June 18, 1999 – The 37th Animated Feature Film Tarzan is Generally Released
“Somewhere, something is calling for you. Two worlds: one family.”
On June 18, 1999, Disney’s 37th Animated Feature Film Tarzan was released generally to theaters. The film was based on Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Glen Keane, animator for adult Tarzan, designed the character after watching his son perform skateboarding stunts and by watching extreme sports, giving the character a feel of “surfing” through the jungle. For the jungle, a new 3D painting and rendering technique was created for film, called Deep Canvas. This technique allows animators to create a computer animated background that still has the feel of a traditional painted background; it was awarded a special Academy Award in 2003. The songs for the film were written and performed by singer-songwriter Phil Collins, with score by Mark Mancina. Collins’ song “You’ll Be in My Heart” won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best Original Song. The film overall was a critical and financial success, and was the last film of the Disney Renaissance to have a box office impact. The screenplay was written by Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White, and was directed by Chris Buck and Kevin Lima. It stars Tony Goldwyn as Tarzan, Minnie Driver as Jane, Glenn Close as Kala, Lance Henriksen as Kerchak, Brian Blessed as Clayton, Nigel Hawthorne as Professor Porter, Rosie O’Donnell as Terk, and Wayne Knight as Tantor.
There’s been a shipwreck, but a couple and their young child have been able to make it out alive. They look to the jungle as a place of safety in their small boat, and sail towards it. In the jungle, a gorilla couple is also enjoying family time with their baby. The scenes switch between the two families as they work on creating homes for themselves. One night, the baby gorilla wakes up and goes after a frog to play with it, unaware that the leopardess Sabor is nearby and on the prowl. The baby is unable to escape, and is viciously attacked and killed by Sabor. As the gorillas migrate, the mother, Kala, sadly trails behind, until she hears the sound of a baby cry, and takes off in its direction. She comes across the tree house that the human family has built, and opens the door to find that Sabor has killed the parents inside. She hears the baby cry from its crib, and finds that he has not been harmed. Kala takes to the child, and adopts him as her own. However, she soon discovers that Sabor never left the house, and runs to escape, the baby still in her hands. Sabor chases the baby after Kala accidentally drops him into netting nearby, but they manage to escape, and Kala brings the baby back to her herd.
When Kala joins the herd, she declares that she will be the baby’s mother, although her mate Kerchak refuses to accept him. He begrudgingly accepts that Kala will raise him, but tells her that he will never acknowledge him as his son. Kala decides to call the baby Tarzan. The years pass, and Tarzan has grown into a willful child, who still has a hard time fitting in with the herd. Although he is friends with another gorilla named Terk, the other children want nothing to do with what they call the “hairless wonder.” The kids play a prank on him, telling him he can play with them if he retrieves a hair from an elephant and, desperate to fit in, goes to get one, but nearly ends up stomped to death by the elephants. He accidentally starts a stampede that breaks through where the gorillas are nesting, incurring the wrath of Kerchak. Saddened that Kerchak believes that Tarzan will never fit in with the herd, he runs away. Kala finds him later, and tells him that they are family, as their hearts are exactly the same. With renewed vigor, Tarzan is determined to prove his worth to the family.
After adapting to everything in the jungle, Tarzan grows into a strong man, able to hold his own against anything. One day, Tarzan senses something nearby, and narrowly escapes when Sabor breaks through. Kerchak tries to defend the family against Sabor, and Tarzan assists him by taking on the leopardess. In the end, Tarzan manages to kill Sabor, and the whole herd cheers. It looks like Kerchak is about to accept Tarzan as a member of the herd, when a strange sound pierces through the jungle. Kerchak informs everyone they need to move, but Tarzan goes off to explore the strange sound. He comes across a trio of people, and studies them carefully: a trigger-happy guide named Mr. Clayton, Professor Porter, and his daughter, Jane. Jane takes a moment to draw a baby baboon, but is soon chased by the baby’s entire herd. Tarzan soon jumps in to save her. She is rather frightened by Tarzan, but soon discovers that he is rather gentle and nothing to fear. He introduces himself, and starts mimicking her, quickly picking up English. He then helps take her back to her camp.
Terk, elephant friend Tantor, and other members of the herd go looking for Tarzan, and come across the camp set up by the Professor and Clayton. The group starts trashing the camp, but are soon chased away by an angry Kerchak. The Professor and Clayton return to the camp after Tarzan leaves with the frightened herd, and Jane relays the story of how Tarzan saved her to her companions. Back at the nest, Kerchak decrees that no one is to go near the strangers, and gets into an argument with Tarzan, as Tarzan does not believe Jane to be dangerous. Tarzan is furious, wondering why Kala never told him that there were creatures that looked like him. Jane tells her father about Tarzan, and Tarzan soon returns to the camp to see her. Jane then decides to teach Tarzan about the world outside of the jungle, while Clayton wishes to use Tarzan to find the gorillas. Tarzan and Jane grow closer, and Jane asks if Tarzan will take them to the gorillas, but he refuses, as he wishes to obey Kerchak. Unfortunately, the ship soon arrives to take the professor and Jane back to England, and Jane asks Tarzan to come with her. Tarzan says he can’t, and asks her to stay. Clayton then takes advantage of Tarzan’s feelings for Jane, and has Tarzan take them to see the gorillas, as Clayton says Jane will wish to stay if she sees them.
Terk and Tantor keep Kerchak occupied as Tarzan takes Jane to the camp. Unfortunately, Kerchak arrives to find the group there, and attacks Clayton. Tarzan saves them from Kerchak, but also alienates himself from the family in the process. Kala finally reveals the truth about Tarzan’s parents, and leaves him to make up his mind about if he should stay in the jungle or go with Jane. In the end, Tarzan decides to go back to England with Jane, much to the sorrow of Kala. As the humans head to the ship, Clayton reveals his true intentions of capturing all of the gorillas, with Jane and the professor trapped in cages to prevent them from stopping Clayon’s plan. Terk and Tantor, hearing Tarzan’s cry for help, set out to rescue their friend. In the jungle, Kerchak and the herd sense danger, and as he tries to protect the herd, he is soon captured. As the herd is trapped in cages and tied down by ropes, Tarzan appears in the mist, bringing with him a whole herd of jungle animals to free the herd. Kerchak asks in surprise that Tarzan came back, and Tarzan tells him that he came home. As Clayton tries to shoot Tarzan, Kerchak takes the bullet. Angered, Tarzan fights Clayton, destroying his gun. As Clayton tries to attack Tarzan with his knife, he is caught in the vines, and dies by hanging as a vine stays wrapped around his neck. Tarzan returns to the herd to fine Kerchak dying. Kerchak finally accepts Tarzan as his son, and asks that Tarzan take care of the family from then on.
Jane still has to return to England, and the two say goodbye on the beach. Jane is heartbroken with having to leave Tarzan behind, and her father tells her that she needs to stay. Realizing that with Tarzan is where she belongs, she returns to the beach and embraces Tarzan. The Professor decides he wishes to stay as well, and the two effectively join the family.