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Where Disney Went Wrong: "Tarzan" (1999)

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The original version of "Tarzan" as depicted on a book jacket.

The original version of "Tarzan" as depicted on a book jacket.

Disney's "Tarzan" (1999)

Before I begin, let me make a note that I am a huge Disney fan. I love pretty much anything Disney does, and I have been a fan practically since birth. However, there are some movies they have made that are nothing like the books they are based on.

In most cases, that’s a very good thing because Disney had managed to successfully kid-ify books that they would not have been able to understand and omit the sick and nasty parts, or just change the absolutely depressing endings.

For this particular article, I will be naming off nearly all the things that Disney left out or slightly changed in from Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, Tarzan of the Apes. I will try and keep the events in chronological order, and I will elaborate on each point. I also should also note that I have actually read the book and took notes along with it, so feel free to read the book yourself and see that I covered as much as I could and was accurate.

Book and Film Spoilers Ahead


If you are planning to read the book, I highly suggest not reading this article because there are several things that I give away in the points.


1. The Ship did not Sink; Tarzan’s Parents Were Stranded.

Yes, the ship did sink into the ocean, it was taken over by a mutinous crew who then left the recently married couple on a part of Africa to die there. Well, at least the new captain was nice enough to leave them some things. I suppose that made him feel better.

2. Tarzan Wasn’t Born yet.

Tarzan’s young mother gave birth to Tarzan in the little cabin that his father makes to shelter them from animals (this is maybe why Disney made the treehouse way up high and isolated), and she goes crazy (probably from postpartum depression), thinking that they are still in English and she keeps asking why the house looks so strange. She eventually passes peacefully lying on a bed.

3. Sabor was a Lioness, not a Leopard.

A note: I was confused while reading the book that though Tarzan killed Sabor, the name Sabor popped up again in reference to a living lioness. Turns out that all lionesses were named Sabor. They didn’t have individual names.


4. Kala’s Baby Wasn’t Killed by Sabor.

Kala’s baby fell off of her back from a very high height, and died that way, not from being food for Sabor. Kala was up high in order to get away from Kerchak, who was in a violent fit of rage. Kala continued to carry her dead child in her arms as the gorilla family traveled, refusing to give him up.

5. Kerchak Wasn’t Kala’s Mate.

Kala was the mate of another male gorilla named Tublat, who was very violent.

6. Kerchak Kills Tarzan’s Father.

Kerchak wants the mysterious weapon John Greystroke (Tarzan’s father) has, so he goes into the cabin and kills him for it.

7. Kala Swaps her Child for Tarzan.

Kala takes Tarzan from his crib and puts her dead child into it, then runs away to make sure Kerchak doesn’t kill him too.

8. Tarzan Tries to use a Noose to Hang Kerchak Several Times.

As a child-like game, Tarzan would try to throw a noose over Kerchak’s neck to purposefully kill him. This is one reason why Kerchak hates Tarzan, and Tarzan never does try to be on good terms with him.

9. Kala is Killed.

Kala is killed by an African hunter, and Tarzan later takes revenge on kills him too, using the noose.


10. Tantor isn’t Tarzan’s Friend.

Tantor is mentioned in the book (another generic name of elephant), but the gorillas are afraid of elephants because there are stronger and they try and stay away from them. However, Tarzan and Tantor get along okay.

11. Tarzan separates from the gorillas, never to return.

Tarzan never goes back to the gorillas, and this is about midway through the book. He had become leader at that point, but he then left the leadership to someone else.

12. Jane, Clayton, and Mr. Porter are stranded too

Their ship was also the victim of a mutinous crew, and they left these people alone on the island. (Sound familiar?)

13. Jane is a blonde American

Yes, she’s not an English brunette like Disney made me believe.

14. They were searching for gold, not gorillas

Jane had tagged along with her dad, who came in possession of a map, to try and find gold.

15. Clayton is in love with Jane

I was grossed out at this part because of how he was in the movie, and how much younger she was. But then again, that was probably common back then. Still, ugh.


16. Clayton is Tarzan’s cousin.

Yep, Clayton and Tarzan are both Lord Greystrokes. And they don’t know it.

17. Jane and Tarzan’s First Encounter

Tarzan saves the damsel in distress, but not from baboons. From a gorilla that was in Tarzan’s group. This gorilla, named Terkoz, hated Tarzan, and when he saw Jane, it noticed that she was a hairless ape like Tarzan. Terkoz snatched up Jane and ran off with her to be his mate, revenge against Tarzan. Tarzan does save her.

