Tarzan is sometimes considered to be the last major box office success of the Disney Renaissance before the studio's decline in the early to mid 2000s (sometimes known as Disney's Second Dark Age). Other critics consider Dinosaur (2000) to be the last film in the Disney Renaissance. At the time of its release, its production budget of $130 million made it the most expensive animated film ever made, until topped by Disney's own $140 million Treasure Planet in 2002. It was also the first Disney animated feature to open at first place at the North American box office since Pocahontas (1995).
It is also the last "bona fide" hit before the Disney slump of the early 2000s making $171,091,819 in domestic gross and $448,191,819 worldwide. Even so, the overall commercial and critical success did not match that of the early 90's Disney movies. Today, it is seen as a modest hit. However, it should be noted that some movie critics and animation historians consider this the first film of Disney's Second Dark Age; mostly due to the fact it was a departure from the musical format.
In the late 1880s off the coast of Africa, a young couple and their infant son escape a burning ship and land on the unexplored rainforests of Africa, where they craft themselves a large treehouse in which to live using salvaged ship parts in order to survive ("Two Worlds"). Meanwhile, a gorilla couple named Kerchak and Kala are traveling with the rest of their group when their infant son is killed and eaten by a leopard named Sabor. The next day, the still-heartbroken Kala hears a distant child's cry and, following it, stumbles upon the treehouse. She enters the treehouse to find it trashed, and blood covered paw prints (as well as the corpses of the couple) on the floor. Kala rescues the baby from a still-hungry Sabor and returns with it to the rest of the group, but Kerchak despises the boy for his appearance. Nevertheless, Kala decides to raise the boy as her own, naming him Tarzan ("You'll Be in My Heart").
A few years later, Tarzan makes friends with Kala and Kerchak's niece, a feisty young female gorilla named Terk. One day, Terk and two of her friends go to a pond where the elephants are. Terk tells Tarzan he can hang out with them if he gets a hair from an elephant being sarcastic hoping it would get rid of him, but Tarzan takes her seriously, so he tries to get a hair but he starts to cause a commotion with all the elephants including a young elephant named Tantor thinking Tarzan is a piranha. Eventually, he gets the hair and sends all the elephants (except Tantor) into a stampede right into the gorillas, almost killing a baby gorilla. He then befriends Tantor and goes on adventures with Tantor and Terk ("Son of Man"). Despite his inability to compete with the rest of the gorillas, Tarzan perseveres and eventually grows into a strong, capable, and gorilla-like grown man. When Sabor attacks the group again, Tarzan successfully fights with and kills her, earning Kerchak's respect. Tarzan has a scratch on his chest, almost into his heart, but he manages to survive. Suddenly, a gunshot rang out. Although Sabor was killed, a deadlier danger has only just begun.
Tarzan then notices a group of humans arriving: Professor and his daughter Jane, who have traveled to Africa in search of gorillas, along with their hunter guide Clayton. Jane accidentally separates from his father and Clayton, and then has an encounter with a horde of olive baboons, who chase after her. Jane runs towards a cliff and tries to jump to the other side, only to be caught mid-leap by Tarzan. She screams as she is taken to a branch, where she demands to be put down. Tarzan puts her down, but then the baboons get closer and she screams, "No! Pick me up!" The chase then rages on, but finally, Tarzan gets Jane to safety. Curious about Jane, Tarzan proceeds to examine her, at one point playing with her feet, tickling her. He then notices her gloved hand. Taking off the glove, Tarzan places his hand against hers, then puts the side of his head to her chest and listens to her heartbeat, and this is when he realizes that he and Jane are the same. He takes Jane back to her camp.
