Considered to be the last film of the Disney Renaissance, "Tarzan" takes us into the African jungle to watch the story of Tarzan, a man raised by apes who's always felt he never properly belonged. His suspicions are made clear when folks from England arrive on an expedition, Professor Porter, his daughter Jane and their trigger-happy protector Clayton. The former two are elated at the discovery of Tarzan and wish to study him, while Clayton is more interested to leading them to some gorillas. As Tarzan learns more and more about this human world he's never known about, it leaves a rift between him and his ape family, leaving him to have to make a choice between these two worlds.
Let me talk about the film's look first, because I'm kind of on the fence about it. Disney has been improving its CG integration for over a decade at this point, whether it be creation of 3D objects (the Hydra in "Hercules") or duplicating 2D characters in sequence (the "Lion King" wildebeests, the Hun army in "Mulan"), but here we get extensive use of a new process "deep canvasing." Basically to create many of the dynamic swooping camera moves through the jungle, all of the trees, foliage and background art were created on 3D layers, so they could just navigate through the scene with everything rendered separately in space. While this is quite the technical achievement, there's something about it that feels off to me. It makes a lot of elements of the background feel flat, like these are cardboard sets that are being shifted around, and it kind of takes away from what the jungle should really have been: friggin' huge, vast and luscious. It's not bad, it just feels out of place. The other backgrounds and designs are very lush to make up for it; this film has a great color scheme and look to it throughout.
Disney has been straying from the musical format over the last few films, and here we get our first one where no one breaks into song. Instead, we get songs by Phil Collins, all of which illustrating themes in the movie, be in being in someone's heart, being the son of man, and talking about strangers that are like one's self. I could goof on Collins, but I do like the songs. They serve the movie well, even though sometimes it feels like someone just put in a Collins record in the Disney studio and recorded over the film track. The vocal performances are pretty strong too; Minnie Driver is very flustered and sweet as Jane, especially the scene where she hurriedly and out-of-breath retells her story of meeting Tarzan. Tony Goldwyn, for the very little dialogue he has, pulls off a good Tarzan, and of course the great BRIAN BLESSED is fantastic as the cock-sure Clayton.
I feel like I'm running out of things to say at this point... over the course of this Renaissance period, Disney's films have evolved slightly using the same format, until the 2000s where everything shifted in different directions. I will say "Tarzan" at the very end feels like a throwback to the films at the beginning, having a blend between epic adventure, action, comedy, drama, romance, and everything else, whereas the films before this were more or less grounded in one of these genres.
Verdict? I feel like I'm losing it here, these reviews are getting shorter and shorter (though looking at the films coming up, I know I'm gonna have a bit more to say about those). However none of that takes away from the fact that "Tarzan" is a great movie, with solid doses of drama, humor, and suspenseful scenes one after another. The action set pieces are fantastically done, and while the 3D canvassing is a bit awkward in slower pan-outs, it works phenomenally well in the fast-paced action portions of the film.