An immortal legend. As you’ve only imagined.
In February, I reviewed Disney’s first DVD release of Tarzan. I was extremely impressed with the disc and the film, even if it was supposedly a “bare-bones” DVD edition. In the time since I wrote that review, I’d say I watched the movie at least four or five times. I love it. I had not planned on purchasing the collector’s edition, but wandering through the aisles at Circuit City with money to burn, it caught my eye. I must say I didn’t make a mistake.
The first DVD release of Tarzan can perhaps be seen as the turning point in Disney’s DVD efforts. Their first animated releases were far from impressive, with a dearth of extras and non-anamorphic transfers. Even with a special edition in the pipeline, Disney went out of their way to include interesting and appealing extras on the “bare-bones” first release of Tarzan. Plus, it featured an anamorphic video transfer. In my initial review, I gave it an average score of 89. Can the Collector’s Edition top that?
The basis of Disney’s adaptation of this modern classic should be familiar to all. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ first Tarzan adventure was published in 1912, and the character has been seen in countless movies (he is the second-most filmed character in movie history, behind Count Dracula). In this version, Tarzan’s human parents are stranded in Africa after a shipwreck. They establish a primitive life for themselves and their child, but a leopard kills his parents. A kindly ape named Kala rescues the human baby. She adopts it as her own child against the wishes of her mate and pack leader, Kerchack. Young Tarzan grows up among the apes, but is always keenly aware that he is different.
It is not until he is grown that Tarzan meets other humans. Professor Porter and his daughter Jane come seeking to study the apes. They are led by the trigger-happy Clayton, whose wanton destruction of vegetation and unholy desire to kill the gorillas announces him as the villain. Tarzan meets the strangers when he must save Jane from a pack of angry baboons. Despite the warnings of Kerchack, Tarzan is drawn to the creatures he knows are his own kind. He must choose between his loyalty to his family and his desire to please Jane, who wants nothing more than to see the enigmatic apes.
Aurally and visually, Tarzan is nothing short of breathtaking. Even on my paltry 20″ television, I was drawn into the movie in a way that few other movies — animated or live-action — could affect me. I am not a big Phil Collins fan (I group him with artists who used to be cool, like Elton John and Peter Gabriel), but his songs tap into the emotional core of this movie and significantly add to the experience. Unlike the sappy, uninvolving, tacked-on, obligatory music of recent Disney films such as Mulan, these songs are integral to the movie. Also unlike the songs in other Disney movies, they are not sung by the characters. (A singing Tarzan? Thank you, Disney, for NOT going that route!) Much has been said about Disney’s advancements in computer-assisted animation, so I won’t go into the technical details. Suffice it to say that few, if any, animated movies have seemed so realistic or so fluid. My mouth was agape during much of the movie, and I had to watch the last couple minutes of animation several times because I could not believe what I had just seen.
Tarzan brought together an excellent group of actors for the voice talent. The adult Tarzan was voiced by Tony Goldwyn, known best for his role as Patrick Swayze’s treacherous friend in Ghost. Minnie Driver’s natural British accent was perfectly suited for the proper yet adventurous Jane. Driver has appeared in films such as Grosse Point Blank, Good Will Hunting, and An Ideal Husband. Lance Henriksen voiced the wise leader of the apes, Kerchack. Henriksen is among my favorite character actors, having appeared in Aliens and The Quick And The Dead (my favorite Western). Glenn Close is underused as Tarzan’s adoptive ape mother, Kala. Fatal Attraction, Reversal of Fortune, and the made-for-TV Sarah Plain And Tall trilogy are among her most notable roles. Also appearing are Wayne Knight (Jurassic Park, Seinfeld), Brian Blessed (The Phantom Menace, BBC’s Black Adder), and Nigel Hawthorne (Gandhi, Amistad). The only bad note in the entire movie is the casting of Rosie O’Donnell as Tarzan’s friend Terk. Every time her character opened her mouth, it jarred me out of the movie’s spell. A wisecracking ape who sounds like she’s from Brooklyn just seemed so out of place. But then, I’ll bet the character tested well with the eight and under crowd.
The video transfer presented on the Tarzan Collector’s Edition is the same as the previous standard edition. The movie is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen. It’s pristine, mint quality, perfect, and a twelve on a one to ten scale. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.0. There isn’t a separate LFE channel, but from what I understand that’s how the movie was released theatrically. This disc ranks right up with The Fifth Element and Saving Private Ryan in terms of enveloping surround mixes. It puts you right in the middle of the action, and separates the score amongst all the front and rear channels. The audio is a corrected version of the track that appeared on the earlier release. As many of you may remember, the first pressings of the standard edition contained a few spots where the left front and left rear channels were mixed incorrectly. That small problem is now gone.
