Saturday, September 15, 2012

D52 - Week 37 - Tarzan

Me Kevin...

It's one thing to watch a movie based on a book before reading the book. It's another thing to see the movie after reading the book. But it's yet another thing to watch the movie in the middle (well, less than a third) of reading its book! It did affect me such that it distracts me into constantly comparing. "Well this was different but I wonder if this will be in the book?" ""Well if they did this part then how will they..." and so forth. But so far I can already tell that the character himself is presented VERY differently between the two versions. Wouldn't you know, it turns out the Disney version is less dark and much more light-hearted than the source material! How about that? Which isn't a good or bad thing, really. Print Tarzan so far is more gripping than I was expecting, but it is hard to like the character. He's borderline sadistic. Disney Tarzan is more endearing, and he's funny, but - and this separates him from other humorous Disney princes* - he isn't consciously trying to be funny. Just, a lot of things he does happen to come off comedically. His face looking an awfully lot like (current) 'Weird Al' Yankovic does have an affect, too. Even Jane is funnier than the average Disney princess**, what with her kookiness. She's certainly more fun than I was expecting her to be, anyway. And while we're going through the cast of characters, Clayton is played by Brian Blessed, and that's just cool. Terk and Tantor? I got too much of a Timon and Pumbaa vibe from them. What did they do anyway? They grew up with the main character in the jungle, the smart-mouthed one got angrily jealous when the main character started to fall in love, and the two contribute a bit in saving the day near the end with brute force. But Kala is definitely in the running for Best Disney Mother. Most other Disney moms are either: 1) Non-existent, 2) Killed off early in the picture, 3) Evil, or 4) Bland. Hopefully the minor technicality of not having actually given birth to Tarzan doesn't disqualify her. Kerchak is even a memorable Disney dad-type, in that he has a character flaw to work through, but it's one that doesn't make him an outright villain.
So the cast of characters is pretty well fleshed out, and they serve the story well. Granted a lot of the story is told through montages, but...well, as far as montages go they're very good montages. The opening montage is one of my favorite parts of the movie. It's possible I may have liked it less if I didn't already know what was going on before being bombarded by that much information at once, but since I did it's great stuff.
What do I not like about this feature? Having to hear Phil Collin's voice. I don't have an issue with his music, since I can see (hear?) it working in that sort of idyllic environment, but I find his vocals so unwelcome. Here I am, watching a rather good Tarzan adaptation, with this wonderfully created atmosphere, and the denizens of the jungle undergoing complex emotional issues, and then Phil Collins has to speak up about it. Or, sing up about it, rather. Oh well. Should I be thankful it wasn't Randy Newman?
Though I do like the overall look it seems rather a shame that so much of the jungle had to be rendered computer-wise, considering the process wasn't near perfected at that time. Maybe back then it seemed impressive, and I'm sure the creators were all excited about using those new techniques to make scenes like those roller coaster rides through the treetops, but looking back I can't help but think how much nicer everything would've looked painted. Painted flora does have a longer track record of looking pretty, after all.
Oh, and hey. Speaking of beautiful imagery that's pleasing to look at. (to be continued....)

Favorite character: Tarzan strikes me as the kind of character that Aladdin should've been.
Least necessary: Normally someone like Mr. Porter would be the comic relief of the movie, but since Jane herself is comic-reliefy, his role seems redundant. It would've been weird if Clayton and Jane were traveling by themselves, but Archimedes doesn't get to actually do much of anything.
Overall: Since I'd always dismissed the Tarzan story as I understood it (before having actually read or seen any Tarzan stories) as uninteresting, I was pleasantly surprised to be as captivated by Disney's Tarzan as I was, and it would be worth watching again.

*Of course Tarzan is a prince. He ends up becoming King of the Jungle? So surely as a youngster he is Prince of the Jungle.
**Let's say that jungle law dictates that when Tarzan and Jane became an item, at the time that Tarzan was "Prince of the Jungle," that made Jane "Princess of the Jungle."

Me Amanda:
Curse you, Kevin! Why did you have to mention Weird Al?  Now I can't unsee! Bah.

Anyway, I too am feeling the effects of having only partly read the book before watching the movie.  It almost gives the feeling that you're right there with the story team making decisions.  Had I been with the story boarders, I'm not sure there is too much I would do differently.  It's true that this movie is very montage heavy, but we have to consider the fact that the story intends to cover nearly two decades over the course of 80ish minutes.  To be fair, they are very well done montages.  Each montage seems to have been built to last exactly the length of one Phil Collins song and thus have the feeling of a music video with a strong plot.  While I don't share the same animosity towards Phil's singing voice as Kevin does, I do think some of his lyrics are a bit poorly spun.  One in particular bothers me the most: "The wisdom to be wise."  What does that mean? If you have wisdom, then you are wise. There are others, and I won't list them all, but to Phil Collins, it seems that the rhythm of the words is more important than the lines making sense.  In his defense, the percussion heavy score feels very natural in this environment.

Speaking of the environment, can we say lush?  Wow.  I disagree with Kevin here in that I don't think the computer generated imagery was poorly done.  Perhaps the roller coastering was a bit gimicky, but it did make sense in the context of the Baboon chase.  There were a few moments when Kevin said "Oh well, that's done by computers!" and if he hadn't said it, I probably wouldn't have noticed.  But computery or not, it's very lush, very deep, and truly beautiful.

Tarzan himself is incredibly likable.  He's strong, curious, playful, good to his mother, challenging and yet still respectful to his father, and has the depth of character that allows him to carry the story far better than any of the other male Disney Headliners so far.  He's a strong guy like Hercules, but he's just trying to live a normal life instead of aiming for glory.  He's a self-sufficient guy like Aladdin, but he's not a lying, cocky, dreamer whose life isn't good enough for him.  Tarzan, to me, is a slice of life in which the slice happens to have a lot of unexpected ingredients. 

New information: I'm not a mutant freak, I'm a different species.
New acquaintances: Not everyone has the same goals (mere survival) as I do.
New emotions: My mother whom I love, betrayed my trust by withholding information.  My new friend is a woman and I know nothing of how to court her. My father whom I respect is preventing me from easily and thoroughly exploring my newly learned heritage.
New environments: I simply don't understand how to maneuver through this ship full of smooth steel and polished wood. 

In the end, it really becomes a Nature versus Nurture story and as seems to be the case in every situation, there is no victor because the two always find some balance between them.  Tarzan was born a man, but raised an ape and there's no changing that identity, there is only coming to terms with it.  In truth aren't we all a little bit happier and more complete when we are able to commune in some way with our wild ancestry?

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go farm in my back yard for a while.

Favorite character: Boy those Pocahontas Owls sure were funny!  Seriously though, all the characters here are so fleshed out that it's hard to choose one to be a favorite.  I think I'm heavily influenced by Kevin's praise in selecting Kala.  She's a really heavy character and the fact that she's a "Disney Mom" is quite an acheivement, let alone her being amazing at it.
Least necessary Character: The captain.  He sure was heavily designed for a character that we barely talk to and only serves the purpose of being a ticking clock.  The ship looming in the background seemed like it would have been enough.
Overall: I like this movie and I did when I first saw it too.  Except for that silly shoo be doo sequence, everything has a purpose and while not completely faithful to the book, it's still one of the deepest thinking Disney Movies thus far.  Except for that silly shoo be doo sequence, it might have been a little too heavy for most kids.  Darn it all you silly shoo be doo sequence!

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