Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Tarzan: Collector's Edition (1999)
Studio Line: Disney - An immortal legend. As you've only imagined.

Wild with exotic adventure and laughs, Disney's Tarzan is a magnificent adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic story of the ape man!

Raised by a family of gorillas, including the loving Kala and the wisecracking Terk, Tarzan develops all the instincts and prowess of a jungle animal. But with the sudden appearance of Tarzan's own kind, including the beautiful Jane, two very different worlds are about to become one.

Driven by five powerful songs from pop superstar Phil Collins, and starring the voice talents of Minnie Driver, Glenn Close and Rosie O'Donnell, Disney's Tarzan delivers incredible adventure as well as important reminders about acceptance and family!

Director: Chris Buck and Kevin Lima
Cast: Tony Goldwyn-Tarzan, Alex D. Linz-Young Tarzan, Minnie Driver-Jane Porter, Glenn Close-Kala, Lance Henriksen-Kerchak, Rosie O'Donnell-Terk, Brian Blessed-Clayton, Nigel Hawthorne-Professor Archmedes Q. Porter, Wayne Knight-Tantor
Academy Awards: Won for Best Song-"You'll Be In My Heart," 2000.
Box Office: Budget: $150 million. Opening Weekend: $34.361 million. Gross: $171.085 million.
DVD: 2-Disc set; Widescreen 1.66:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.0, French & Spanish DD 5.0; THX; subtitles Spanish; closed-captioned; single side - dual layer; 36 chapters; rated G; 88 min.; $39.99; street date 4/18/00.
Supplements: Disc One: The Movie
Audio Commentary Featuring Bonnie Arnold (Producer), Kevin Lima And Chris Buck (Directors); Tarzan Read-Along; Tarzan Interactive Trivia Game; Sneak Peak At Disney's Dinosaur; Descriptive TheatreVision For The Visually Impaired; DVD-ROM Special Features: Free Tarzan Action Game Playable Demo; Internet Links To Various Tarzan/Disney Websites

Disc Two:
The History And Development Of Tarzan; Introductions And Explanations By The Filmmakers; Early Presentation Reel; The Making Of The Music Of Tarzan; Original Phil Collins Song Demos; Phil Collins Music Videos; Behind The Scenes With The Voice Talent; Original Story Treatment; Storyboard To Final Film Split-Screen Comparison; Abandoned Sequences; The Deep Canvas Process; Glen Keane On The Animation Of Tarzan; Character Designs And Concept Art; Production Progression Demonstration; Trailers And Posters (Domestic And International)

Purchase: DVD | DVD Collector's Edition | Novel - Edgar Rice Burroughs | Score soundtrack - Mark Mancina, Phil Collins | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/A

Few movie studios have absorbed as much abuse as Disney, and much of it comes well-deserved. One of their less-than-admirable traits was to release movie-only versions of DVDs and only announce special editions of those titles after the basic copies were already on sale. The intent seemed clear: get the film's big fans - the ones who want it as soon as it hits the streets - to have to buy it twice. A number of movies - including Armageddon, Shakespeare In Love and A Bug's Life - were part of this form of the old bait and switch.

Much justified grousing greeted this policy, and it appears that Disney actually listened to the complaints. When they announced the DVD release of their recent hit Tarzan in November 1999, they mentioned both a movie-only version that would arrive in early February 2000 and a Collector's Edition that would hit in mid-April 2000. It's too bad the two couldn't street simultaneously, but at least it offered a step in the right direction.

I already reviewed the more basic version of Tarzan and I won't repeat my comments on the content of the film; any interested parties can read those opinions through this link. However, I do want to note that now that I've seen the film again - a third time overall - I feel more positively about it. I've always liked it, but my earlier review was more critical about it and stuck it firmly in the middle of the pack when compared to other Disney films. Whereas I would have given it about a "C+" rating at that time, I'd jack that up to about a "B" now. I'm not sure why I've increased my respect for it, but that's what happened, and it's a good sign for future viewings. Tarzan is a solidly entertaining and very well-crafted film.

