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Tarzan (1999 film)

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For the Disney franchise, see Tarzan (franchise).
Tarzan (1999 film) - theatrical poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Produced by Bonnie Arnold
Screenplay by
Based on Tarzan of the Apes 
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by Mark Mancina
Edited by Gregory Perler
Distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Release dates
  • June 16, 1999 (1999-06-16)
Running time
88 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $130 million[2]
Box office $448.2 million[2]

Tarzan is a 1999 American animated adventure musical film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The 37th film in the Walt Disney Animated Classics, it is based on the story Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is the only major motion picture version of the story Tarzan property to be animated. Directed by Chris Buck and Kevin Lima with a screenplay by Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White, Tarzan features the voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, and Rosie O'Donnell with Brian Blessed, Lance Henriksen, Wayne Knight, and Nigel Hawthorne.

Tarzan is considered to be the last major box office success of the Disney Renaissance before the studio's decline in the early 2000s. At the time of its release, its production budget of $130 million made it the most expensive animated film ever made, until topped by Disney's own $140 million Treasure Planet in 2002. The film grossed $448.2 million worldwide and was also the first Disney animated feature to open at first place at the North American box office since Pocahontas (1995).


In the 1880s, an English couple and their infant son escape a burning ship, ending up on land near uncharted rainforests off the coast of Africa. The couple craft themselves a treehouse from their ship's wreckage, but are subsequently killed by Sabor, a rogue leopardess. Kala, a female gorilla who recently lost her own child to Sabor, hears the cries of the orphaned human infant and finds him in the ruined treehouse. Though she is attacked by Sabor, Kala and the baby manage to escape. Kala takes the baby back to the gorilla troop to raise as her own, an act of which her mate, Kerchak, disapproves. Kala raises the human child, naming him Tarzan. Though he befriends other gorillas in the troop and other animals, including the young female gorilla Terk and the paranoid male elephant Tantor, Tarzan finds himself unable to keep up with them, so he takes great efforts to improve himself. As a young man, Tarzan is able to kill Sabor with his crude spear and protect the troop, gaining Kerchak's reluctant respect.

The gorilla troop's peaceful life is interrupted by the arrival of a team of human explorers from England, consisting of Professor Porter, his daughter Jane, and their hunter-guide Clayton. Jane is accidentally separated from the group and chased by a pack of baboons. Tarzan saves her from the baboons. He recognizes that she is the same as he is: a human. Jane leads Tarzan back to the explorers' camp, where both Porter and Clayton take great interest in him — the former in terms of scientific progress while the latter hoping to have Tarzan lead him to the gorillas so that he can capture them and return with them to England. Despite Kerchak's warnings to be wary of the humans, Tarzan continues to return to the camp and be taught by Porter, Clayton, and Jane to speak English and learn of the human world, and he and Jane begin to fall in love. However, they are having a hard time convincing Tarzan to lead him to the gorillas, due to Tarzan's fear for their safety from the threat of Kerchak.

When the explorers' boat returns to retrieve them, Clayton makes Tarzan believe that Jane will stay with him forever if he reveals the gorillas. Tarzan agrees and leads the party to the nesting grounds, while Terk and Tantor lure Kerchak away to avoid having him attack the humans. Porter and Jane are excited to mingle with the gorillas, but Kerchak returns and threatens to kill them. Tarzan is forced to hold Kerchak at bay while the humans escape, and decides to leave the troop himself, now humiliated by his actions. Kala takes Tarzan to the treehouse she found him in, and shows him his true past, tells him that she wants him to be happy whatever he decided. When Tarzan returns to the ship with Jane and Porter, they are ambushed by Clayton and his band of stowaway pirates and detained in the brig. Tarzan flees with the help of his friends, and he races back to the gorillas' homeground. Clayton mortally wounds Kerchak and then engages Tarzan in a fierce battle across the vine-covered trees. Although Tarzan spares his life, Clayton is finally killed when he falls with a vine around his neck, hanging him. Kerchak, in his dying breath, finally accepts Tarzan as his own and names him as leader of the gorilla troop. The rest of the gorillas are freed after scaring away the rest of Clayton's men.

