Many of Disney’s films feature anthropomorphic animals. In most we are either completely in an animal world (The Lion King) or a in human’s world with animals who band together (101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats). While The Jungle Book comes close, 1999’s Tarzan beautifully bridges the human and animal world in a way Disney never had before. The opening scene and song, appropriately named Two Worlds, shows this connection perfectly as a grieving mother finds an orphaned baby.
Tarzan (voiced by Tony Goldwyn) is raised by Kala (Glenn Close) among the other gorillas. As a child, Tarzan is frustrated by his differences from his playmates and is often counted out. The way his mother accepts him and encourages him is moving and encourages Tarzan to be the best ape he can be. He grows into one of the strongest males in the family and just when Tarzan has defeated the jaguar that has been stalking the gorillas his entire life, a new predator comes to the jungle.
Enter Jane (Minnie Driver), her dorky dad (Nigel Hawthorne) and Clayton (Brian Blessed). They have traveled to Africa to study the gorillas, but run into Tarzan instead. Jane and her father are fascinated by him and teach Tarzan to speak English, hoping that he will take them to the gorillas. While Tarzan is blown away by the new world Jane is showing him, he is oblivious to the danger Clayton poses.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is the soundtrack. Who doesn’t enjoy a little Phil Collins? All the songs are written and performed by him, and they all rock. Unlike most Disney films, these songs are not sung by the characters, which I like. I can’t imagine Tarzan breaking into song, it’s just too out of character. Trashin’ the Camp is the only song that gets the characters actively singing, but it keeps to the gorillas’ character in a very fun way. This soundtrack includes one of my all time favorite Disney movie songs, You’ll Be In My Heart. It’s the ultimate parent/child song and it makes my heart swell when my kid dances to it with me.
If I were to make a list of movies for mothers to share with their sons, Tarzan would be near the top. It would also be one of the first to show them, even with elements of death and guns, very young children shouldn’t be too disturbed with their moms nearby. Since before my son could walk he loved watching the gorillas (he used to call them ah-ahs!). Now, at age 2, he enjoys making elephant noises with Tantar and drumming with the songs. Best of all, he knows who Tarzan’s mommy is, even though they don’t look the same.
Besides the lovely mother-son relationship, Tarzan shows a great message about being a man. Son of Man is another great song here that helps drive the point home. In the end, we hope boys are inspired to be a man like Tarzan rather than Clayton. The moment where Tarzan breaks the gun, rather than firing it, is a powerful gesture. Staying with his family as their new leader is an even better one.
“What kind of primitive beasts are responsible for this mess?”