The DVD:

The image on Tarzan's single-sided, dual-layered DVD has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As for the aspect ratio... well, that's a good question. Most sources report that it's 1.66:1, which provides a "windowboxed" image because of the anamorphic enhancement (since a 16X9 TV has a ratio of 1.78:1, that means any anamorphic DVDs for movies with 1.66:1 ratios have to provide small bars on the side to make the picture fill the vertical area).

Initially I disagreed with this 1.66:1 appraisal simply because the image on my 4X3 TV looked a lot closer to 1.85:1 than 1.66:1. However, my TV has a bit of overscan - as do most sets - so that apparently alters the observed dimensions.

As such, I'm now - finally - content to accept that the encoded image on the DVD actually is windowboxed anamorphic 1.66:1. However, you should know that unless your TV has virtually no overscanning, it won't look 1.66:1 on your set; I compared it to non-anamorphic 1.66:1 DVD The Nightmare Before Christmas and the latter picture showed much more mild matting. This means that when you watch Tarzan on your 4X3 TV, you're likely to see an image that's about 1.78:1; it most likely will not resemble other 1.66:1 pictures.

Anyway, with that out of the way, I can discuss the quality of this oddly-framed image. In a word? Exceptional. Sharpness looks absolutely immaculate from start to finish; I never noticed the slightest amount of softness or haziness at any point. Moire effects and jagged edges are also blissfully absent, and the print itself appears perfectly clean and smooth; I saw no signs of grain, speckles, scratches, nicks, hairs or other defects.

Colors are absolutely wondrous, and they display fabulous depth, clarity, and vivacity. Black levels seem deep and rich, and shadow detail looks appropriately heavy but not too thick. How good is this picture? I came very, very close to awarding it an "A+", and I don't do that very often.

The original "movie-only" DVD of Tarzan suffered from an infamous audio flaw. Essentially, much of the information that should come solely from the rear left channel also appeared in the front left speaker. This created a muddled effect on the left side of the spectrum, since the spatial definition often seemed weak; we hear a fair amount of information that comes (appropriately) from just the front left, but too much gets stuck in auditory limbo between the two left speakers; it's not a fatal flaw, but it's irritating.

The issue caused me to knock my rating of Tarzan's audio down to a "B" for that DVD. Happily, the Collector's Edition fixes the concern. I detected no signs of the flaw on the new DVD. The soundfield seems very engulfing and active, with a nicely-spatial image that offers well-placed sounds. The rears provide a high level of information and are active participants in the mix.

Sound quality seems excellent. Dialogue is consistently clear and natural; it seems well-integrated with the image, something that's not always easy to do in animation. The music seems pretty smooth and well-rounded, and effects are realistic and detailed, with some very good bass at times.

Oh, that reminds me of another controversial issue about the Tarzan DVDs. As you may have noticed, this isn't a 5.1 mix; it's 5.0, which means that no dedicated subwoofer channel exists. While the other audio issue clearly regards an error, as of yet there seems to be no consensus whether or not Disney messed up by not including that ".1" channel. Some folks say that it represents the original audio accurately, some say we lose bass because there's not enough sub action occurring. I'll skip opining on this one, because I really don't know which position is correct; all I can say is that the audio seemed pretty deep on my subwoofer-less system and there's been no official recognition from the studio that this may have been a mistake.

In addition to the afore-mentioned audio error, another controversial aspect of the first Tarzan DVD has been altered here. The movie-only release - as well as other Disney DVDs such as The Sixth Sense and The Aristocats - stuck a series of advertisements prior to the DVD's main menu. You had to manually skip past them if you didn't want to watch them, and their presence royally cheesed off a lot of folks. They didn't really bother me, but they're not an issue here, as no ads can be found.

Other materials from the first DVD do show up on the Collector's Edition, however; in fact, all of them appear, with the exception of the advertisements. As I go through the supplements on the CE, I will denote those that also came on the movie-only copy with an asterisk(*).

Tarzan is the second CE Disney have released for an animated title, following the terrific A Bug's Life package. That DVD remains my choice for the greatest DVD yet produced. Tarzan CE doesn't quite match up with the supplements in that collection, but they're pretty good nonetheless.