The two-disc special edition is becoming quite the de rigueur occurrence in the DVD world. Leading the pack is Fox and Disney. The sheer volume of special content presented on the Tarzan Collector’s Edition compares favorably with the amount on The Abyss and Fight Club two-disc sets, but it is not presented as creatively (The Abyss), and the content is not as creative (Fight Club). Let’s start with the first disc. It contains a commentary track, a trivia game, an interactive read-along (with or without narration), descriptive audio, a sneak preview of Dinosaur, and DVD-ROM features. The commentary track features producer Bonnie Arnold and co-directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck. The track is informative, but on the dry side. The descriptive video is an interesting use of the DVD format that I feel should be used more extensively. The on-screen action is described by a gentleman with a very pleasing and expressive voice. Closing my eyes, I could almost see exactly what was transpiring on the screen. The “sneak preview” of Dinosaur is the same one that screened theatrically before prints of Toy Story 2 and that appeared on the original Tarzan release. I didn’t find the movie appealing enough to see (once I discovered that the dinosaurs talk), but the trailer is nothing short of breathtaking. The DVD-ROM features are the standard complement of web links, plus a one-level demo of the PC game tie-in. If you have a DVD-ROM drive, I’d recommend trying the demo. I had at least a good hour’s worth of fun with it.
Now, moving on to the second disc. Disney included a flowchart of the navigation system in the liner notes (geez, I wish Fox had done that for The Abyss!) in case you get lost. The main menu is divided into four sections: History And Development, The Music Of Tarzan, Story And Editorial, The Characters Of Tarzan, Animation Production, and Publicity.
History And Development presents the pre-production work that brought the movie to the screen. “From Burroughs To Disney” briefly discusses the history of the Tarzan character, from his birth in the short stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, to Disney’s interest in bringing the character to the screen in animated form. “Early Presentation Reel” features concept painting set to an early demo of Phil Collins’ music. “Research Trip To Africa” chronicles the animation staff’s trip through the savannahs and jungles of Africa to film and photograph the scenery and wildlife. “History Of Production” presents, in twenty-three text screens, a more complete version of the history of the character, his previous incarnations on the screen (they have the audacity to mention Casper Van Dien’s abysmal Tarzan And The Lost City!), and the journey the filmmakers had to make to bring it to the screen.
The Music Of Tarzan highlights Tarzan‘s most compelling component: Phil Collins’ rich, emotional songs. “The Making Of The Music” presents interviews with Collins talking about collaborating with the animation staff and score composer Mark Mancina. In “Tarzan Goes International,” Collins discusses recording the songs for the international release. A medley of the various languages is presented, with Collins singing each version. This section also contains two music videos, “You’ll Be In My Heart” and “Strangers Like Me.” Both feature stereo sound. “You’ll Be In My Heart” is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, while “Strangers Like Me” is full-frame. I think that reflects the differing targets for the videos. “Strangers Like Me” shows quite a bit of footage from the film, and received rotation on the Disney Channel and on the displays in their chain of stores. “You’ll Be In My Heart,” on the other hand, is a much more stylistic video that would be aimed at the older VH1 crowd. “Studio Sessions With Phil Collins And ‘N Sync” presents music legend Phil Collins singing with the mass-produced pop chart fodder boy band. Not that I have an opinion about current pop music trends or anything. In addition, early demos of five songs are provided, which are mostly Collins laying down a percussion beat while scatting some lyrics.
Story And Editorial goes into more detail on the pre-production work. “Building The Story” shows the writers and animation heads pitching their various concepts to the directors for approval. “Original Treatment” presents storyboards and text descriptions of an early draft of the script. The finished film in not much different, other than the personality of Terk, Tarzan’s young gorilla friend. “Storyboard To Film Comparisons” shows the opening sequence in split-screen so you can see the similarities between the early sketches and the finished product. “Abandoned Sequences” is what would be the deleted scenes of a live-action feature. The three scenes were scripted, but never produced as finished animation.
I’ll not go into much detail regarding “The Characters Of Tarzan.” This section presents information on the development of the characters. It is a combination of interview footage, concept art, and character sheets (a page of pictures that depict the character’s various moods and expressions, used for reference by the animators).
Animation Production follows the production of the finished animation. It begins with close to 200 photographs of concept art, color keys, and layouts. “The Deep Canvas Process” describes the sophisticated software that allowed the traditional artists to paint the backgrounds in three dimensions on a computer. “Deep Canvas Demonstration” shows the software in action, from wireframes, to laying down brushstrokes, to placing in the hand-drawn animated characters. “Production Progression Demonstration” shows Tarzan and Jane’s first interaction. It uses multiple angles to allow you to switch between the storyreel (videotaped storyboards), rough animation, cleanup animation (similar to the rough animation, but with the extraneous pencil marks removed), and the finished film. In “Intercontinental Filmmaking,” the directors discuss the difficulties of combining animation drawn in France and in Los Angeles.
Last but not least, Publicity is a collection of promotional posters (both domestic and international), and three trailers.
It’s hard to argue against Tarzan Collector’s Edition, considering how masterful the film is, and how much supplemental material is included. If you’re planning to purchase the movie for watching and rewatching by young children, the standard edition may be more accessible to them. For adult fans of animation, the Collector’s Edition is a veritable treasure trove.
If you’re an animation lover, I’d encourage you to add Tarzan Collector’s Edition to your library. That sentiment even holds true for those of you who already own the standard release. I was able to pawn my copy off over the Internet in less than a day.
Tarzan Collector’s Edition received an unqualified endorsement from the court. You are dismissed.