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|Kevin Krock, editor|
I'm sure everyone has heard or seen the story of Tarzan in one form or another, so I'll just run over the basics in Disney's version: Orphaned as a baby, Tarzan is adopted by a troop of gorillas and raised as one of them. As Tarzan grows up, he begins to realize that he is not like the others in his family, and he wants to know if there are others like himself in the jungle. Through a series of events, Tarzan is introduced to another human, Jane, and Tarzan realizes that he's discovered the answer to his questions.
As Tarzan and Jane's relationship develops, Tarzan brings the humans he has met into the gorilla's world, but that only adds to the existing tension between Tarzan and Kerchak, the gorilla troop's leader. It becomes clear that the ongoing experiences between the jungle inhabitants and humans has not been good, and despite Kerchak's warnings, Tarzan's inexperience with his own kind leads to the intense climax of the story.
As I mentioned, the story of Tarzan has been told many times in many different ways over the years, but none of them have been quite like Disney's attempt. The animation medium, especially with the "Deep Canvas" technology, works very well with the subject matter, and the Disney animators really capture the essence of the environment, the characters, and their emotions. One of the other unique aspects of this movie worth mentioning is the fairly limited dialog and the resultant focus on visual character expressions and interactions. By doing this, Disney also put a heavy emphasis on the music soundtrack to help guide the story along. Musician Phil Collins provides the music and lyrics that assist many of the silent visuals in telling some of the critical plot developments. The concept works quite well with the excellent animation to help set "Tarzan" appart from other recent animated features.
In general, this is probably one of the best recent "traditionally" animated releases that Disney has produced. However, this movie may not be for everyone, especially very young kids. The movie's story pretty closely follows Burroughs' original storyline, so it tends to be dark, tensious, and violent at times. It is nicely balanced with some comic relief, but the overall tone of the movie is a bit more serious. So, just keep in mind that while it's not a comedy or a fun buddy-flick, like "Toy Story," it is still a very solid and enjoyable feature.
The big question when the "Tarzan" Collector's Edition (or CE) was released was, "Can it live up to the high expectations set by the fabulous 'A Bugs Life' CE?" I'd have to answer with a firm, "Yes!" The Collector's Edition provides plenty of extras and goodies to keep most people busy for several hours, and I really enjoyed digging through all of this great stuff. As for the Standard Edition, it's better than most of the Gold DVDs, but for what you get for the price difference, the Collector's Edition is a much better value for animation fans.
There isn't a ton of stuff on the first disc, but it is still a better DVD than the Standard Edition. There's a good commentary from the producer and directors that runs the length of the movie, and it provides several unique insights into the development of the film. The other very cool feature of note was the "TheaterVision" audio track for the visually impared. This feature provides a narrated description of what is happening on the screen throughout the movie. I was quite curious about this, since this was the first time I had encountered a feature like this, so I closed my eyes and tried it out on a few chapters. Sure enough, the narration actually provides a pretty accurate description of the images, action, and emotions displayed on the screen! The only minor problem that I had was that the narrator has to speak pretty fast to keep up with the constantly changing visuals, but after a little while, it was just like listening to a "book-on-tape."
Like the Collector's Edition of "A Bug's Life," the second disc is absolutely packed with cool stuff. Everything is broken down into fairly small featurettes, which may bug some people, but organizing the information in that fashion allows for more flexibility and speed in getting to it later on - you won't have to scan through a 60 minute documentary to find the original sketches of Clayton, for example... The character design featurettes are very nicely assembled, and the music related matieral is also great to watch and listen to. There is just too much to describe in detail!
I do have to admit that my favorite feature of the second disc is probably the "Deep Canvas" featurette and demonstration. You have to see it to believe it - each one of those leaves on that tree that Tarzan "surfs" down were digitally painted by hand! The process is amazing, and to see a new animation technology like this in its early years is very impressive. I'm sure it will eventually become a routine animation tool, but it is really cool to see how the concept and application were developed specifically for "Tarzan."
The Video, Audio and Interface...
As with the DVD for "A Bug's Life," the movie transfer for "Tarzan" was fully digital, meaning that the original digital animation files were directly used to generate the compressed digital files that are stored on the DVD. The result is an amazingly clear and detailed picture throughout the movie. The colors and brightness are very well balanced, and even on a regular TV, this DVD looks fantastic. Both DVD versions of this movie are enhanced for widescreen TVs, but even on a standard TV, the widescreen image does not require very large black bars on the top and bottom of the screen. The 1.66:1 aspect ratio is close enough to the 1.33:1 aspect ratio of a standard TV that the bars are pretty easily ignored. For comparison, "A Bug's Life" had a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the bars take up a pretty good chunk of screen real estate.
As for the sound, on the CE, you get three different language tracks in 5.0 Dolby Digital as well as a stereo commentary and "TheaterVision" narration - you can't ask for much more than that! Even on my Dolby Pro-Logic system or stereo through the TV, the movie sounded really good. However, a fairly significant audio flaw exists in the Standard Edition, but it only really impacts folks using Dolby Digital decoders. Evidently the front left and rear left channels are the same, so characters on the left side of the screen sound like they are in the wrong place. From what I've read, there are only a few scenes that the flaw is obvious, and the rest of the time it isn't too bad. Disney did not recall the affected Standard Edition discs, so they are still out there... the problem was fixed before the Collector's Edition was released.
The user interface is very simple and functional. Disc #1 has static background graphics with no background music or sound. However, the backgrounds of most of the menus on Disc #2 are animated with moving shadows on the pages of a book and changing pictures of characters, and it has some ambient, yet subtle, "nature noise" playing in the background as you move through the menu screens. Selecting movie chapters from the menus on the first disc is easy, and changing the set up to any of the other audio or video options is equally easy. The menus on the second disc have a bit deeper hierarchy because of the volume of material, but they are well structured and easy to navigate. There aren't any audio or video "options" to set on the second disc, so the menus simply direct the viewer to the various supplemental items. However, for quick reference, the DVD insert card has a menu map for the second disc to help you find the features you are looking for.
The Final Evaluation...
The movie is generally pretty darn good, but some may find the darker themes a bit much for younger viewers. However, the beautiful and, at times, unique animation combined with the guiding musical soundtrack provide a wonderful environment for the story. As for the video and audio, they are absolutely great, and they ought to look and sound fantastic on any system.
Just like I said in my review of "A Bug's Life" Collector's Edition, "My personal recommendation - just buy the Collector's Edition and forget the other version." It will cost a little bit more, but I don't think you'll regret it. There is just too much great stuff on this CE to miss it! Disney has two awesome Collector's editions under their belt, and the future looks very promising.
- Disc #1
- Disc #2
- Region 1 Encoded
- Disc #1
- Disc #2
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