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So as I sit here in my small, dank COMFORTABLY APPOINTED DISSIDENT CONTAINMENT RECEPTACLE, forced to eat NOURISHING RATIONS FOR WHICH I AM GRATEFUL and being brutally beaten about the head with THE BRILLIANT INTELLECTUAL REVELATIONS OF MARXIST THOUGHT I’ve had time to think. Mostly, or course, I’ve been darkly plotting what I’m going to do to that BENEVOLENT FATHER OF THE PEOPLE COMRADE CROW, ALL HAIL CROW! once I NEVER ESCAPE. But I’ve also been thinking about Tarzan. What happened to Tarzan? Why is it that no one seems to remember this movie? If I walk into a room and randomly sing the first few lines of “Hakuna Matata” or “Part of Your World” chances are that the whole room will join me for the chorus. “Two Worlds”? Crickets.
Why did this movie leave so little trace on pop culture? Well, it wasn’t really that popular when it came out, right? Wrong. This thing opened at Number 1 and outgrossed Mulan, which had already been seen as a major return to form for Disney. And it’s not like the critics were leery of it either, this thing got crazy good reviews: 88% on Rotten Tomatoes. So why has this movie, like me, been largely forgotten? Part of the problem, I think, is that by the turn of the millennium Disney had become a victim of its own success. In America, from the late nineteen thirties to the mid nineties Disney was pretty much the only studio making top-tier feature length animations. Sure, challengers would occasionally arise (the Fleischers in the thirties and forties, UPA and Hanna-Barbera in the sixties) but for most of that half century the only studio willing to risk the massive investment of time and money that is involved in making a feature length cartoon was the mo’fuckin House of Mouse. And don’t forget, most of the movies that we’ve covered on this blog were not all that successful financially. Even the really big hits like Sleeping Beauty cost so much that their massive box office takes were a Pyrrhic victory. Disney made most of their money in merchandising and the theme parks, which meant that smaller studios that didn’t have the luxury of owning theme park were content to leave the feature length animation pastures to Disney. But then, something happened. With the advent of new computer technologies, producing a full length animated feature went from being impossibly expensive and prohibitively time consuming to merely hugely expensive and massively time consuming. Disney capitalised on this, and in one the whitest hot streaks in movie studio history, ushered in the Renaissance. These movies were huge, some of the most successful of all time. Suddenly what had previously been seen as a white elephant was now one of the most profitable genres in the business. And why was that?
Okay fine, yes. Pixar’s success was the main factor, but the way was prepared by Disney’s earlier success with the Fearsome Four of Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Lion King.
Disney created a market where animated features could be hugely successful and now they had to contend with a host of rivals, some of them mighty intimidating. There was Pixar of course, who released Toy Story 2 the same year as Tarzan, and were now well on their way to being one of the most critically lauded studios in cinema history. And then there was Dreamworks, run by former Disney boss Jeffrey Katzenberg, whose ruthlessly commercial movie making would produce three of the biggest grossing films of all time. And that’s not to mention the dozens of smaller rivals that sprang up in the wake of Disney’s early nineties successes. Heck, it’s gotten to the stage where it seems like anyone can release a full length animation. Even these idiots!
And I this is why I think Tarzan doesn’t stick in people’s memory. Not because it isn’t an awesome movie (it is) but because it was released in a time when Disney were no longer kings in their field. Pixar had taken the crown of critical darling, DreamWorks the crown of commercial money-making animation powerhouse (or they would with the release of Shrek a few years later). Tarzan came at the tail end of the Renaissance, overlapping with the beginning of Pixar’s reign and it just got lost in the folds. So let’s take a look at this thing, before the guards come and shackle me GENTLY to the wall and begin PLAYTIME WITH FRIENDLY DOGS who will brutally LICK my FACE while a DEDICATED SERVANT OF THE GLORIOUS REGIME OF COMRADE CROW, HAIL CROW! shoves THE GLORIOUS TRUTH OF THE ETERNAL REVOLUTION up my OUTDATED BOURGEOIS WORLDVIEW. This will probably be my last review. And God help me, I’m writing it on toilet paper.