The next day, as Porter and Jane prepare to leave on the ship, Tarzan reveals that he now plans to stay with the gorilla troop. As the ship leaves shore, Porter encourages his daughter to stay with the man she loves, and Jane jumps overboard to return to shore; Porter shortly follows her. The Porters reunite with Tarzan and his family and embark on their new life together.


  • Tony Goldwyn (Alex D. Linz, young) as Tarzan, a man raised by gorillas who finds out he is truly a human. Glen Keane served as the supervising animator for Tarzan as an adult, while John Ripa animated Tarzan as an infant and child. John Ripa studied the movements of young chimpanzees to use for young Tarzan's animation.[3]
  • Minnie Driver as Jane Porter, daughter of Professor Porter and a part of an English explorer group. She's the first of the group to encounter Tarzan and they fall in love. Ken Duncan served as the supervising animator for Jane. Many of Minnie Driver's mannerisms and characteristics were incorporated into Jane's animation. The scene where Jane describes meeting Tarzan for the first time to her father and Clayton was improvised by Minnie Driver, resulting in Ken Duncan animating one of the longest animated scenes on record. The scene took 7 weeks to animate and 73 feet of film.[3]
  • Glenn Close as Kala, Tarzan's adopted mother who found and raised him after losing her last biological son to Sabor. She is Kerchak's mate. Russ Edmonds served as the supervising animator for Kala.
  • Lance Henriksen as Kerchak, Kala's mate and the leader of the gorilla troop who does not adjust properly to Tarzan since he is human, but before he dies, he finally accepts him as his son and leaves him to lead the troop. Bruce W. Smith served as the supervising animator for Kerchak.
  • Brian Blessed as Clayton. Clayton is an intelligent, suave, yet impatient hunter who guides the Porters on their quest. Randy Haycock served as the supervising animator for Clayton, and based his design off of Clark Gable and other stars of the 30s and 40s.[3]
  • Nigel Hawthorne as Professor Archimedes Q. Porter, Jane's short-sized father and an eccentric biologist. Dave Burgess served as the supervising animator for Porter. This was Hawthorne's final voice acting role before his death in 2001.
  • Rosie O'Donnell as Terk, Tarzan's best friend, a smart-alec tomboy gorilla. She is also Kala's niece, making her and Tarzan adopted cousins. Michael Surrey served as the supervising animator for Terk. Terk was originally meant to be a male gorilla.[3]
  • Wayne Knight as Tantor, a paranoid elephant and best friend of Tarzan and Terk. He has Terk step all over him most of the time, but when Tarzan is in danger he steps up and tells her off. Sergio Pablos served as the supervising animator for Tantor.



Disney's Tarzan was the first Tarzan film to be animated.[4] Thomas Schumacher, the President of Feature Animation, expressed surprise that there weren't any previous attempts to animate a Tarzan film, saying "Here is a book that cries out to be animated. Yet we're the first filmmakers to have ever taken Tarzan from page to screen and presented the character as Burroughs intended."[3] He noted that in animated form, Tarzan is able to connect to the animals on a deeper level than he can in live action versions.[3]

In 1995, Kevin Lima was first approached to direct Tarzan by executives of Walt Disney Studios during his post-production work on A Goofy Movie.[5] As Lima was reading Tarzan of the Apes, he began to visualize the theme of two hands being held up against each other.[6] That image became an important symbol of the relationships between characters in the film, and a metaphor of Tarzan's search for identity. "I was looking for something that would underscore Tarzan's sense of being alike, yet different from his ape family," Lima said, "The image of touching hands was first conceived as an idea for how Tarzan realizes he and Jane are physically the same."[3] Following his two-month study of the book, Lima approached his friend, Chris Buck, who had just wrapped up work as a supervising animator on Pocahontas, to ask if he would be interested in serving as co-director. Buck was initially skeptical, but accepted after hearing Lima's ideas for the film.[7]


Tab Murphy, who had just finished work on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, was attracted to the theme of man-versus-nature in Tarzan, and began developing a treatment in January 1995. For the third act, Murphy suggested that Tarzan should leave for England, as he did in the book, but the directors felt that it was incompatible with their central theme of what defines a family. In order to keep Tarzan in the jungle, the third act needed to be restructured by redefining the role of the villain and inventing a way to endanger the gorillas.[3] In this departure from Burrough's novel, a villain named Clayton was created to serve as a guide for Professor Archimedes Q. Porter and his daughter, Jane. In addition to this, Kerchak was re-characterized from a savage silverback into the protector of the gorilla tribe.[6]

