Tarzan (1999 film)

This article is about the Disney film based on the novel. For the Disney franchise, see Tarzan (franchise).

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 12, 1999 (1999-06-12) (El Capitan Theatre)
  • June 16, 1999 (1999-06-16) (United States)
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 film produced by Walt Disney Feature Animation and released by Walt Disney Pictures. The 37th Disney animated feature film and the last film of the Disney Renaissance era, it is based on the story Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is the first animated major motion picture version of the Tarzan story. 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.

Pre-production of Tarzan began in 1995 with Kevin Lima selected as director,[3] being later joined by animator Chris Buck the same year. Following a first draft by Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White, and Dave Reynolds were brought in to re-construct the third act and add additional humor to the screenplay. English musician Phil Collins was recruited to compose and record songs which were integrated with a score by Mark Mancina. Meanwhile, the production team embarked on a research trip to Uganda and Kenya to study the gorillas. Animation for the film was done in California, Orlando, Florida, and Paris with Deep Canvas, the pioneering computer animation software system, predominantly used to create three-dimensional backgrounds.

Tarzan was released to a positive reaction from critics who praised the film's animation and music. Against a production budget of $130 million (then the most expensive animated film ever made until Disney's Treasure Planet (2002) which cost $140 million), the film grossed $448.2 million worldwide becoming the fifth-highest film release in 1999, second-highest animation release of 1999 behind Toy Story 2 (1999), and the first Disney animated feature to open at first place at the North American box office since Pocahontas (1995). The film has led to many derived works, such as a Broadway adaptation, a television series The Legend of Tarzan, and two direct-to-video films: Tarzan & Jane (2002) and Tarzan II (2005).


In the second half of the 1800s, an English couple and their infant son escape a shipwreck, ending up 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 mountain 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 which the leader and her mate, Kerchak, disapproves of but grudgingly lets her proceed with. Kala raises the human child, naming him Tarzan. Though he befriends other gorillas and animals, including a young female gorilla named Terk and the paranoid male elephant Tantor, Tarzan finds himself treated differently because of his different physique, so he makes great efforts to improve himself. As a young man, Tarzan manages to kill Sabor with a crude spear he made, 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. The explorers are looking to study gorillas. Jane accidentally becomes separated from the group and chased by a pack of baboons, and Tarzan saves her. He recognizes that she is the same as he is: a human. Jane leads Tarzan back to the explorers' camp, where Porter and Clayton both take great interest in him — the former in terms of scientific progress while the latter hopes 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, where Porter, Clayton, and Jane teach him to speak English as well as what the human world is like. He and Jane begin to fall in love. However, the English explorers have a difficult time convincing Tarzan to lead them to the gorillas, due to Tarzan's fear of Kerchak.

The explorers' ship returns to retrieve them. Jane asks Tarzan to return with them to England, but Tarzan in turn asks Jane to stay with him when Jane says it is unlikely they will ever return. Clayton convinces Tarzan that Jane will stay with him forever if he leads them to 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 when he sees the humans, attacks them. Tarzan is forced to hold Kerchak at bay while the humans escape. Kerchak accuses Tarzan of betraying the troop. Kala takes Tarzan to the treehouse she found him in, shows him his true past, and tells him that she wants him to be happy whatever he decides. Tarzan puts on a suit that belonged to his father, signifying his decision to go to England.

When Tarzan boards the ship with Jane and Porter the next day, they are ambushed by Clayton and his band of stowaway thugs. Clayton hopes to seize the gorillas now that he knows where the nesting grounds are, and locks Tarzan, Jane and Porter away to stop them from interfering. Tarzan manages to escape with the help of Terk and Tantor, and he returns to the gorillas' nesting grounds. Clayton mortally wounds Kerchak and then engages Tarzan in a fierce battle across the vine-covered trees. Tarzan traps Clayton with vines, and the latter attempts to cut his way free, but inadvertently hangs himself with a vine tangled around his neck. Kerchak, with his dying breath, finally forgives Tarzan and names him new leader of the gorilla troop. The rest of the gorillas are freed after scaring away the rest of Clayton's men.

The next day, Porter and Jane prepare to leave on the ship while Tarzan stays behind 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.