In this two-DVD set, most of the extras come on the second disc, but the first platter includes a few as well. The main attraction is a running audio commentary from producer Bonnie Arnold and directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck. It's a generally solid track as the participants do a nice job of relating the ins and outs of the techniques used to make the movie and a variety of other creative issues. It's pretty typical of other Disney commentaries as we hear mainly about the technical concerns but learn enough of other details that the track seems well-balanced. It's a solid piece.

Also on DVD 1 we find a preview for the upcoming Disney epic Dinosaur. The latter is mildly matted and appears with 5.1 sound, which is a nice touch. (The clip also comes with The Aristocats, but only in a 2.0 mix unfortunately.)

Two more features round out the first DVD. There's an "interactive trivia game" which presents 15 questions of varying difficulty, some of which are rather tough! It's nothing special but it's a little fun. There's also a "Tarzan Read-Along", which is basically a storybook with colorful art that's been put on the video. Obviously meant for wee ones, kids can either read the text on their own or have it read to them and they then follow along with it. It doesn't do anything for me, but it's a nice little touch, and one that will become more common; Columbia-Tristar's Stuart Little features a similar feature, and it looks like all future Disney animated DVDs will have them as well.

Actually, I spoke too soon when I finished off the first DVD. It also features some (*)DVD-ROM content. We get a demo for the Tarzan PC action game, which essentially plays as a Tarzan version of a Mario game; it looks like it might be some fun but isn't anything original, and it doesn't seem to be especially well-executed. The DVD-ROM segment also includes links to various Disney-related websites.

(While it doesn't count as a supplement, I noticed one other cool aspect of DVD 1: it offers "Descriptive TheatreVision for the Visually Impaired". This means that a narrator essentially tells the story like it was a book as the movie runs. I've heard that other DVDs have this - I may even own some of them - but I never noticed it prior to this. I flipped to it a couple of times and thought it seemed pretty cool. Hey, it might even be fun to tape the recordings and listen to them in other settings - it'd be like a movie in a Walkman! In any case, I think it's terrific that Disney have included it on this DVD. I checked around and it looks like vision-impaired folks mainly have to acquire TheatreVision-enabled materials through mail order - most of the movies are on videotape, and obviously the demand is too low for regular retailers like Wal-Mart to carry them - so it's nice that a mainstream product offers the feature; I hope more DVDs do so in the future.)

Now onto the meat of the supplements on DVD 2. These appear in six different areas, and I'll present them in the order in which they come on the DVD.

First up is "History And Development". This area consists mainly of some brief video programs. "From Burroughs To Disney" lasts two minutes and 40 seconds and essentially acts as a brief introduction to the topic. The "Early Presentation Reel" runs for two minutes and it presents a visual introduction to the movie that was used to sell the suits on the idea; it combines concept art with an early Tarzan song from Phil Collins.

"Research Trip to Africa" shows the animators and other creative folks involved as they visit Africa to get a better feel for the subject; this piece lasts three minutes. Finally, "History of Production" presents text notes that discuss the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, how he came to write the original book, and how the project came to Disney.

The next area we'll visit is "The Music of Tarzan. First we get "The Making of the Music", which is another general featurette. This two minute and 50 second piece offers interviews from songwriter/performer Phil Collins and score composer Mark Mancina and also combines film clips and shots of Collins performing the music. "Tarzan Goes International" functions along the lines of the usual "multi-language reel" except that in addition to hearing Collins sing "Stranger Like Me" in five languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish and German), we see some clips of this and we also watch some interviews with him. This program lasts for two minutes and 20 seconds.

Two music videos appear in this area. We find "You'll Be In My Heart", which is an odd clip. Collins does the usual lip-synching, but in an unconventional manner, with some high-tech effects involved. This video also barely relates the existence of the film; we see a rough sketch of Tarzan (the image shown on the cover of the DVD) as graffiti in one scene, and the human participants replicate the "hand-joining" facet of the movie, but these are almost subliminal forms of promotion. One could easily watch this four minute and 15 second clip and not know it has a connection to Tarzan.

Such is not the case with the DVD's other video, one for (*)"Strangers Like Me". This offers a three minute clip that pretty closely follows the usual Disney "video for a song from an animated movie" formula: lots of fairly blah shots of lip-synching intercut with many scenes from the film itself. Yawn. The video portion of this area ends with (*)"Studio Sessions With Phil Collins and 'N Sync", a two minute snippet that combines shots of those improbable partners recording in the studio with some interview clips. If you just can't get enough of those teeny-bopper boy bands, you'll love this piece. Me, I thought it was a bit dull.

