Toon Talk: Tarzan II DVD
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Disney Film & Video Reviews by Kirby C. Holt
I Wanna Be Like You
The recent video premiere of Tarzan II (not really a II, but the latest entry in Disney's increasing line of "midquelsâ€?: see Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, The Lion King 1 ˝ and the upcoming Bambi and the Great Prince of the Forest) attempts to fill in just such a gap in the ape-man's chronology. And although it features animation above par the average direct-to-video offering (thanks again to Disney's always reliable Australian animation unit) and has its heart in the right place, the film lacks the strong dramatic pull that its predecessor possessed.
Picking up the storyline following the "Elephant Fallsâ€? sequence in the original, the new film begins with young Tarzan (voiced by Harrison Fahn) still struggling to fit in in the jungle. When an accident separates the ape-boy from the band, his adoptive parents (returning cast members Glenn Close as Kala and Lance Henriksen as Kerchak) think he's dead; Tarzan overhears the other apes expressing their relief for Kala's sake and, in an effort to spare his mother from further heart-ships, runs away.
Young Tarzan ends up on "Dark Mountainâ€?, fabled home to the mythical monster "Zugorâ€?, where he discovers that the creature is not the hulking, blood-thirsty beast of ape legend, but actually a crusty ol' codger, an aged ape outcast voiced by stand-up icon George Carlin (who manages to insert his classic "stuffâ€? routine into the proceedings). A deal is struck between the unlikely exiles: Zugor will teach him how to be an ape, and Tarzan won't tell anyone his secret.
Complicating matters are a trio of misfit gorillas: Mama Gunda (shrilly voiced by Estelle Harris, who, after a potato in Toy Story 2 and a chicken in Home on the Range, is quickly joining her Seinfeld son, Jason Alexander, as an over-used, one-note voice-over talent) and her two dimwitted sons Uto and Kago (Brad Garrett and Ron Perlman, respectively), who have been trapped on the desolate mountaintop for fear of Zugor's wrath, unaware of his true form. Trusty sidekicks Tantor and Terk (now voiced by, respectively, Harrison Fahn and Brenda Grate - what, don't tell me Rosie O'Donnell was busy?) are also on hand, setting out on their own mission to rescue their hairless pal.
What subsequently transpires is not all that new: Tarzan finds his place in this world and is reunited with his family so that he can grow-up into the Lord of the Apes we all know and love, developments not entirely surprising to anyone who was paying attention in the first Tarzan. Watching II is like watching, say, Titanic or the Star Wars prequels: you know where it is going, resulting (in this case, at least) with no sense of danger or discovery. Lacking this essential narrative flow, the sequel ... ah, "midquelâ€? (prequels, midquels ... what's next, "nightquelsâ€??) ... comes off as "very special episodeâ€?-ish, adding nothing to the experience of the first film, one of the best animated films in the past decade.