Meanwhile, Tarzan's friends, who are trying to find him, arrive at the human trio's campsite and proceed to destroy it, playing music on various human objects they find in camp ("Trashin' the Camp"). Tarzan returns Jane to camp but departs with the other animals before Professor Porter and Clayton arrive. In the jungle, Kerchak instructs the others to stay away from the campsite, but Tarzan protests, believing that the humans pose no threat. Tarzan secretly returns to the campsite and is introduced to the other men, and the three of them teach Tarzan about the human world ("Strangers Like Me"); nevertheless, Tarzan refuses to tell them the gorillas' location, fearing Kerchak's fury. A few days later, when the boat to England arrives, the trio, unable to find the gorillas, prepare to leave, and Tarzan is heartbroken to see Jane depart. Clayton tells him that they will stay once they find the gorillas. Tarzan, eager to have the humans remain, schemes with his friends Terk and Tantor to get Kerchak out of the way while Tarzan shows the humans the nesting site.
Tarzan leads the humans to the nesting site, but Kerchak returns, and when he sees the humans, attacks them. Tarzan is forced to put Kerchak in a headlock long enough for the humans to escape, and as a result alienating himself from the gorillas though mostly Kerchak. Sympathetic, Kala takes Tarzan to his biological parents' treehouse, and he decides that he belongs in the human world. Tarzan decides to depart for England with the others.
When Tarzan, Jane, and Archimedes board the ship the next day to return to England, Jane and her father are captured by the thugs (who have also turned on the captain and his officers); as soon as he steps on the boat's deck, Tarzan realizes what's going on, and after watching the thugs closing in on him, he narrowly avoids them by jumping over them and landing on one of the cages. Clayton's men start climbing the cage so Tarzan quickly jumps to another cage and then to the ship's mast. He briefly gets distracted after hearing Jane calling out his name as she's taken to the cargo room, but before he could even try to do something, one of the thugs takes hold of his right ankle, leaving him hanging from the mast. He shakes him off by kicking him in the face, but the rest of them are catching up with him quickly, so he climbs to the top of the mast and makes a huge leap from there, towards the ship's funnel, much to the amazement of his pursuers. He manages to reach its end and hang from it; however, he immediately finds out that the funnel is too slippery for the shoes he is wearing. He desperately tries to hold tight, but being unable to lay his own feet and keep them in place, his left hand slips away, and Tarzan is left horrified as he watches his right hand slowly slip away as well. He finally loses his grip and falls from a great height, crashing right into a pile of boxes. Tarzan slowly crawls out of the remnants of the shattered boxes, obviously in an enormous pain. Two of Clayton's men take advantage of this and rush towards him, grabbing him and slamming him against the ship's superstructure. He uselessly tries to break free from their grip, but he's just too weak and hurting from the fall. It is just then that Clayton appears on deck, firing his shotgun into the air and asking what was going on. Tarzan, still trying to break free, begs for Clayton's help, to which Clayton teases him (pretending he didn't know him and calling him "ape man") and slams him with his gun right in his stomach. Clayton then reveals that he wanted to find the apes so that he could sell them for a high price, and admits that he couldn't have done that if it wasn't for Tarzan telling him where the apes were. Tarzan realizes what he had done and then screams out loud in anger as he sees Clayton walk away and tell the thugs to lock him up with the others.
As the crew storms the jungle, Tantor and Terk hear Tarzan's scream in the distance rush to rescue him and they race off to stop Clayton and his men. In the ensuing battle (in which the gorillas are aided by various jungle animals), Clayton shoots Tarzan in the arm, grazing it, and mortally wounds Kerchak in the chest with his rifle. Tarzan and Clayton duel among the treetops until Tarzan wrests Clayton's gun away and smashes it. Clayton pursues Tarzan with a machete, trying desperately to stab and kill him, into a tangle of jungle vines, which Tarzan uses to ensnare Clayton, with one of the vines becoming looped around Clayton's neck. Clayton's wild slashing at the vines to free himself cuts the vines holding him in the air, but does not notice the vine around his throat, and does not cut it, causing him to fall and hang himself. Tarzan then finds the dying Kerchak, who apologizes to Tarzan for his behavior and accepts him as his son, but makes him, as the uncontestedly most capable of the younger generation, leader of the gorillas. Kerchak dies, and Tarzan and the gorillas mourn for his demise. Tarzan then leads the gorilla group to the new nesting grounds.