Finally, the "Music of Tarzan" section includes "Original Phil Collins Song Demos". This starts with a one minute and 50 second introduction from music producer Chris Montan that briefly discusses the material we'll find. We then hear early versions of "Lullaby" (aka "You'll Be In My Heart"), "Son Of Man/Celebration", "Rhythm Piece" (aka "Trashin' The Camp"), and "I Will Follow" (aka "Strangers Like Me"). We also get one completely unused piece, "6/8 Intro". Each of these snippets lasted between three minutes and 10 seconds and five minutes, for a total of about 21 minutes. They provide a nice look at the creative process since we can hear the early beginnings of these tunes.

Up next is the "Story and Editorial" section. "Building the Story" is another general overview of the subject; it lasts for three minutes and 15 seconds and includes the usual interviews and production clips to tell us about the story process. "Original Treatment" presents the text synopsis that was used to initially sell the story, and the words are interspersed with some conceptual art in this area. It's interesting to read it and note where the film diverges - and doesn't - from the original plan.

"Storyboard to Film Comparison" offers the standard look at how the original conception of a scene compares to its ultimate execution. I'm not usually a fan of these, but Disney products are more interesting just because the boards are more extensive; it's fascinating to see just how close to the final movie their preparations are. This area presents the film's opening scene, with the boards on the top half of the screen and the finished movie on the bottom; it lasts for three minutes and 20 seconds.

Finally, "Abandoned Sequences" presents just that: potential parts of the film that weren't used. You rarely find actual deleted scenes from an animated movie just because the process is so expensive; they only animate what they eventually use, which is why the pre-animation process is so extensive and meticulous. As such, this area includes story reels for three unused segments. (Story reels film somewhat kinetic versions of the storyboards and accompany them with dialogue and effects.)

It starts with a one minute and 50 second introduction from producer Bonnie Arnold, who discusses the reasons these segments didn't make the cut. We get three sequences in all: "Alternate Opening" (two minutes, 15 seconds); "Terk Finds the Human Camp" (two minutes, 15 seconds); and "Riverboat Fight" (three minutes, 35 seconds). In the absence of actual deleted animation, these offer a great look at other directions the film might have taken.

Our next section is "The Characters of Tarzan, which focusses mainly on the visual evolution of the participants. Unsurprisingly, the first area - which examines the T-man himself - is the most extensive. "Creating Tarzan" follows the same general structure of all the other video featurettes we've seen, with interviews and production clips that discuss the basics of Tarzan; it lasts for four minutes.

Next is "Animating Tarzan", a slightly more extensive program that does a better job of detailing that process. It's narrated by lead animator Glen Keane and runs for six minutes and 40 seconds. This piece does a nice job of showing all of the issues that concerned bringing Tarzan to life.

The "Tarzan" area finishes with "Tarzan Designs". In this section we can advance through 123 still frames of character sketches and different possibilities for Tarzan; it's cool to see the various ideas for the character's appearance.

The rest of the "Characters" section details the other personalities and all follow the same template established in the "Tarzan" area except that all but "Supporting Characters" include just the "Creating (Whoever)" and "(Whoever) Designs"; none of them offer "Animating (Whoever)"; "Supporting Characters" just features "SC Designs".

Anyway, here are the details on these other sections. First is "Jane and Porter". "Creating Jane and Porter" lasts three minutes, while "Jane Designs" presents 30 drawings and "Designing Porter" gives us 23 of him.

"Kala and Kerchak" is next, with "Creating Kala and Kerchak" at three minutes. "Kala Designs" includes 23 sketches, while "Kerchak Designs" features 21 drawings.

"Terk and Tantor" shows up with "Creating Terk and Tantor" at - you guessed it! - three minutes. We then find 30 "Terk Designs" and 24 "Tantor Designs".

Up next is "Clayton and Sabor", which offers "Creating Clayton" at a whopping three minutes and 20 seconds. "Clayton Designs" features 21 drawings, while "Sabor Designs" presents 16. Finally, "Supporting Character Designs" - which includes personalities like Tarzan's parents, the baby baboon, and additional apes - gives us 23 sketches.