In January 1997, husband-and-wife screenwriting duo Bob Tzudiker and Noni White were hired to help refocus and add humor to the script as a way to balance the emotional weight of the film.[6] Comedy writer Dave Reynolds was also brought on to write humorous dialogue for the film.[5] "I was initially hired on for six weeks of rewriting and punch-up," Reynolds said, "A year and a half later, I finished. Either they liked my work, or I was very bad at time management."[3] One challenge the writers faced was how Tarzan should learn about his past. "When Kala takes Tarzan back to the tree house, she is essentially telling him that he was adopted," Bonnie Arnold, the producer for Tarzan, said, "This is necessitated by him encountering humans and recognizing he is one of them."[3] As a way to explore the feelings in that scene, Arnold brought in adoptive parents to talk with the story team.[3]


The animators were split into two teams, one in Paris and one in Burbank. The 6000 mile distance and difference in time zones posed challenges for collaboration, especially for scenes with Tarzan and Jane. Glen Keane was the supervising animator for Tarzan at the Paris studio, while Ken Duncan was the supervising animator for Jane at the studio in Burbank. To make coordinating scenes with multiple characters easier, the animators used a system called a "scene machine" that could send rough drawings between the two animation studios.[3]

Keane was inspired to make Tarzan "surf" through the trees because of his son's interest in extreme sports, and he began working on a test scene. The directors expressed concern that Tarzan would be made into a "surfer dude", but when Keane revealed the test animation to them they liked it enough to use it in the film during the "Son of Man" sequence. Although Keane initially thought that Tarzan would be easy to animate because he only wears a loincloth, he realized that he would need a fully working human musculature while still being able to move like an animal. To figure out Tarzan's movements, the Paris animation team studied different animals in order to transpose their movements onto him. They also consulted with a professor on anatomy. This resulted in Tarzan being the first Disney character to accurately display working muscles.[3]

To prepare for animating the gorillas, the animation team attended lectures on primates, made trips to zoos, and studied nature documentaries, with a group of animators also witnessing a gorilla dissection to learn about their musculature. In 1996, the animation team went on a 2 week safari in Kenya to take reference photographs and observe the animals. On the trip, they visited Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda to view mountain gorillas in the wild, and get inspiration for the setting.[3] In 2000, Chris Buck repeated the journey accompanied by journalists to promote the film's home video release.[8]

To create the sweeping 3D backgrounds, Tarzan's production team developed a 3D painting and rendering technique known as Deep Canvas (a term coined by artist/engineer Eric Daniels).[9] This technique allows artists to produce CGI background that looks like a traditional painting, according to art director Daniel St. Pierre.[9] (The software keeps track of brushstrokes applied in 3D space.)[9] For this advancement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the creators of Deep Canvas a Technical Achievement Award in 2003. After Tarzan, Deep Canvas was used for a number of sequences in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, particularly large panoramic shots of the island and several action sequences. Expanded to support moving objects as part of the background, Deep Canvas was used to create about 75% of the environments in Disney's next major animated action film, Treasure Planet.


The songs for the film were written and performed by English musician Phil Collins. The choice of Collins, a popular and well established adult contemporary artist, led to comparisons with Elton John's earlier music for The Lion King.[10] Tarzan was dubbed in thirty-five languages—the most for any Disney movie at the time,[11] and Collins recorded his songs in French, Italian, German, and Spanish for the dubbed versions of the film's soundtrack.[11][12] According to Collins, most of the songs he wrote for Tarzan came from improvisation sessions and his reactions while reading the treatment.[3] Three of the songs he wrote, "Son of Man," "Trashin' the Camp," and "Strangers Like Me," were based on his initial impressions after he read the source material. The other two songs were "You'll Be in My Heart," a lullaby sung to Tarzan by Kala (voiced by Glenn Close), and "Two Worlds," a song Collins wrote to serve as the anthem for Tarzan.[3]

