Disney animated movies have some pretty wonderful messages to teach us. The truthfulness of dreams, the circleness of life, the heigh-hoeness of putting in a full days work, and the value of having big ears are just some of the more important lessons imparted by these sage films. But one vastly under-appreciated Disney film swings above the rest with one of the best messages to convey, not to mention a kick-ass soundtrack.
Tarzan’s School of Good Values and Good Living is in session.
Tarzan is a perfect mixture of adventure, fun, and Phil Collins. The story is well told and the characters enjoyable (though I might have been fine if they left out the Rosie O’Donnel voiced Terk). It’s visuals are sleekly stunning and its animation is mind blowing with its fresh new look. To this day I can remember the pure joy I felt the first time I saw its trailer (one of Disney’s best), with Tarzan surfing his way through the trees at thrilling speeds.
Re-watching the movie now, I’m equally as impressed by how well this movie pushes its moral without eye-rolling corniness or obviously forced plot points, amidst a whole lot of action. Along with everything else it delivers (including an enviable and impossible not to try and imitate jungle bellow), there is much to be learned from Tarzan.
Simple put, following the insights from Disney’s Tarzan can make us all better humans.
1. Being In-Shape is Awesome
Tarzan is ripped. Maybe too ripped for some, but not for me. The lesson here kids is if you want to attract the opposite sex, avenge your loved ones, wrestle gorillas, and defeat evil people with guns you need to stay physically active, just like Tarzan. So get off that couch (after you finish watching Tarzan) and go climb a tree.
Really, if this movie teaches us anything, it is that the greatest gift you can give any child is to abandon them in a wild jungle. Guaranteed the person that walks out of there will be better for it, and incredibly in-shape.
Cue self-improvement montage to get jungle muscles.
2. Differences are Only Skin Deep
Tarzan thinks he’s an ape, acts like an ape, and wants to be an ape. Yet the New Jersey-accented Terk, her buffoon friends, and their troop leader – the close-minded and less cool version of Mufasa named Kerchak – constantly keep him down. Luckily Tarzan learns that the best way to defeat racism is by killing something.
But before you can break down gorilla barriers with cool fight sequences, you must first accept yourself. And thanks to his adopted gorilla mother, Tarzan, along with the rest of us, are taught the true meaning of difference.
Tarzan: My heart.
Kala: [puts Tarzan's head to her chest] Come here.
Tarzan: Your heart.
Kala: See, they’re exactly the same.
Cue self-improvement montage to overcome prejudice.
3. Love Conquers All, Even the Jungle
There is only one king of the jungle and that king is love. After all, what place could be more romantic to fall in love than the hot sweaty jungle? There are so many pearls providing the wisdom to be wise here, like don’t search for love, it will find you during a scientific expedition. Or, the best way to gain someones trust is to throw them around high above the ground. Or, you know you’ve found the one when your hand looks like theirs.
This movie teaches us what true love is, and just how powerful it can be. Sure, love can be hard at times, like when poachers get in the way by trying to cage your family and sell them for profit, but in the end it will always triumph. Love rules them all, even Tarzan.
Except if there’s a leopard with sharp teeth around, in which case love can take a backseat.
Cue teaching montage to learn the ways of love and Victorian Era England.
4. Phil Collins Also Conquers All, Especially the Jungle
You can’t have a great Disney movie without great Disney music, and despite some bad press the Phil Collins-led soundtrack for this film may have unwarrantedly received, it perfectly suits Tarzan and my eardrums. His songs have some pretty wonderful messages that although might not reach the epicness of The Lion King or catchiness of Aladdin, deepens and enriches the film’s tone and are as positive and affirmative as anything I’ve heard in a Disney movie. These songs are upbeat, uplifting, exciting, inspiring, and exactly how I imagine life in a 1990s jungle would sound.
Two Worlds – Phil Collins
Phil Collins has a built in ability to take everything he sees and with the soft soothing melodies of his voice reach in and grab right hold of your heart so that you’re never quite the same. It’s something mysterious, so much so it seems that he has….I don’t know what he has but it’s awesome.
The lesson here is that we would all be better off with a little more Phil Collins in our lives.
Cue opening montage to showcase the vocal powers of Phil Collins and set the stage for all that follows.
5. Family is the Most Important Thing
Families can do anything. They can survive shipwrecks to build awesome tree houses. They can adopt orphaned human babies and turn them into gorillas. They can chase crazy British women who won’t give their drawings to their children. They can encourage their offspring to abandon civilization and live in the wild where they will undoubtedly be eaten by an animal. They can pick bugs off one another’s heads. Really, there is nothing family can’t do.
Kala once again puts it all into perspective, and shows us where faith is best placed.
Tarzan: No matter where I go, you will always be my mother.
Kala: And you will always be in my heart.
Moral of the story: No matter where you go, your family will always be with you. So don’t betray it.
Cue satisfying final montage to bring families together.
The only lesson probably missing from Tarzan is one of female empowerment. But that’s what Brave, Frozen, The Princess and the Frog and Mulan are for. Besides Jane isn’t too shabby. I’d like to see Cinderella try and put on a loin cloth outfit and swing from the vines with the skill of Jane.
Tarzan Tangent: Speaking of swinging, why Disney hasn’t created a cooler ride for this film in their amusements parks is beyond me. Yeah, there’s the Treehouse in Disneyland, but they’re not fooling anyone – it’s basically just a reconverted Swiss Family tree. It seems like a no-brainer to create a jungle swinging roller coaster, or better yet, zip-line ride, featuring Tarzan in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. Surely it would sell more tickets to a not as popular park not to mention DVDs for a mostly forgotten film. Just saying.
There is more to Tarzan than life lessons, vine riding, and Phil Collins, but you’re probably better off watching the movie to find out what they are, and then afterwards asking age-old questions like: Is Tarzan really the brother of Elsa and Anna? Or, is Jane really a descendant of Belle? And above all else, why is this fine film so underrated?
One thing is for sure, Disney closed out a decade of animation brilliance with one of its best in Tarzan, not to mention wisest, and we are all the better humans for it.