Next we move to the "Animation Production" section. This starts with "Concept Art", an area that presents a plethora of, well, concept art; we find 138 examples here. Then comes "Color Keys". Essentially, color keys seem to be small pieces of art that show the director of photography the ways colors should look in various scenes. We find 24 of them here.

"Layouts and Backgrounds" presents what it describes: examples of those parts of the animation. We get 24 screens of these, most of which depict layers that build on top of each other.

"Deep Canvas" involves the revolutionary new animation process used in Tarzan. Essentially, deep canvas lets artists create three-dimensional "sets" within the computer so the camera can fly all over the place and create a much more kinetic feeling. One program - "The Deep Canvas Process" - offers a two minute and 40 second overview of the technique. More detail appears in "Deep Canvas Demonstration", a five minute program that more graphically spells out the way it works.

"Production Progression Demonstration" gives you a reason to use your "angle" button on your remote. It presents the various steps through which animation must go: 1) The story reel, with its rough appearance and less-than-crude animation; 2) Rough animation, which offers very sketchy art; 3) Clean-up animation, which tidies up the previous step; and 4) Final animation, which is what we see on the screen. Each segment lasts one minute and ten seconds, and you can watch each in its entirety or just "angle" your way through all four as you please.

Finally, "Intercontinental Filmmaking" discusses an unusual aspect of Tarzan: it was created as a joint venture by Disney studios in the US and in France. As such, Tarzan was animated in Paris, while Jane was drawn in Los Angeles. This two minute program briefly covers how they made this collaboration work.

The final section is called "Publicity". "Poster and Ad Campaign" features nine screens of images, most of which are from US ads but we also see some foreign promos.

Three trailers complete the area. Trailer one goes for one minute and 55 seconds, (*)trailer two lasts one minute, and trailer three runs two minutes and 15 seconds. I found it interesting to note that the music is trailer two sounds a lot like the last few minutes of Collins' ex-bandmate (in Genesis) Peter Gabriel's "The Rhythm of the Heat" - I mean an awful lot like it. Well, if Collins is responsible for it, at least he's ripping off the most talented member of the band; I'd hate to hear him rehash that miserable Mike and the Mechanics material!

One unfortunate note about trailer three: it - like the other two - appears only with Dolby Surround audio. However, on the "movie-only" DVD of Tarzan, it included full Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Why the change? I have no idea; sloppiness, I'd assume.

Finally, we also get some decent production notes in the DVD's booklet. That's unusual for a Disney release; their titles virtually never include booklets, instead substituting a crummy two-sided card. (For the record, the ABL CE featured a booklet as well, but this one's better.)

Overall, these supplements make for a solid little package, but it's not quite up to the standards of the A Bug's Life CE. On Tarzan's DVD 2, we get 66 minutes of various forms of video features, with an additional 12 and a half minutes devoted to music videos and trailers. We discover more than 20 minutes of song demos, and we find about 540 still frames of various kinds of art.

I wanted to add up these components because I must admit the package as a whole feels vaguely underwhelming, mainly due to it presentation. If all those video programs had been combined into one 66 minute feature, I'd feel better about it, but when you run through each of them in this "dribs and drabs" format, it seems as though you hardly see anything; having information doled out a few minutes at a time can be a bit frustrating.

Nonetheless, the DVD does include some substantial supplements, though not on a par with ABL CE or some of the excellent laserdisc box sets Disney released in the Nineties. Of course, those laserdiscs sold for $100 and up, so while those packages were unquestionably superior in regard to supplements, any grousing I do about the "good old days" should be ignored promptly.

Tarzan isn't a perfect movie or a perfect DVD. However, it's pretty terrific on both accounts. The film itself seems to improve with extra viewings, and it looks and sounds absolutely fantastic on this DVD. Because of the way they're presented, the supplements can be frustrating at times, but they present a lot of solid information and give the viewer a strong understanding of the movie. With a list price of $40 - only $5 more than the cost of the more basic edition of the film - the Collector's Edition of Tarzan becomes an absolute must-buy DVD.

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