other more explicit homages to the studio repertoire as well. While it doesn't quite live up to those classics, it still manages to invoke their same feel and is a solid and engaging exploit. Given the output from the feature animation departure in the years that have followed, Disney would do well to match Tarzan these days in either quality or box office performance.

Tarzan's best friend, Terk, stumbles upon the explorer's camp and decides to make a little music. Clayton makes his entrance.

Previously available as a 2-Disc Collector's Edition DVD that has been out of print since January of 2001, Tarzan has finally been given a re-release on home video. The Special Edition was originally announced as a 2-Disc set that would largely resurrect the exemplary supplements included on the Collector's Edition. That's how it arrived to other countries and that's how the set's been advertised since then -- repeatedly in fact, and as recently as this month, inside the much-hyped Cinderella Platinum Edition release. Most consumers will likely be surprised, then, when they get their pre-ordered packages in the mail or return home from retailers with the new release in hand this Tuesday and find that it is actually only a single-disc release. This sudden drastic change went all but unmentioned by Disney. To be fair, the original press release was modified and some (though not all) of Disney's advertising began to curiously drop the "2-Disc" label during a very brief period of time leading up to this release. It's doubtful that many people who are not regular readers of UltimateDisney.com took notice. The reason for the duplicitous change is inexplicable, especially given that all the content for a second disc is already in existence and currently off the market. As a result, many fans are likely to be disappointed by this release, as even while it offers some quality supplements, it loses a larger wealth of valuable features that could and should have been included. The material that did make the cut for this release and its presentation are the subject of the remainder of this review.

Buy Tarzan: Special Edition from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish),
Dolby Digital 5.0 (English)
Subtitles: English. French, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 18, 2005
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Keepcase with Cardboard Slipcover

VIDEO and AUDIO

Presented in anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen, Tarzan revels in the format's digital glory here. The picture is deliciously lush with color and detail. From scenic shots to the vine-swinging, tree-sliding action that is its signature, the movie comes to life and lifts right off the screen. Excess softness, edge enhancement, or unwanted artifacts of any kind are entirely absent here. In fact, there are no noticeable imperfections. There's nothing to suggest that this is anything other than the same video transfer found on the Collector's Edition, but that's entirely acceptable as it takes its place among Disney's finest on DVD.

The audio is similarly pleasing. This disc retains the previous Dolby Digital 5.0 track that was heard in the original theatrical cut. It also adds a new track: the Dolby Digital 5.1. Both, however, are actually encoded in 5.1 and there isn't a great deal of difference. The 5.1 track does deliver slightly richer bass, but the increase isn't drastic. The 5.1 track probably offers the better home theater experience, but either way, satisfactory channel separation and mixing is employed and fans will appreciate the theatrical mix' inclusion.

A more cynical critic might accuse Tarzan of being a Phil Collins album with graphics, but I won't go nearly that far. The music is worth discussing, though, as it plays a prominent role. As expected, the sound is full and dynamic. That can be said for the audio track as whole. The surround sound experience is every bit as engaging as the movie itself.

An example of the story reel segments labeled as deleted scenes. Phil Collins, vocalist, guitarist, percussionist, and lord of the Disney soundtrack. Ladies and gentlemen, the 1990s.

BONUS FEATURES

As is customary with the Disney EasyFind set-up, bonus features are organized into four sections, the most valuable of which is Backstage Disney. The lone bonus here is the feature-length audio commentary with directors Chris Buck and Kevin Lima and producer Bonnie Arnold that previously appeared on the Collector's Edition. It just happens to be one of the best audio commentary tracks out there.
Lively and entertaining, there's a great chemistry between these three and they have lots to say about everything on the screen -- even throughout the lengthy end credits. Unlike most of their peers, they don't take themselves too seriously in the course of the commentary either.

Deleted Scenes offers three segments, none of which were actually deleted. The Collector's Edition got it right in labeling these "Abandoned Sequences," but that was in the days before EasyFind menus. "Alternate Opening" (2:10) is just that, "Terk Finds the Human Camp" (2:15) is a funny piece that would essentially extend the scene it describes, and "Riverboat Fight" (3:30) shows an alternative climax. There's an introduction from Bonnie Arnold (1:50) too. All four segments are presented in preliminary story reel form with stand-in audio and can be viewed on their own or all at once.

Music & More provides four music videos, and amazingly, two of them feature someone other than Phil Collins. Of course his "You'll Be in My Heart" (one of Disney's finest contemporary songs) and "Strangers Like Me" (a radio remix of the ultra-catchy jam) are there. There's also a studio session of sorts with Collins and a young-looking 'N Sync, featuring singing and interviews. An all-new bonus feature is found in this section too: a video for Everlife's "Strangers Like Me" cover. Their take on the song is a fun one, but the video is nothing more than footage of them singing on a stage that looks to be in a Disney theme park, though the cuts are too fast and frequent to be sure, which should you give you some idea of the video's style. Or at least that's what you'd think if you weren't among those who picked up the recently-released DisneyMania 3 In Concert DVD, filmed at Disney's California Adventure park, from which all the footage in this video originates. It's a shame that R&B artist Usher's DisneyMania cover of "You'll Be in My Heart" didn't get a video of its own. Commentary from Collins on his concept videos would have been appreciated too, given his immense involvement with the film and the bizarre design of the videos, but alas, it's not to be found.

Phil Collins discusses his collaboration with 'N Sync. Who needs hours of substantive content when you have this poorly-made Everlife music video to keep you satisfied? "DisneyPedia" profiles monkeys and elephants, among other animals seen in the film.