The instrumental scoring for the film was composed by Mark Mancina, who had previously produced music for The Lion King, and the musical of the same name. Mancina and Collins worked closely to create music that would compliment the film's setting, and used many obscure instruments from Mancina's personal collection in the score.[3] "The idea of score and song arrangement came together as one entity, as Phil and I worked in tandem to create what's heard in the film," Mancina said.[3]

Ty Burr of Entertainment Weekly gave the soundtrack a B-, stating that it was awkwardly split between Collins's songs and the traditional score, was burdened by too many alternate versions of the tracks, and in some instances bore similarities to The Lion King and Star Wars.[13]


Tarzan currently holds a rating of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 104 reviews. The critical consensus reads: "Disney's Tarzan takes the well-known story to a new level with spirited animation, a brisk pace, and some thrilling action set-pieces."[14] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 79 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Entertainment Weekly compared the film's advancement in visual effects to that of The Matrix, stating that it had "the neatest computer-generated background work since Keanu Reeves did the backstroke in slow motion." They elaborate by describing how the characters moved seamlessly through the backgrounds themselves, giving the film a unique three-dimensional feel that far surpassed the quality of previous live-action attempts.[15] Roger Ebert had similar comments about the film, describing it as representing "another attempt by Disney to push the envelope of animation," with scenes that "move through space with a freedom undreamed of in older animated films, and unattainable by any live-action process."[16]

Radio Times was not positive, stating the film "falls way short of Disney's best output" and featured "weak comic relief". The review concluded: "Lacking the epic sweep of Mulan or The Lion King, and laced with feeble background songs from Phil Collins (inexplicably awarded an Oscar), this King of the Swingers may be merchandise-friendly, but it's no jungle VIP."[17]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards[18] March 26, 2000 Best Music, Original Song Phil Collins
For the song "You'll Be In My Heart"
Golden Globe Awards[19] January 23, 2000 Best Original Song - Motion Picture Phil Collins
For the song "You'll Be In My Heart"
Grammy Awards[20] February 23, 2000 Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media Phil Collins
For the song "You'll Be In My Heart"
Best Soundtrack Album Phil Collins (artist and producer) & Mark Mancina (producer) Won

Tarzan was also nominated for 11 Annie Awards, winning one in the category for Technical Achievement in the Field of Animation. The award was given to Eric Daniels, who developed the Deep Canvas animation process for the film.[21] Phil Collins was nominated for a Kids Choice Award for his song "Two Worlds", but lost to Will Smith's song "Wild Wild West." Rosie O'Donnell, the host of the 2000 Kids Choice Awards, was nominated for her voicework as Tarzan's best friend, Terk. She won the award for Favorite Voice From an Animated Movie, beating out both Tim Allen and Tom Hanks, the voices of Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story 2.[22]

American Film Institute Recognitions:

Home media release

The standard VHS and DVD editions of Tarzan were released on February 1, 2000, and a 2-Disc Collector's Edition with additional features was released on April 18, 2000. Both editions were discontinued on January 31, 2002 and put in the Disney Vault.[25] Two direct-to-video sequels followed, Tarzan & Jane (2002), and Tarzan II (2005). Goldwyn was replaced by Michael T. Weiss as the voice of Tarzan in Tarzan and Jane. On October 15, 2005, Disney released the Tarzan Special Edition on DVD. Tarzan's first blu-ray edition was released throughout Europe in early 2012, and on August 12, 2014 Disney released the Tarzan Special Edition on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD.[26][27]


Disney Consumer Products released a series of toys, books, and stuffed animals for Tarzan, partnering with Mattel to produce a line of plush toys and action figures.[28] Mattel also produced the Rad Repeatin' Tarzan action figure, but discontinued it after complaints regarding the toy's onanistic arm motions.[29] Disney also worked with Nestle to create Tarzan themed candies, including a banana-flavored chocolate bar.[30] In early 2000, Disney partnered with McDonald's to release a set of 8 Happy Meal toys as a tie-in for the film.[31] They also offered Tarzan themed food options, such as banana sundaes and jungle burgers.[32]


A spin-off television animated series named The Legend of Tarzan ran from 2001 to 2003. The series picks up where the film left off, with Tarzan adjusting to his new role as leader of the apes following Kerchak's death, and Jane (whom he has since married) adjusting to life in the jungle.

