Tarzan (2014)

TarzanWorking on the assumption that the meteor which wiped out the dinosaurs might also be an energy source capable of powering the east coast of America for decades, John (Mark Deklin) and Alice Greystoke (Jaime Ray Newman) are on a jungle expedition with their young son John Jr. (Kellan Lutz, by way of Craig Garner and Anton Zetterholm). When they perish in a helicopter crash, however, John Jr. — now going by the name Tarzan — is adopted by a female gorilla and raised as her own. Fifteen years later, acting CEO of Greystoke Energies William Clayton (Joe Cappelletti) sets out in search of the meteor with Jane Porter (Spencer Locke), daughter of Derek, who was a researcher on John and Alice’s original team.

While Disney continues to greenlight live action adaptations of its animated canon, Reinhard Klooss has returned to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ source novel to direct a new animated version of the Tarzan story for Summit Entertainment. A Franco-German production, not-Disney’s Tarzan is rendered in CGI and presented in 3D, having been produced with the aid of motion capture technology. It’s a very different film (there’s no Phil Collins on the soundtrack, for a start), and sadly nowhere near as remarkable.

Opening in space with a meteorite hurtling towards Earth, you might for a moment wonder if you are in the wrong screen. There is an expository voice-over on hand to explain why you’re watching the dinosaurs going extinct when you paid for Tarzan the ape-man — a truly inane narration that introduces an army of wild apes apparently dedicated to the meteor’s protection but then never heard from again — only it doesn’t stop when the plot finally kicks in. This witless commentary becomes increasingly insufferable as the film wears on, Klooss clearly never having heard the old storytelling maxim: show, don’t tell.

The voice-over isn’t the only problem, either. The dialogue is just as cloying, and the whole film suffers from a distinct lack of irony and humour, particularly given the preposterous nature of the plot. Motion capture continues to disconcert; the faces are not just uncanny but creepy, while the characters’ body proportions and clothing also fails to convince. Also problematic are the liberties the film takes with the source material; it’s easy to scoff at the intergalactic opening and mystical McGuffin but Tarzan is no stranger to the supernatural (as early as 1948 the character was fraternising with mermaids), but the decision to orphan John Jr. at the age of four robs the character of what little psychological realism he might have had.

There are positives, however; a good few of them. While motion capture might struggle to accurately recreate facial expressions or muscle definition, it is great at capturing movement (it really is amazing what they can do with hair these days). What personality the characters do have comes almost exclusively from their body language, and the animation of Jane in particular evokes some impressive behavioural nuances. There are other touches that set Tarzan apart from more traditional Hollywood fare, not simply the absence of slapstick and comedy sidekicks but the focus on gun battles and — in one scene at least — the suggestion of sexual awakening. The more action-orientated scenes work a treat, be it gorilla on gorilla or Tarzan vs Clayton, while David Newman’s score is much better than you might reasonably expect. At least until it gives way to Coldplay’s ‘Paradise’.

Though unable to compete with the likes of Disney’s Frozen or film-of-the-year-so-far The LEGO Movie (it undoubtedly cost much less to make), and despite the central character being aged up and relocated to the uncanny valley, Tarzan is still an above-par children’s animation. Plug your ears and try not to look any of the characters in the eye, and you’ll almost certainly find something to enjoy.

 

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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