Finally, Games & Activities includes all new features, like "DisneyPedia: Living in the Jungle" (5:55), which is neither a game nor an activity. Instead, it's a brief, informative, and fairly fun look at the real-life counterparts of the animals depicted in Tarzan. Joining it are three actual games, all of which follow the same fast-paced route through curvy vines. The first, "Jungle Memory," asks players to remember the animals that whiz by them in the correct order and the second, "Banana Round Up," is a challenge to point the remote towards collecting bananas. Both are fun and interactive, and though not very challenging, they require that one is ready at the remote and alert. A missed question will restart the game and there's apparently never a "game over." The combinations and sequences alternate to enhance replay value. (Beware: if you pass a banana on the second game, it will let you proceed to the end of the vine, but there's no opportunity to go back and get the required fruit). The third and final game, "Clayton's Trap," instructs gamers to use their remote to dodge bad guys. After repeated attempts to play this game on multiple DVD players, however, it seemingly just doesn't work. After passing the first dodging opportunity, the game restarts. If you have better luck getting this to work than I have, let me know.

So what's missing? The Collector's Edition doesn't include the Everlife video or the new Games & Activities section, which amounts to nothing of significance. What it does have, though, is a read-along, a trivia game, a DVD-ROM demo of another game, text-only screens of information, and more significantly, over 500 stills in various photo galleries, and around 90 minutes of additional video material that covers every facet of the film, from conception to debut, and things like Phil Collins interviews and demos and the nowadays elusive theatrical trailers section, which is most inexcusably lacking from this new release.

All three games use the same set-up seen here, only where this one uses bananas, the others use animals or humans. The animated 16x9 main menu shows off some effort on Disney's part.

MENUS and PACKAGING

All of the menus are animated and make use of sound effects, with the exception being the Set-Up menu that employs a still screen with music only and the rather plain Scene Selection screens. The 88 minute film is divided into an impressive and helpful 36 chapters. In every section except Games & Activities, runtimes display next to any highlighted featurette, another useful tool.

A slip-cover that replicates the front and back covers of the black keepcase accompanies initial prints of the release and inside, one will find a nicely-designed four-page guide to the DVD's contents, an ad for DisneyMania albums, and a flyer promoting Tarzan: The Broadway Musical, scheduled to open in New York City in March 2006.

The DVD begins with previews for Disney's next Platinum Edition, Lady and the Tramp, as well as Valiant, various Studio Ghibli productions, and a Disney Channel "Movie Surfers" look at early animation from Disney's The Wild and the upcoming remake of The Shaggy Dog, amounting to a considerable chunk of time devoted to previews before the main menu is finally reached. If you're still craving more previews, head to the second page of Sneak Peeks from the main menu and check out the spots for the Old Yeller double feature, the Toy Story 2 Special Edition, next month's Muppet movie DVDs, Kronk's New Groove, and "Power Rangers: S.P.D." The disc also notably debuts a new "Disney DVD" introduction, modifying Tinker Bell's sequence that has launched Disney DVDs for a while now.

Jane reluctantly allows this stranger to rescue her from aggressive baboons. One of the film's breathtaking scenic shots.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

With involving and elaborate action sequences in abundance and tugs on heartstrings that are direct but never too forceful, Tarzan has great success as a film. Disney's third golden age of animation arguably launched with The Little Mermaid, peaked with The Lion King, and concluded with this, Disney's 37th animated classic, which says something about the mark it made. Despite weaknesses that keep it out of the utmost echelon, it sits comfortably in Disney's canon and is one of the studio's better offerings from the last ten years. There's no doubt that it is a movie worthy of anyone's collection. The question is, which release do you go for?

Thanks to some questionable last-minute maneuvering on Disney's part, this Special Edition isn't nearly as special as consumers and fans had hoped. With the Collector's Edition having gone out of print some four years ago, the price tag from resellers on that particular issue will be too high for many and it's next to impossible to find in stores. Also worth considering is that yet another reissue of this film on the DVD format seems unlikely. Those who already own the Collector's Edition of Tarzan have no reason to upgrade, unless that extra 0.1 on the audio track or an Everlife music video is of great importance to them. Even those who own the single disc Tarzan (also long out-of-print) have only a slight incentive to upgrade.

Everyone else -- that is, the people who don't already own Tarzan on DVD -- are unfortunately left with this new release as their most economical option. Finding an affordable and reliable copy of the wholly superior Collector's Edition is of course the optimal option, but is much easier said than done. Sure, a better release will (hopefully) emerge when Blu-Ray rolls around, but by the time that happens, the sting of a double-dip will have dulled. Therefore, for this latter group, I reluctantly suggest this release. Fortunately, it's not all bad. A top-notch audio/video transfer and thorough audio commentary will soften the blow of the most displeasing loss of a second disc's worth of material, a mistake that will undoubtedly result in fewer sales and hopefully teach Disney a lesson for future releases.

Buy Tarzan from Amazon.com:
1-Disc DVD / Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / 2-Disc DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews
Tarzan (Blu-ray + DVD) Tarzan II
The Emperor's New Groove
The Lion King: Platinum Edition Brother Bear
Peter Pan: Special Edition Cinderella: Platinum Edition Bambi: Platinum Edition

Related Pages:
Tarzan in UltimateDisney.com's Top Animated Classics Countdown
UltimateDisney.com's Top 100 Disney Songs Countdown (featuring "Son of Man", "Two Worlds", and "You'll Be in My Heart")
Clayton in UltimateDisney.com's Top Disney Villains Countdown
Tarzan and Jane in UltimateDisney.com's Top Disney Heroes & Heroines Countdown

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Reviewed October 16, 2005.

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