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"Tarzan" (1999): The Last Disney Renaissance Film


Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

The Disney Renaissance was that golden era when Disney went on a kill-streak and produced nothing but 10/10 films for about a decade solid. Tarzan was the last film produced in that era.

I was lucky enough to grow up during this golden age oft wistfully recalled by my fellow Millennials. I even saw Tarzan in the theater with my family when it came out. Me and my entire family loved it. I remember we got it on VHS so we could watch it again.

And even now, years later, I still remember that entire experience. I remember the parts where the audience laughed, the parts where I tensed in my seat (Kala saving baby Tarzan comes to mind), and even the fact that I wanted to clap at the end.

I don't know what possessed me to watch the film again recently for the first time in years, but now that I have, I figured I'd revisit memory lane.

Here are the things I love about Tarzan.

The Music

Phil Collins performed a lot of really beautiful music for this film. I can't think of a song I didn't like.

"Son of Man" and "You'll Be in My Heart" were such beautiful songs, "Son of Man" being especially wonderful as it shows Tarzan growing into a man.

Also, "Two Worlds, One Family" is so tragic and beautiful in all the right ways. The film opens with the song playing as Tarzan's parents and Kala's baby are killed by the leopard, Sabor. This brings Kala and Tarzan together in a quick montage that sends your feelings on a roller coaster by the time it's over.

"A new life is waiting, but danger's no stranger here."


There was also "Trashin' the Camp," performed by N'Sync, who were pretty huge at the time (ah, the 90s).

Fan Theories and Easter Eggs

Disney loves sticking Easter eggs in their films, and this often results in crazy fan theories.

One theory that I really love is that Jane is actually a descendant of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. The theory claims that Belle's descendants had to flee France and wound up in England -- which would explain why Jane has Prince's Adam's tea set, loves yellow, is a huge dork, and looks a great deal like Belle.

Belle and her small, bumbling father were also considered to be crazy outcasts, much in the same way that Jane and her small, bumbling father are considered to be nuts.

Jane and Belle both fall in love with beast men, too: the Beast was literally a beast while Tarzan is aptly referred to as an ape-man.

And lastly, there was the fact that Clayton (Brian Blessed) died in a manner very similar to Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. Both of them wind up falling to their death in the rain due to their own blind violence.

I realize that most Disney films give the villain this kind of death, but I always felt this was a deliberate Easter egg on Disney's part. Almost like they were making history repeat itself throughout Belle's bloodline.

There's also the theory that Tarzan is the long lost brother of the sisters from Frozen, but I never saw (and don't intend to see) Frozen, so I can't comment much on it.

"I, Jane. You, Tarzan."

I'll probably never forget the scene where Jane (Minnie Driver) and Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn -- yeah that guy from Ghost!) first meet. The scene was hilarious, heartwarming, and very sad, all at the same time.

I say it was sad because Tarzan had never seen another human being before. Kala (Glenn Close) never even told him other humans existed, likely because she was afraid he would leave to go looking for more (which he ultimately did).

Jane is the first woman Tarzan has ever seen, and when they look into each other's eyes, they fall in love.

I always thought it was very well done for such a brief scene.

Terk and Tantor were Awesome

This will sound like blasphemy to many, I'm sure, but I always felt that Terk (Rosie O'Donnell) and Tantor (Wayne Knight) were funnier than Timon and Pumbaa.

Yeah. I went there.

I just found them to be so amusing. Also, there's that scene where Terk first meets Jane. She just stands there gawking and has to be picked up and carried off by Tantor. The way she's picked up like a stiff action figure makes me burst out laughing every time.

Just so great. Great characters.

The Story Itself

Because Tarzan is from the Renaissance era, the film's plot was pretty on-point: concise, tragic, heartwarming, well-written.

Tarzan is conflicted his entire life because he's torn between two worlds. He's a human who wants desperately to be an ape so that he can fit in with his adoptive family.

Eventually, he learns that it's okay to be who he is and to be true to his heart.

I also always loved the arc between him and Kerchak (Lance Henriksen).

Kerchak hates and distrusts anyone who's different, and he takes it out unjustly on Tarzan, who is just a child.

At the same time, however, Tarzan learns the hard way that Kerchak has got good reason to be so suspicious of outsiders.

By the end of the film, Tarzan has learned something about his own youthful naivety, while Kerchak has learned that not all outsiders are so bad.

The ending of the film is a lovely happily ever after: Jane stays in the jungle with Tarzan and gets to be queen of the apes.

The last few shots also never fail to be thrilling. Watching Tarzan and Jane fly fast along all those tree branches is just so cool. Even twenty years later!

This truly was the last great Disney film of an era.

© 2019 Lee

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