  • Taylor Dempsey as young Tantor



Disney's Tarzan was the first Tarzan film to be animated.[5] 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."[4] 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.[4]

Following work on A Goofy Movie in late 1994, Kevin Lima was approached to direct Tarzan by studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg who desired to have the film animated at a Canadian-based satellite television animation studio, in which Lima was reluctant to do because of the animation complexities being done by inexperienced animators. Following Katzenberg's resignation from the Walt Disney Company, Lima was again contacted about the project by Michael Eisner, who decided to have the film produced through the Feature Animation division by which Lima signed on.[6] Following this, Lima decided to read Tarzan of the Apes where he began to visualize the theme of two hands being held up against each other.[7] 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."[4] 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.[8] By April 1995, the Los Angeles Times reported that the film was in its preliminary stages with Lima and Buck directing after Disney had obtained the story rights from the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs.[9]


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.[4] 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.[7]

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.[7] Comedy writer Dave Reynolds was also brought on to write humorous dialogue for the film.[10] "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."[4] 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."[4] As a way to explore the feelings in that scene, Arnold brought in adoptive parents to talk with the story team.[4] Another issue was the inherent and overt racism in the original Edgar Rice Rurrough's Tarzan. The writers consciously chose to not include any African characters in order to avoid this topic.


Brendan Fraser auditioned twice for the title character before portraying the lead role in George of the Jungle.[11] Tony Goldwyn auditioned for the title role as well, and according to co-director Kevin Lima, Goldwyn landed it because of "the animal sense" in his readings, along with some "killer baboon imitations."[12] For the signature Tarzan yell, Lima and Buck desired the traditional yell, although Goldwyn faced difficulties with providing the yell stating "It's really hard to do, physically." Co-star Brian Blessed ultimately provided the yell.[13] Terk was originally written as a male gorilla, but following Rosie O'Donnell's audition, Terk was re-characterized as a female.[14] Furthermore, Woody Allen was initially cast as the neurotic elephant Tantor. However, Katzenberg persuaded Allen to leave the project for DreamWorks Pictures' Antz and in exchange, the studio would distribute his next four films. Agreeing to the deal, Allen departed from Tarzan in 1996 and was replaced by Wayne Knight.[15]


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.[4] Meanwhile, two hundred animators at the Feature Animation Florida satellite studio provided character animation and special effects animation where the filmmakers had to discuss their work through daily video conferences among the three studios.[16]

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.[4]

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 two-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.[4] In 2000, Chris Buck repeated the journey accompanied by journalists to promote the film's home video release.[17]

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).[18] This technique allows artists to produce CGI background that looks like a traditional painting, according to art director Daniel St. Pierre.[18] (The software keeps track of brushstrokes applied in 3D space.)[18] 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 (2001), 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 percent of the environments in Disney's next major animated action film, Treasure Planet (2002).


In 1995, Phil Collins was initially brought onto the project as a songwriter following a recommendation by Disney music executive Chris Montan. Early into production, directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck decided not to follow Disney's musical tradition by having the characters sing. "I did not want Tarzan to sing," Lima stated, "I just couldn't see this half-naked man sitting on a branch breaking out in song. I thought it would be ridiculous."[11] Instead, Collins would perform the songs in the film serving as the narrator.[19][20] 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.[21] Tarzan was dubbed in thirty-five languages—the most for any Disney movie at the time,[22] and Collins recorded his songs in French, Italian, German, and Spanish for the dubbed versions of the film's soundtrack.[22][23] According to Collins, most of the songs he wrote for Tarzan came from improvisation sessions and his reactions while reading the treatment.[4] 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.[4]

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 complement the film's setting, and used many obscure instruments from Mancina's personal collection in the score.[4] "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.[4]


On June 12, 1999, the film premiered at the El Capitan Theater with the cast and filmmakers as attendees followed by a forty-minute concert with Phil Collins performing songs from the film.[24] On July 23, 1999, Disney launched a digital projection release of Tarzan released only in three theatrical venues including Walt Disney World's Pleasure Island multiplex for three weeks. Although Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and An Ideal Husband were given earlier digital projection releases despite being shot on photographic film, Tarzan was notable for being the first major feature release to have been produced, mastered, and projected digitally.[25][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] Continuing its advertising alliance with McDonald's, its promotional campaign began on the film's opening day with several toys accompanied with Happy Meals and soda straws that replicated the Tarzan yell.[30] Disney also worked with Nestle to create Tarzan themed candies, including a banana-flavored chocolate bar.[31] In early 2000, Disney partnered again with McDonald's to release a set of eight Happy Meal toys as a tie-in for the film's home video.[32] They also offered Tarzan themed food options, such as banana sundaes and jungle burgers.[33]

Home media release

On February 1, 2000, the film was released on VHS and DVD. The DVD version contained bonus material, including the "Strangers Like Me" music video, the making of another music video featuring Collins and 'N Sync, and an interactive trivia game.[34] A 2-Disc Collector's Edition was released on April 18, 2000. It included an audio commentary track recorded by the filmmakers, behind-the-scenes footage, and supplements that detailed the legacy of Tarzan and the film's development.[35] Both editions were retired on January 31, 2002 and put in the Disney Vault.[36] 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.[37][38]