With Clayton's men captured and the crew released, Jane and Professor Porter prepare to depart for England. Tarzan reveals that he now plans to stay with the gorilla group. As the rowboat leaves the shore, Professor Porter encourages his daughter to stay with the man she loves, Jane agrees and jumps overboard and returns to the shore and is soon followed by her father; the three of them reside happily in the jungle among the animals and gorillas ("Two Worlds Finale").
- Tarzan (voiced by Tony Goldwyn) is a man raised by gorillas who finds out he is truly a human. He is the protagonist of the film.
- Young Tarzan (voiced by Alex D. Linz) Shown as having many difficulties, such as nearly killing the gorillas by causing an elephant stampede while trying to obtain an elephant hair, and feeling insecure because of his differences.
- Jane Porter (voiced by Minnie Driver) is a daughter of Professor Archimedes Q. Porter as part of an English explorer group. She's the first of the group to meet Tarzan and they fall in love. She is the deuteragonist of the film.
- Professor Archimedes Q. Porter (voiced by Nigel Hawthorne) is Jane's short-sized father and an eccentric biologist.
- Tantor (voiced by Wayne Knight) is a paranoid elephant and best friend of Tarzan and Terk. He has Terk step all over him most of the time, but when Tarzan is in danger he steps up and tells her off. He is the tetartagonist.
- Terk (voiced by Rosie O'Donnell) is a feisty, tomboyish ape who acts as a foster sister of sorts to Tarzan. She at first considers him a pest but later warms up to him, often helping and keeping Tarzan out of trouble with Kerchak. She is the tritagonist.
- Kala (voiced by Glenn Close) is Tarzan's foster mother, who rescued him from Sabor after losing her own baby to the leopard. She rears Tarzan as a man of the apes and lends a voice of compassion and understanding to Tarzan when he feels that he doesn't belong, explaining that Kerchak simply can't see they are one and the same.
- Kerchak (voiced by Lance Henriksen) is the xenophobic leader of the gorillas, who refuses to accept Tarzan as his son because he is human. He is Tarzan's foster father who gets brutally shot by Clayton.
- Clayton (voiced by Brian Blessed) is the guide of Professor Porter and Jane Porter, and the main antagonist of the film. He's a hunter who kills animals in the jungle. He is the second but most important villain compared to Sabor.
- Sabor (voiced by an uncredited Frank Welker) is the leopard who killed Tarzan's parents which left Tarzan orphaned, and Kala and Kerchak's child, which left them childless. Later in Tarzan's adulthood, she would later be killed by him (him being unaware of whom he was avenging).
- Darren T. Knaus
- Michael Perl
- April Winchell - Terk's Mother
The songs for the film were written and performed by the singer Phil Collins.
- Two Worlds
- You'll Be in My Heart (featuring Glenn Close)
- Son of Man
- Trashin' the Camp
- Strangers Like Me
To create the sweeping 3D backgrounds, Tarzan's production team developed a 3D painting and rendering technique known as Deep Canvas. This technique allows artists to produce CGI background that looks like a traditional painting. For this advancement, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the creators of Deep Canvas a Technical Achievement Award in 2003.
After Tarzan, Deep Canvas was used for a number of sequences in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, particularly large panoramic shots of the island and several action sequences.
Expanded to support moving objects as part of the background, Deep Canvas was utilized to create about 75% of the environments in Disney's next major animated action film, Treasure Planet, though the results were less stunning, due to the film's tighter painting style which could have been accomplished without such advanced software. Deep Canvas was designed to accomplish a very loose, brushstroke-based style without hard edges, but Treasure Planet's backgrounds were more hard-edged and clean.
An advanced version of Deep Canvas technique was originally planned to be used in Angel and Her No Good Sister, a Disney animated feature which features bluegrass music. However, since the project was canceled, it is unknown if Deep Canvas will be used on any of the new projects given the Disney/Pixar merger and the software Disney will have acquired as a result.
- 1999 Annie Award in the Technical Achievement in the Field of Animation category (for the Deep Canvas process).
