Monthly Archives: January 2012

January 4, 2012

Disney Canon #37: Tarzan (1999)


MIKE The storyline seemed very similar to Avatar.

ADAM It’s true. It felt like an archetype.

BROOM In that he leads the bad guys to the secret place in the forest and betrays his tribe. But here he is one of the tribe, unlike in Avatar. Avatar is more interesting than this.

BETH I thought this was pretty dull, except that the action sequences were well done.

ADAM Oh, come on. Come on, everyone! Didn’t this touch your heart?

BETH Not that much.


BROOM This was like my least favorite in a while. That’s where I’m coming from.

ADAM What? What??

BROOM I was sleepier this time than usual, but yes.

BETH It looked like you were about to fall asleep for most of it.

BROOM I was waiting for something to be meaningful to me but it felt totally synthetic.

ADAM I was very touched by the rank sentimentality of this movie.

BETH I think it must be your mood or something.

BROOM The opening, the stuff about his parents dying, I was willing to take that as something. But all the Sonic The Hedgehog stuff, I felt distant from it.

BETH I enjoyed the Sonic The Hedgehog stuff! That was fun to watch.

ADAM I mean, like… yes, we keep seeing the same movie over and over again, everyone, that’s true. In Pocahontas, she went away with him at the end, but basically the same concept.

BETH I actually liked the woman here; I thought that she had…

ADAM She had a goofy personality.

BETH And she looked kind of like Maggie Gyllenhaal.

MIKE But aren’t their weird button noses and pointed chins some kind of… bizarre Anglo-beauty?

ADAM They felt anime-ish.

BROOM They felt comic book fetish-ized, to me. Which is another way of saying the same thing.

ADAM But I enjoy that.

BROOM This one had more of that skeevy geek-sex veneer on it than any of them.

BETH Because of how Tarzan looked?

BROOM You know, there are certain lines on the physique that don’t really exist in real life, but they exist in people’s sex-minds. Something about the way his legs met his body wasn’t anatomically realistic but it certainly had fetish value. And that skeeves me. And the whole thing, even the Sonic The Hedgehog stuff, it’s got this amped-up synthetic quality.

ADAM I frankly enjoyed his unnatural physique. Finally the shoe was on the other foot, gender-wise.

BROOM But I’m saying the same thing about her. Her design also tweaked in a direction that doesn’t have anything to do with “character.”

BETH She almost looked more anime than other Disney characters. Her eyes were way too big.

ADAM She does continue the tradition of Disney heroines who are very much unlike their squat-nosed, bizarre fathers.

BROOM Yeah, what a terrible character the father was. Adam, isn’t this the movie about which those self-righteous people in [college dormitory] said “Can you believe they wanted to cast Chris Rock? And he was like ‘No way man, no way am I playing a monkey!’ They just don’t get it! Can you believe how insensitive Disney is?” And you and I said, “as the Rosie O’Donnell part? It would have been exactly the same with Chris Rock. It has nothing to do with race.” Who played Kerchak?

BETH I wondered that too. But I missed it.

ADAM Not a black man.

BROOM And was the mother Glenn Close?

BETH Glenn Close??

BROOM That’s what I think I read in the DVD info.

BETH Okay, I believe it.

ADAM Well, it does kind of have to do with race. In the way that Dances With Wolves did. Like, it’s sort of weird that this charismatic white man can become the leader of these, you know, apes, just because of his awesomeness.

BROOM Well, it doesn’t even feel right on the movie’s terms. How can he be the dominant male? We were making jokes about it because it doesn’t make any sense.

ADAM He is obviously not stronger than the other males in the band.

BROOM I haven’t read Tarzan or seen any prior Tarzan movies, but isn’t the story that he does go back to England, and lives between both worlds?

ADAM But then it would be hard to have the villain character.

BROOM Well, they made up this stupid villain character. I’m saying this is a much less interesting story.

ADAM Isn’t this also the story of The Jungle Book, by the way?

MIKE Mowgli.

BROOM Yeah, that’s right. He’s raised by wolves.

BETH And then he meets that girl.

BROOM Exactly — he goes to live with the humans, which is what he’s supposed to do. The Jungle Book is much better than this.

ADAM I found the Phil Collins score extremely effective and touching.

BROOM I certainly thought he did a better job than Elton John.

BETH It was very restrained. They didn’t overdo “musical numbers” at all; there really weren’t any.

ADAM There were like five.

BROOM I think “Trashing the Camp” is pretty awful.

ADAM As a musical number.

BROOM Clearly someone was like, “They can do ‘Stomp’! It can be like that great show ‘Stomp’!” Yeah, it makes a lot of sense to do that in animation.

BETH The music just wasn’t as cheesy as it usually is.

BROOM Because it wasn’t Alan Menken and it wasn’t Elton John.

ADAM And it did feel very period.

BROOM I thought the songs were actually not bad. “You’ll Be In My Heart” is actually not a bad song.

ADAM “I Wanna Know”: also a song that I have caught myself singing many times.

BROOM I thought that sequence was okay, even though it didn’t make sense that they were teaching him about all these things when he had no human language at all.

ADAM Did you enjoy it, Mike? Did you not enjoy it?

MIKE It was okay.

ADAM Could you elaborate?

MIKE I wouldn’t rent it again.

BETH We won’t.

BROOM I thought — especially at the beginning; I think it actually got better later — that the editing pace had been goosed up significantly from where it had been, in a way that numbs me.

BETH You felt like it was more our current era?