Box office

Pre-release tracking indicated that Tarzan was appealing to all four major demographics noticeably for the first time for a Disney animated film since the release of The Lion King.[39] The film's limited release was on June 16, 1999,[2] and the wide release followed on June 18, 1999, in 3,005 screens. During the weekend of June 18–21, Tarzan grossed $34.1 million ranking first on its opening weekend notably grossing higher than Mulan and A Bug's Life in their respective box office weekends,[40] and ranked second in Disney animated box office openings behind The Lion King, which earned $40.9 million.[41] By August 1999, the domestic gross was projected to approach $170 million,[42] whereas in the following month, Disney executives expected the film to gross between $450 million to $500 million worldwide.[43] Ultimately, the film closed its box office run with $448,191,819 worldwide.[2]

Critical reaction

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 88% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 104 reviews, with an average score of 7.6/10. The critical consensus reads that "Disney's Tarzan takes the well-known story to a new level with spirited animation, a brisk pace, and some thrilling action set-pieces."[44] Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 from top reviews from mainstream critics, calculated a score of 79 based on 27 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[45]

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.[46] Roger Ebert gave the film 4 stars, and he 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."[47] Awarding the film three stars, James Berardinelli wrote: "From a purely visual standpoint, this may be the most impressive of all of Disney's traditionally animated features. The backdrops are lush, the characters are well realized, and the action sequences are dizzying, with frequent changes of perspectives and camera angles. No conventional animated film has been this ambitious before."[48] Desson Howe, writing for The Washington Post, claimed the film "isn't up there with Aladdin, The Lion King and The Little Mermaid, but it's easily above the riffraff ranks of Hercules and Pocahontas."[49] Todd McCarthy of Variety proved to be less amused by the animation, claiming it was "richly detailed and colorfully conceived, but the computer animation and graphics are often intermingled and combined in ways that are more distracting in their differences than helpful in their vividness."[50]

Lisa Schwarzbaum, who graded the film an A-, applauded the film as "a thrilling saga about a natural man, untainted by the complications of 'civilized' life, who can anticipate changes in the air by sniffing the wind — swings because the Disney team, having sniffed the wind, went out on a limb and kept things simple."[51] Peter Stack of the San Francisco Chronicle admired the film for tackling "meanings of family relationships and ideas about society, guardianship and compassion" and "cunning and greed and the ultimate evil", as well as remaining faithful to Burroughs's original novel.[52] Kenneth Turan of Los Angeles Times wrote that the "story unfolds with dangers as well as warm humor; a jungle jam session called 'Trashin' the Camp' is especially hard to resist. We may have seen it all before, but when it's done up like this, experiencing it all over again is a pleasure."[53] In similarity, Janet Maslin, reviewing for The New York Times, opined that "Tarzan initially looks and sounds like more of the same, to the point where Phil Collins is singing the words 'trust your heart' by the third line of his opening song. But it proves to be one of the more exotic blooms in the Disney hothouse, what with voluptuous flora, hordes of fauna, charming characters and excitingly kinetic animation that gracefully incorporates computer-generated motion."[54]

The Radio Times review 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."[55] Michael Wilmington of the Chicago Tribune, while giving the film three stars, wrote that Tarzan "lacks that special pizazz that the string of Disney cartoon features from The Little Mermaid through The Lion King all had". He found faults in the film's politically correct storyline, lack of romantic tension between Tarzan and Jane, and the songs by Phil Collins, comparing them unfavorably with Elton John's "showstoppers" for The Lion King. He wrote "depriving the characters of big numbers weakens the movie".[56]

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.[57]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients and nominees Result
Academy Awards[58] March 26, 2000 Best Music, Original Song Phil Collins
For the song "You'll Be In My Heart"
Golden Globe Awards[59] January 23, 2000 Best Original Song - Motion Picture Phil Collins
For the song "You'll Be In My Heart"
Grammy Awards[60] 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.[61] 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.[62]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


A spin-off 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. In July 1999, Disney announced that they were planning a sequel for Tarzan.[65] In 2002, Tarzan & Jane was released as a direct-to-video sequel, with Michael T. Weiss replacing Goldwyn as the voice of Tarzan. Tarzan II, a direct-to-video prequel, was released in 2005.

A Broadway musical produced by Disney Theatrical, also titled Tarzan, began previews on March 24, 2006. It 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.[66]

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.


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