Hollywood and Vine

Disney's Tarzan swings for evolution but slouches toward the primitive

If the orphan child realizes his connection to places far, far away, Disney also exhibits its own global strategy: to make strangers like us. On a preparatory research trip to Uganda, Tarzan's supervising animator Glen Keane was shocked to find an African child uncharmed by his arts. "I'd found one of the last places on Earth that no one had heard of Mickey Mouse," he told the Edmonton Sun. In turn, Tarzan's makers have managed to find a mythical place in African history where there are no Africans. The good news is that we've been spared the usual assortment of cartoon cannibals and pygmies (the sort that stalk the pages of Burroughs's novels). But presenting the continent as one big zoo isn't much of an improvement. And as a savvy junior-high social-studies teacher pointed out to me, Disney gives new meaning to misappropriation by making its monkeys "tribal" musicians who play European (!) instruments in a scat-style number that the press kit describes as a "jungle jam session."

Meanwhile, Disney's typically homogenous "family values" come to Tarzan's rescue (and Tarzan's), as the ape-man takes his place as the protective head of an extended family. Compared to the likes of The Jungle Book, this may be the best of Disney's animated breed, but the new and improved Lord of the Jungle still prompts the question: Why does Uncle Walt's Magic Kingdom consistently pick from the very worst that American pop mythology has to offer? Tarzan is pretty good as far as colonialist fantasies of Africa go--but I'm not holding my breath for cartoon versions of Huck Finn or Harriet Tubman.

 

Tarzan is playing at area theaters.

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