BROOM Yeah, I felt like it leapt forward into that sense of, like… and I was thinking, “Is this because I’ve gotten a chip on my shoulder about this issue and I’m sensitized to it?” but, you know, I’d seen this before and it just went in one ear and out the other, and I think it’s going to do that this time too. And it has something to do with that. When the visual gets so stylized and the cutting gets so fast, it just starts be like a wash of… stuff.

ADAM We were watching a trailer today for Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, which we considered seeing today.

BROOM I gather it’s very bad.

ADAM And it’s cut like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Like, there’s a lot of, like, a gun fires and then there’s like fwoooosh! [indicating awesome camera motion]. And this does have a complement of that.

BROOM This was like that. It was cut like a trailer. It has that kinetic…

ADAM Because we’re too bored to just watch a movie.

BROOM I use this word “fetish” all the time, and I need more words for this, but there’s just this way of dealing with the surface as surface, and that’s the level of interest. The early Disney movies — you think of Dumbo and the love of his mother, which is the same thing they were going for here — that’s all about feelings and the characters, where this just felt like it was about a “look and feel.”

ADAM I would like to stand up for this movie, because I enjoyed it very much at the time; it was one of my favorites of the nineties ones, and still is. Even though it is a little sentimental — but they’re all a little bit sentimental. Even though it’s a little bit archetypal — but they all are.

BROOM I don’t object to the sentimentality. I would rather they’d have laid that on thick, because that would have been something. But the elephant, and Rosie O’Donnell…

ADAM You just hate sidekicks.

BROOM I do hate sidekicks. And the conflict with Kerchak? None of that meant anything to me; it all seemed really to be about whoosh! whoosh! boof! chh! whoosh! When the gorilla went up into the treehouse at the beginning, and we see that it’s all ruined, I was almost going to ask, “did we already see what happened here? Were we supposed to already know that this is what she was going to find?” We’ve only been watching the movie for two minutes, and I already don’t know whether I’m missing information, because it’s all been this quick cutting…

BETH Well, it’s a montage. That whole opening was a montage.

BROOM But like a trailer. A fast montage where you just get a sort of general impression.

ADAM So the movie was too complex for you.

BROOM I thought that! I thought: this very fast montage technique, either it’s a high-intellectual art sort of thing, or it’s something where you’re just supposed to space out. In music videos where that style was popularized in the eighties, you weren’t supposed to be having individual thoughts like “oh, now they’re singing in that room again! — oh, now it’s that fish tank again! —” It’s just stuff, and you sort of roll with it.

BETH Yeah, but you know, music videos were much slower than this.

BROOM That’s true too. This was even faster. It just makes me glaze over, and then they sort of designed the movie so that it doesn’t matter if you glaze over.

BETH So you think this was the beginning of a trend, of that.


ADAM Well, I’m sorry everyone.

BROOM It’s really pretty. The production was really, really high quality.

BETH The background illustrations were among the best we’ve seen.

BROOM Technically really good.

BETH Yeah. Except for the faces. I didn’t think the faces were good.

ADAM The villainy could have been a little more complex, I’ll grant you that. Like, couldn’t they tell that he was a bad dude from the beginning? Evidently not.

BROOM And the jokes. And everything.

ADAM Is Avatar really a better movie than this? Or is it just a prettier movie than this?

BROOM I think Avatar is a more interesting story if you’re going to follow the story, because the guy is sent in and has to learn the ways of the native culture, and then he’s conflicted when he betrays them because he’s made himself be of two worlds. Whereas here it’s just dumped on him.

ADAM Well that really is more Dances With Wolves than this.

BROOM And Avatar had a bunch of distinct sequences to it. It had the part where he learned to fly on a dragon bird…

ADAM This had the montage where he learns to, like, use vines.

BETH That was the montage when he grew up, right?

BROOM And it had a very long fight with a leopard. And you started looking at your phone —

BETH Sorry.

BROOM And I thought, “When she looks up, I’m going to call her out and ask her, Beth, how did the leopard die?” But you looked at your phone for four minutes, and when you looked back, he was still fighting the leopard. You didn’t miss anything. I couldn’t even throw it back at you, because you were right, it was a waste of our time.

MIKE This movie came out in ’99. Economically the modes of production are shifting pretty dramatically. And you have the internet, and media companies thinking about convergence. And I gotta think there was something about this that we’re not getting. Like, there was a video game series already built into this, or it was an internet play. There was something about this that was a commercial —

BROOM Well, a Broadway show was supposed to have been built into this, because of the success of Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. And they tried it, eventually. It happened. It just didn’t do as well as those.

BETH It has video game characteristics.

BROOM I thought cause-and-effect there went the other way. I’m not kidding about Sonic The Hedgehog; that’s where that comes from. But as for franchise potential… I mean, since Aladdin they’d been making video games when they made the movies. Maybe even earlier.

MIKE I guess the internet is the thing that I would think had some influence. I don’t know, it’s just interesting.

ADAM Disney is, of course, now 0 for 2 on movies set in Africa featuring black people.

BROOM What is 1?

ADAM The Lion King.

MIKE I thought The Lion King was a home run.

ADAM There’s no black people in The Lion King either.

BETH Oh, oh, I see what you’re saying.

BROOM His mother was black, right?

ADAM Well, she’s voiced by a black woman.

MIKE Why can’t Disney, the company, be coming out with different formats for around the world? Like, why aren’t they producing an Indian-ized animated film, and an Asian one…

ADAM Like an Aladdin set in Asia?

MIKE Yeah.

[we read the New York Times review]

ADAM He does have a striking physique for someone who presumably was raised on insects and fruit.

BROOM Kerchak was Lance Henriksen. And it was Wayne Knight as the elephant. We were just asking what happened to him.

ADAM They know better than to cast Morgan Freeman as the head ape.

BROOM It was pretty, you know. But so is Bambi.