- 2000 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for the song "You'll Be in My Heart" by Phil Collins.
- 2000 Academy Award for Best Song for the song "You'll Be In My Heart" by Phil Collins. (beating Toy Story 2)
- 2000 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
Home video and DVD
- Main article: Tarzan (video)
- Takeshi Kaneshiro, Charlie Yeung, and Sandra Ng provided the voices of Tarzan, Jane, and Terk respectively in the Cantonese language version of the film.
- Wakin Chau sang all the songs in both the Cantonese and Mandarin language versions of the film.
- The treehouse in Disneyland's Adventureland, was renamed Tarzan's Treehouse in 1999 (it originally was the Swiss Family Treehouse).
- Phil Collins sang the songs not only in the original English, but also in Spanish, German, French, and Italian.
- Tarzan's home, Deep Jungle, is also a playable world in the Disney/Square Enix video game Kingdom Hearts. Sora, Donald Duck, and Goofy had to work with Tarzan to save his world from the Heartless and Clayton. It didn't re-appear in Chain of Memories or Kingdom Hearts II, due to a contract expiration between Disney and the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate.
- Minnie Driver largely ad-libbed the breathless speech in which Jane tells her father and Clayton about meeting Tarzan for the first time.
- Tarzan has been adapted from its book many times over the years and is second only to Dracula in the adaptation chart.
- This was the second time Glenn Close was in any Tarzan film, the first being a non-Disney live-action film called "Greystoke", in which she dubbed Andie MacDowell's portrayal of Jane.
- William Cecil Clayton, the character in the book on whom the film's Clayton is (loosely) based, is Tarzan's cousin; Tarzan's birth name is John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke.
- All of the actors who voiced gorillas also provided their characters' own "gorilla" vocal effects.
- When the lightning flashes in the original movie, viewers can see Clayton's corpse's shadow in the flash, dangling from the vine-turned-noose for a brief moment.
- This makes Clayton's death scene one of the most graphic in Disney's animated history—characters are rarely shown to be dead because of injuries; they usually fall and are never seen again (Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast), or lie dead, but without a scratch on them (Mufasa from The Lion King and Megara from Hercules).
- Clayton is shown to be a much braver villain than Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, Scar from The Lion King, and Judge Claude Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame (to name a few), not fearing death when Tarzan is about to kill him (except when he fell and tried to pull the vine off his neck).
- Brian Blessed and the late Sir Nigel Hawthorne both did voices in the British film Freddie as F.R.O.7. as El Supremo (the big bad like Clayton) and the head of the Secret British Services, respectively.
- This was the third time dust was seen in a Disney movie. The first time was in The Lion King and the next was in Pocahontas.
- This is the final entry of the Disney Renaissance.
- Tarzan has an unusual body count of six primary or secondary characters (Kala's and Kerchak first son, Tarzan parents, Sabor, Clayton and Kerchak). Besides, Kala, Kerchak and Tarzan (twice) are injured along the movie, making Tarzan one of the "bloodiest" Disney movies.
- Towards the end of the film, when Kerchak passes away after being shot by Clayton, Tarzan does not shed one tear during the scene. It is one of the first deaths of a non-antagonist where no tears are shed.
- When it came to the score tracks on the soundtrack, almost every track had varied pieces. For example, the track titled, "A Wondrous Place" first used the part where Tarzan takes Clayton, Jane, and her father to see the gorillas, then used the musical score part where Kala has brought the baby Tarzan to the jungle and argues with Kerchak over the baby, and finally went to the part where Kerchak accepts Tarzan as his son, passes down the leading position down to him, and dies.
- Tarzan is the second Disney film whose title appears twice (once being in the beginning, and the other time at the end, just before the end credits), the first being The Lion King.
- Design Cameo: The teapot and cup that are seen in the scene where Terk and the other animals mess up the camp are of the same design as Mrs. Potts the teapot and her son, Chip the teacup, from Beauty and the Beast.
- One of the toys that fall out from Professor Porter's pockets when he is turned upside down by an ape resembles Little Brother, the dog from the previous feature Mulan.