A Broadway musical, also titled Tarzan, produced by Disney Theatrical began previews on March 24, 2006 which had an official opening night on May 10 of the same year. After running for over a year on Broadway, the show closed on July 8, 2007.[33]

Five Tarzan video games have been released on various platforms. Tarzan's home is also featured as a playable world in the 2002 game Kingdom Hearts, and in the 2013 HD remake Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 Remix.


  1. ^ "Tarzan". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved January 30, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Tarzan (1999)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved November 11, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Green, Howard. The Tarzan Chronicles. New York: Hyperion. 
  4. ^ "With Tarzan, It's A Disney Jungle Out There". Jun 16, 1999. 
  5. ^ a b Tracy, Joe. "Disney's Tarzan Adventure: Two Worlds Merge". Animation Artist. Retrieved October 16, 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Wannamaker, Annette; Anate, Michelle Ann (April 18, 2012). Global Perspectives on Tarzan: From King of the Jungle to International Icon. Routledge. pp. 42–43. ISBN 0415897246. Retrieved October 16, 2014. 
  7. ^ Strickler, Jeff (June 13, 1999). "Tarzan swings by Disney; Not aping earlier 'King of the Jungle' films, it's animated.". Star Tribune. Retrieved October 16, 2014 – via HighBeam Research. (subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ Falk, Quentin (September 3, 2000). "Holidays: Close encounter of the hairy kind". Sunday Mirror (MGN Ltd.). p. 53. Retrieved August 30, 2014.  Available through ProQuest Historical Newsstand.
  9. ^ a b c Essman, Scott (July 5, 1999). "State of the Art of F/X". MovieMaker Magazine. Retrieved April 6, 2009. 
  10. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Tarzan". AllMusic. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Raugust, Karen (2004). The Animation Business Handbook. Macmillan. p. 86. ISBN 9780312284282. 
  12. ^ Keegan, Rebecca (January 24, 2014). "'Frozen': Finding a diva in 41 languages". Los Angeles Times. 
  13. ^ Burr, Ty (May 21, 1999). "Music Review: Tarzan (1999)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 6, 2009. 
  14. ^ "Tarzan". June 16, 1999. 
  15. ^ "Video Review: Simply Da Vine: With its dazzling high-tech Tarzan, Disney takes to the jungle and swings rings around live-action efforts of the past.". Entertainment Weekly. February 4, 2000. Retrieved April 6, 2009. 
  16. ^ Ebert, Roger (June 18, 1999). "Tarzan". 
  17. ^ Jones, Alan. "Tarzan". Radio Times. Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  18. ^ "The 72nd Academy Awards (2000) Nominees and Winners". 
  19. ^ "2000 Golden Globe Award Winners". Rope of Silicon. 
  20. ^ "42nd Grammy Award Winners". 
  21. ^ "27th Annie Awards". Annie Awards. 
  22. ^ "Kids Choice Awards 1999". 
  23. ^ AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees
  24. ^ (PDF)  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  25. ^ "Time Is Running Out ... Four of Disney's Greatest Animated Classics Are Disappearing Into the Vault". Walt Disney Press Release. Jan 23, 2002. 
  26. ^ Kauffman, Jeffery. "Tarzan Blu-ray". 
  27. ^ Brown, Kenneth. "Tarzan Blu-ray". 
  28. ^ Szadkowski, Joseph (March 1, 1999). "Toy Fair '99: More Animated Stuff". Animation World Network. Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  29. ^ "Film: Tarzan Escapes From The Mouse House". Oct 22, 1999. 
  30. ^ "Nestle Chocolate & Confections Goes Bananas Over Disney's Tarzan". May 13, 1999. 
  31. ^ "The Jungle Drums Are Beating for 'Tarzan' Swinging to Home Video and DVD on Feb. 1". Oct 27, 1999. 
  32. ^ Downing, Leanne (2005). "Media Synergies and the Politics of Affect in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". M/C Journal. 
  33. ^ "Disney's 'Tarzan' to close July 8 on Broadway". USA Today. June 24, 2007. Retrieved March 26, 2013. 

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