Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Reinhardt Klooss
Stars: voices of Kellan Lutz, Spencer Locke, Jaime Ray Newman, Trevor St John, Brian Bloom, Mark Deklin, Robert Capron, Jeff Burrell.
Tarzan is the most famous creation from author Edgar Rice Burroughs and has featured in numerous novels, comic book stories, tv series and films. He is, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the most filmed fictitious character, and has been played on the big screen by the likes of Olympic champion swimmer Johnny Weissmuller (who also played another popular hero in Jungle Jim), Buster Crabbe (who also played Flash Gordon), Jock Mahoney, Gordon Scott, Lex Barker, Christopher Lambert, etc, and on television by Ron Ely and Michael T Weiss. Created in 1912, Tarzan’s real name is John Clayton, and he is the son of Lord Greystoke.
In 1999 we had an animated version of the story from the Disney studios that was punctuated with pop tunes from former Genesis drummer Phil Collins. But with the Disney-held rights expiring, German filmmaker Reinhardt Klooss (2010’s Animals United, etc) has been quick to purchase the copyright and has turned out this new animated feature that is part origins story and part new adventure. He has also got the jump on the big budget live action feature directed by David Yates (of Harry Potter fame) which is due to hit cinemas next year. But this version of Tarzan is also a fairly dull and uninspiring take on the legendary character that combines motion capture animation with some modest CGI.
Klooss gives us a more contemporary take on the origins of Tarzan here, setting the story in the 21st century. Rather than being stranded in the jungle after his parents were killed in a shipwreck, here the young John Clayton is stranded in the jungle after his parents are killed in a helicopter crash. Clayton’s parents are wealthy entrepreneurs, leading an expedition that is searching the jungle for a meteor that apparently crashed into the earth some 70 million years earlier, thus destroying the dinosaurs. But it has remained hidden deep in the jungle for hundred of years and protected by an army of apes, until the expedition uncovers its location. The meteor is also the source of an unlimited energy supply. But a sudden storm erupts, causing the helicopter carrying the Clayton family to crash into the jungle. Only the young John Clayton survives. He is found and raised an ape named Kala, and the apes become the only family this feral child of the jungle has.
Many years later Tarzan is exploring his environment when he stumbles across the wreckage of the helicopter. He inadvertently triggers a rescue beacon, which brings another expedition to the area. This one is led by William Clayton (Trevor St John, from tv soapie One Life To Live, etc) the ruthless head of Greystoke Energies, who wants to find the meteor and use its energy for his own personal gain. It is up to Tarzan to try and protect it and his family of apes.
Tarzan finds himself pursued by heavily armed band of mercenaries while he tries to protect the meteor and also the beautiful and headstrong adventurer Jane Porter (voiced by Spencer Locke).
The script from Klooss and co-writer Jessica Postigo (The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bones, etc) remains reasonably faithful to the spirit of Burroughs’ stories. There is a more eco friendly tone to this reincarnation of Tarzan as well with its central plot of the greedy boss of an unethical energy company trying to destroy natural resources for profit and power.
This is probably the only way Twilight’s Kellan Lutz would ever be able to give an animated performance. Lutz has recently reinvented himself as an action hero in films like The Legend Of Hercules and the recent The Expendables 3, but here he mainly provides the voice of Tarzan. He has also provided some of the body movements and fluid vine swinging action of Tarzan through the motion capture process that has been used so effectively in films like Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
And some of the visuals are indeed quite impressive. Here the animation that creates the apes is excellent and life like, as is the creation of the lush jungle. The film also depicts the sometimes harsh, cruel and kill or be killed environment of the jungle.
But it is in the creation of some of the secondary human characters that the animation becomes a little less realistic. In a cinematic universe where Pixar and Dreamworks have set the standard for CGI animation, this new version of Tarzan looks decidedly substandard. It is also a little unclear at what audience Klooss is pitching his reimagining of Tarzan – some of the violence is a little too strong for younger audiences, and there is not enough humour or intelligent storytelling to fully engage older audiences.