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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK

Tarzan leaps to Disney's rescue

Tarzan proves that Disney still has what it takes

By BBC News Online Entertainment Correspondent Tom Brook

Walt Disney is having a difficult year. Profits are down, stocks are depressed, mechandise sales are flat, and the company's been locked in an embarrassing legal showdown.

But now there is some good news. Disney's new animated feature Tarzan has opened here in the States with several strong advance reviews and positive word of mouth in its favour.

If Tarzan performs well at the box office it could do a lot to rehabilitate Disney's image, which has certainly suffered from the Eisner-Katzenberg row.

[ image: Katzenberg: Looking for a multi-million dollar settlement]
Katzenberg: Looking for a multi-million dollar settlement
The litigation between chief executive, Michael Eisner and his former studio chief, Jeffrey Katzenberg, has forced Disney - a notoriously secretive company - to air its dirty laundry in public.

Katzenberg is claiming that he is owed almost $600m in bonuses generated by projects he masterminded during his 10 years at Disney.

His tenure at Disney coincided with a renaissance of the studio's animation division that saw huge profits from mega-hits such as The Lion King.

It has been alleged that Eisner refused to pay Katzenberg the monies owed to him because of personal animosity.

Disney already lost the first round in this highly public battle when the presiding judge ruled that Katzenberg did not waive his rights to bonuses by leaving the company before his contract expired.

Over the next few weeks the courts will attempt to determine how much compensation he is owed.

Tarzan might help soothe Disney's corporate ego, and help fill its coffers, as all the sordid litigation details are worked out.

Tarzan swings into action

[ image: Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Tarzan 75 years ago]
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Tarzan 75 years ago
Edgar Rice Burroughs' adventure classic Tarzan of the Apes was published in 1914.

Since then it has been made into a movie no less than 47 times, but Disney's new offering represents the first full length animated re-telling of this tale of a man brought up among apes.

It is not likely to be a hit on the scale of The Lion King, but it is a strong work and much more vibrant than some recent Disney efforts like Hercules amd Mulan.

The animation has a 3D feel to it and you get the sense that you are walking through scenes with the characters.

[ image: Driver gives the film a gutsy, British twist]
Driver gives the film a gutsy, British twist
The casting of voices is excellent, particularly having Minnie Driver as the gutsy, almost-feminist Jane who has a strong spirit and good sense of humour.

The movie has an edge too, poking fun at Victorian era British colonialism in Africa with Brian Blessed delivering the correct tones of a hunter who is a narcissist as well as an imperialist.

Original songs

None of the characters burst into song in this animation. Instead, Phil Collins does nearly all the singing for them.

There are five original songs, and Collins performs four of them.

He has laboured for four years on this project and he seems to care deeply about the film's inclusive non-violent message.

[ image: Brian Blessed: The voice of Tarzan baddie Clayton]
Brian Blessed: The voice of Tarzan baddie Clayton
At the premiere he conceded: "There's always a political correctness with a Disney film" but he thought what was wonderful about Tarzan was "you don't get people's heads blown off and there's a very strong story, and it says all the right things about family".

Several other film studios have ventured into animated film in recent years, but Tarzan seems to prove that Disney definitely still has the edge in mixing state of the art animation with good storytelling and catchy music.

Although the film will bring a few smiles in Disney headquarters, it is not going to solve the company's need to generate new classic characters like Snow White and Mickey Mouse who have for decades driven the merchandising business but now appear to be growing stale.

By contrast, Tarzan definitely has vim and vigour, but he does not quite have the feel of a new classic Disney icon.

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