18. Tarzan doesn’t learn English until near the end

Tarzan was able to write in English, though he was not able to speak it. And technically, the first language that he learned was French from a character that was omitted in Disney’s version of the movie.

19. The humans never meet the gorillas

Clayton, Jane, and Mr. Porter never see the gorillas because they weren’t even looking for them.

20. Tarzan chases Jane to America

The humans leave without Tarzan (though they do wait for him), and he goes to try and win Jane in America, where she is about to get married to someone else that she doesn’t want to get married to.

21. Tarzan and Jane don’t end up together

Jane ends up choosing Clayton over Tarzan because she starts to realize that she is afraid of Tarzan since he threatened to kill the guy she was about to marry, and because she thought he was unpredictable. She thought Clayton could give her a place in society, and she would learn to love him.

Despite the Fact...

Dsepite the fact that Disney might as well have made their own story with some borrowed characters, this is one of my favorite Disney movies as a child. Still is.

I love it, and how though it isn't a musical, it still has awesome music with Phil Collins and is a good movie in it's own right. Thanks for reading, and have fun watching the movie with what I've just told you.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 LiveLoveWrite18


Noah on May 17, 2020:

Tarzan is the worst.

Sam on February 06, 2020:

My biggest complaint is Clayton in the Disney movie. Clayton is portrayed more like the bad guy from the second book Nikolas Rokoff.. In the books Clayton is a pretty good guy that loves Jane. Yet for whatever reason Disney made this sweet man a villain more like Nikolas Rokoff the that allowed him to die in the books. Not cool Disney, not cool...

Mr Potato Head on November 29, 2018:

Just so you know, Frank Welker (Sabor) and Wayne Knight (Tantor) also appeared in Toy Story 2, Welker was Buster (Andy's dog), and Knight was Al (the bad guy in the movie)

Kristina walker on November 24, 2018:

That is stupid I like the Disney version better I may not like romance, but I don't like depression either and it to real life with the gorilla would it need a little happy ending

Sabor The Leopard on November 16, 2018:

You know, I also had a role in Tarzan 2, sort of, but it kinda sucks as a sequel.

Bubbles PowerPuff on November 16, 2018:

I'm with Clifford, because you should also make another similar article, but with where Disney went wrong with Frozen.

Clifford The Big Red Dog on October 18, 2018:

Yes, you should make a similar article, but this one should be about where PBS Kids went wrong with, ME!! Clifford The Big Red Dog!! Because first of all, I was Emily Elizabeth's only pet, sorry, no Daffodil, and also I had 2 sisters and 1 brother, not 5 or 7 siblings, my mom was a Labrador mix, my dad was a Vizla/Setter mix, PBS had my mom right, but no dad!! WTF PBS?!? I never had such friends as T-Bone, Cleo, Mac, KC, etc. They're not even in the f**king books and I got Proof!!! Besides, I had an older but better TV series (1988) before stupid*ss PBS bought me out, I hope my new live-action movie, and 2019 reboot will connect more with the book than the other 2 PBS shows, just like my first show. In fact, why hasn't Disney made an adaption of my book, they did Pooh Bear, Bambi, Charlotte's Web, oh wait, Charlotte's Web is not Disney, but it's a good film, a moment of peace to remember Charlotte. (Louis Armstrong's What A Wonderful World.) And back to the discussion, Little Mermaid, Tarzan, and even Jungle Book. Just so you know, Birdweel Islend, (or however the hell it's spelled), didn't even exist until 1969, 6 years after my debut.

Sabor The Leopard on October 17, 2018:

I know I killed Tarzan's parents, but it wasn't my fault, it was instinct, besides, I was just looking for my lost cub as seen in the Tarzan TV Show episode, " The Lost Cub."

Sabor The Leopard on October 17, 2018:

It wasn't my fault, it was instinct!! Besides, I was only looking for my lost cub as seen in the Disney's Tarzan TV Show episode, " The Lost Cub."

Rainbow Dash on October 15, 2018:

This Movie used to scare the shit out of me, like if it was The Jungle Book and WaterShip Down mixed together, BTW, I think WaterShip Down and Tarzan are the most scariest Disney movies I ever saw!!

Oh my mistake, WaterShip Down is a Warner Bros. film.

Alvin And The Chipmunks on October 11, 2018:

I hate Disney movies with death scenes in them, mostly Tarzan, it is the most scariest Disney movie I ever seen, I used to get nightmares watching that movie, because the villians are so scary, this film looks and sounds too scary for children, and there is a lot of signs of racism and animal cruelty, so I guess Tarzan is the worst Disney film since Dumbo (1941).

