You know the drill - - or at least you think you do. Another year, another bout of Disney, with its high production values, mildly grating songs and colourful, cutesy characters. There's the hero, the love interest, the clown-about good guys and the baddie with his bumbling sidekicks. Chuck in set pieces, musical numbers and one or two adult jokes, and you've got the perfect entertainment package "for all the family".
Of course, over the past few years, the House Of Mouse have played with the formula to good effect: Mulan was a war movie, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame was disturbingly dark and Hercules was based on designs by satirical sketcher Gerald Scarfe. But with Tarzan, Disney has finally learned from both the success of its Pixar-produced offshoots (Toy Story, A Bug's Life) and the mistakes of Dream-Works' Prince Of Egypt: ditch most of the intrusive tunes, forget anyone bursting into song, and concentrate on the script.
And, boy, does it work well. Tarzan manages to combine the intelligence and humour of Toy Story with the depth and subtlety of Hunchback and the lively, populist appeal of The Lion King. And if song-slinger Phil Collins' nasal whine doesn't exactly soothe your brain, don't worry. His four or five offerings are easy to phase out, as they're more background music than anything else.
Other Disney clichés have also been tweaked. Minnie Driver's Jane isn't exactly your typical pencil-waisted, almond-eyed damsel, but neither is she a hard, '90s action-femme. She actually supplies a fair portion of the laughs, proving as quip-happy as Rosie O'Donnell's cheeky monkey, Terk. And while Brian Blessed's Clayton is the quintessential English cad, it's good that Tarzan's creators have omitted the tiresome, slapsticky bad-guy supports. But what of the all-important hero?
Well, thankfully, he's everything he ought to be: noble without being irritating, caring without being a sap, and stronger and more agile than Johnny Weissmuller could ever have dreamed of. We see him somersaulting through the air from vine to vine, surfing along mossy tree branches, diving down chasms and wrestling with leopards. The action sequences are neatly choreographed, utilising whizzing, Steadicam-style perspectives, and the combat is nail-nippingly convincing, despite the clean, U-certificate approach.
Naturally, the visuals are fantastic. Disney has always been top dog when it comes to expressive, fluid animation, and Tarzan pushes the non-CG cartoon to new heights. They say the jungle never sleeps, but in this movie it simply never stays still; every leaf, vine and branch has a life of its own. So it's funny and action-packed, with some great voice talent, likable characters and spectacular backdrops. All that combines to make it one of the best Disneys yet.
Enjoy the Mouse House's very own special brand of animation without having to cringe every time the characters launch into a song. Okay, Mr Collins isn't everyone's fave crooner, but ignore his tunes and lose yourself in this energetic jungle adventure.
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