It’ll Be in My Heart (Always)
Originally Released: 1999
I have heard varying opinions about Tarzan. Some like it, some love it, and others can’t stand it. But to me, Tarzan will always be special. It is filled with fast-moving and exhilarating sequences, which were a technical marvel at the time of release and still hold up extremely well today. It has a great soundtrack and score. The film is gorgeous to look at with its lush jungle greens. The animation is top-notch. There are equal measures of action, comedy, and romance in the movie. But beyond all that, there is just something about it that reaches deep into the heart. Tarzan has real substance to it, and it manages to connect on an emotional level (with me, at least).
Take, for instance, the scene where a young Tarzan runs off and covers himself in mud to try to cover up his differences. What follows is a tender moment where Kala, his adopted mother, comes to the rescue and helps Tarzan realize that he is loved, even despite his differences. But even more importantly, she shows him that deep inside, they’re not that different at all. It is a great showcase of the great influence a caring mother can have. Somehow, they always figure out a way to make their children feel better about themselves and about life. Like many real-life mothers, Kala helps Tarzan discover the direction to go in order to reach his true potential.
Which is exactly what he does. Tarzan learns to use his uniqueness and his mental capabilities to his advantage, and thus more fully adapt to the jungle. He swings on vines and surfs through the trees. He becomes friends with many different types of creatures. Eventually, he uses his intellect and prowess to save Kerchak, the leader of the family, and prove his worth among the gorillas. In this and other action-packed scenes, Tarzan took animation to a whole new level with its “Deep Canvas” technology. It was amazing to see in 1999 and was something that earlier animated films could only dream of accomplishing. It is still impressive today.
While on the topic of animated feats, no commentary would be complete without mentioning yet another incredible job by animator Glen Keane, who was responsible for bringing the adult Tarzan to life. I have already mentioned Keane in past posts (he did Ariel, Beast, and the golden eagle Marahute, among others), but he deserves mention yet again. Pretty much everything from Tarzan’s ape-walk and his skateboarding/surfing on the vines and trees, to the more subtle facial expressions, such as his piercing gaze into Jane’s eyes or the look of awe and curiosity when he learns about the whole new world of humans, is, in my opinion, worthy of admiration. If Keane hadn’t already established his legacy in the animator’s hall of fame by this point, his role in Tarzan would further cement his place among the profession’s greatest.
But Tarzan isn’t the only character in the film. Truth is, I like almost all of the characters in this film. Kerchak is a hulking beast who only wants what’s best for his family. Kala is a strong mother figure, as already mentioned. Minnie Driver gives a very funny performance as the quirky-but-lovable Jane. The only character I didn’t care too much for was Rosie O’Donnell’s Terk (…yes, this was back when Rosie was very popular and good friends with Elmo…no, I didn’t care for Terk even back then).
Musically, the team at Disney ventured intentionally in a new direction. It decided that for Tarzan, it would move away from the Broadway-style musical that had got them through the 1990’s, and instead they opted for a bit of a hybrid style where the songs were still relevant to the plot and pushed the story forward, but were not sung by the characters on-screen. In the case of Tarzan, this strategy worked quite well. To accomplish this, Disney enlisted the talents of pop great Phil Collins. His musical contributions the film netted both Oscar and Golden Globe awards for the original song “You’ll be in My Heart.” He also won a Grammy for best soundtrack album (I purchased the soundtrack back in this time and really enjoyed it – and to this day, if I happen across “You’ll be in My Heart” on the radio, it totally makes my day; I’m a big fan of that song).
I know that some people didn’t appreciate Disney breaking from formula with the music, but I applaud their decision in this particular case. Because, frankly, it just wouldn’t capture the right spirit of the film to have Tarzan burst into song at any given moment. If that were done, it would have been a completely different film, and I think the creators realized that. So ultimately, I’d say they chose wisely.
In the end, Tarzan was a film that captured my imagination, fed my appetite for awesome animation, and worked its way into my heart with its themes. It was a feast to my eyes and also to my ears. Finally, it also had a picture-perfect ending with Tarzan, Jane and all his friends swinging through the jungle happily ever after. In short, Tarzan is my kind of movie.