Clifford The Big Red Dog on October 10, 2018:

I can't watch this movie, it use to scare the fucking hell out of me as child, not only because of Clayton or the baboons, but also Sabor was the most scariest Disney villian I've known since the Pink Elephants in Dumbo, the Dogs from Bambi, the Rat from Lady and the Tramp, and Judge Doom from Roger Rabbit, and to tell you this, Sabor is no Shere Khan, Clayton is worse than Gaston, and the baboons are too disturbing, is this a fucking disney version of King Kong or something? And "Doo Bad Shi Doo", is no "I Wannabe Like You", from The Jungle Book. I still wonder why doesn't Sabor talk like the other animals in the movie, weird, ain't it?

Bubbles Powerpuff on September 07, 2018:

No matter how much i love disney movies, I'll always hate

Tarzan, Up, and Zootopia. Because of the disturbing scenes, scary-ass villians, and animal abusiveness, they've ruined my movies.

clasicnovels on March 22, 2018:

Also Tantor and Tarzan were friends and Tarzan does return to the apes for a time during the second book.

clasicnovels on March 22, 2018:

Tarzan and Jane do end up together at the end of the second book.

Oliver (Ollie) Knox on August 03, 2017:

I hate Disney's Tarzan movie. I love Warner Bros' The Legend of Tarzan movie (2016) ten trillion times more.

Cthonis Princess on July 13, 2017:

You had all of your facts right up until #21. Tarzan and Jane DO get together, Professor Porter is the one to marry them in fact, it happens at the end of the second book in the 24 book series. At the start of the 3rd book, after spending some time in England, they return to Africa with their son Jack (His name's actually John, like Tarzan's real name).

Rachael Lefler from Illinois on January 23, 2017:

It makes more sense, even as a kid I never really thought Clayton's motivation made sense. Studying gorillas isn't exactly a huge business, compared to other things in Africa like salt and gold. Heck, even having a villain who wanted to bulldoze the jungle for farmland would have made more sense.

Kellen on July 25, 2016:

Tarzan and Tantor were friends I just finished the book. But everything else you said was correct. However in the book Tarzan of the apes, it's very graphic not as graphic as some books or shows these days. Disney just went with a new take on the king of beast's. The only think I didn't like about the Disney movie was the fact that Tarzan would have man handled Clayton (which in the book was his cousin and wasn't there to harm Tarzan or the apes) he had superior strength. That is my only complaint about the movie other than that I enjoyed it.

SomeGuy on July 13, 2016:

I think the William Clayton of the Novel is similar in age to Jane.

He eventually gets wounded by the real villain, a Russian Nobleman, and is left to die. Will Clayton is rescued by Tarzan, and Jane in his final moments, during which he reveals the truth of Tarzan's heritage which they'd previously made an agreement with Tarzan to keep secret. He gives Tarzan, and Jane his blessing, and passes on.

Bruce100 on July 05, 2016:

Wel done, but you've overlooked the fact that the apes of Tarzan's tribe are not gorillas.

They are the Mangani, a fictional species of great apes.

Not chimpanzee and not gorilla, something between these two species.

As a matter of fact gorillas are Tarzan's arch enemies in the books of Edgar Rice burroughs.

He named them the Bolgani.

gc on June 26, 2016:

I have enjoyed reading this but there is just one quite major thing missed out.... Tarzan hates gorillas! his grouo of apes are far more intelligent and are in almost constant conflict with girrillas! He and Jane also do end up together and have a son. He later returns to the jungle to save his son in later books :)

M. Stafford on March 17, 2015:

He is John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke.

LiveLiveWrite18 on March 15, 2015:

Spoiler alert!

His real last name is greystroke and Clayton is his cousin.

M. Stafford on March 15, 2015:

Actually, I believe that Vlayton is Tarzan's real last name, isn't it?

LiveLoveWrite18 on March 15, 2015:

I have not had the chance, so I am not sure.

M. Stafford on March 15, 2015:

Did you read the other books in the series? I believe that Jane and Tarzan do end up together.

Brandon Page on September 23, 2014:

The Disney version is far better as it makes far more sense.

LiveLoveWrite18 (author) on February 11, 2014:

If I remember correctly, there is ok specific region named other than the African coast. It would make more sense in the story with later occurrences if it took place on the west side.

Malakai on February 11, 2014:

What part of africa