Saturday, April 19, 2014



I am abashedly apologetic about my inability to keep all my fans out there in the dark up to date on my fabulous Hollywood life and career, but things have really been heating up here at Chateau Maine and I've barely had a moment to myself, much less to view films and review them for all of you who impatiently await my every move in the world of high class entertainment. The big project, of course has been my work with AOL (The American Osteoporosis League) to raise awareness about this dreadful illness. My creative team has designed an absolutely divine billboard with me tapping away in an American flag design leotard and tailcoat; it's inscribed 'Tone Your Bones! Never Worry About Supercalcifragilisticosteoporosis Again! Exercise the MNM Way!' I'm trying to get a slightly bigger budget to add some animation features so my feet really do tap, especially in a strong breeze.

A second design is being unveiled soon somewhere down in Orange County. This one will promote Lesterene's new brand of Super Organic Dairy Ossifier, SODOmints - for SODOmight! Madame Rose, my publicist, tried to get me to put the test billboard in West Hollywood, but I thought that would be silly. All those handsome young men have plenty of trabecular bone in place. We need to take our advertising to our target audience. Billboards need to sprout throughout Costa Mesa, West Covina, and Tarzana.

Speaking of Tarzan, I had a free moment the other evening so I decided to play catch up with some of the Disney films of the last few years which I had yet to be able to see. My first selection was Tarzan, Disney's offering from the summer of 1999. I've always had a fondness for the story, ever since I played Cheetah in the ill fated Broadway musical version a few years back. (The show was not well received, but I still get fan mail about my famed banana ballet in the second act.)

Disney's version of the classic adventure yarn, first published in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, plays rather fast and loose with Burroughs' original conceptions while keeping a few of the classic elements of the story. In this version, a silent prologue, set to one of a number of indistinguishable Phil Collins' songs, introduces us to a marooned and nameless European couple, escaping from a ship on fire. They proceed to build the Swiss Family Robinson's tree house as a simple home in an idyllic paradise; tragedy soon strikes when both mom and pop are conveniently offed by a jungle cat (well off-screen so as not to upset the gentler members of the audience). This leaves a baby behind to fend for itself. The baby is soon found by the gorilla, Kala (voice by Glenn Close) who adopts him as her own, her baby having also been offed by the same nasty cat.

Tarzan grows up amongst the gorilla family, where he is disliked by his putative father, Kerchak (Lance Henriksen inside an echo chamber) and where the young gorillas with whom he is associating all act like Santa Monica boardwalk skaterbois. He eventually makes friends with Tantor, a neurotic elephant (Wayne Knight) and Terk, a gorilla of indeterminate gender (Rosie O'Donnell who has also become of indeterminate gender lately) and, in a series of not terribly amusing vignettes and montages, grows to manhood. The adult Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) eventually meets up with a safari team who have come to study gorillas consisting of Professor Porter (Nigel Hawthorne), the usual ditzy Disney older man, his daughter Jane (Minnie Driver in a campier than usual British accent), and Clayton, the requisite villain (Brian Blessed). Tarzan meets Jane, there's some unconvincing plot about studying versus capturing the gorillas, an eleventh hour fight between the good guys and the bad guys and the expected happy ending.

The Disneyfication of the Tarzan mythos is the undoing of the story. What makes the tale relatively timeless is the culture clash and the sexual attraction between Tarzan and Jane as Jane sheds her clothes and her veneer of civilization for her wild man. Neither of these themes is going to be of much interest or appropriate material for the family audience and their replacement with lots of cute bits for the animals and a series of extended chase scenes means there's no meat to the story and no reason to sit through the film. The decision to use the music as underscoring, rather than for character development, also doesn't help. All of the songs sound more or less the same, with Phil Collins crooning unintelligible lyrics over a West African percussion section. The only musical moment that works is a fun riff on hip-hop where the young gorillas explore, and inadvertently trash the safari camp.

The animation, per usual for a Disney prestige project, is top notch and some of the backgrounds and effects animation, especially of rain and waterfalls, is exquisitely lovely. Unfortunately, the characters fall a little too much into Disney type casting. In order to appeal to young boys, Tarzan himself, has been made to look like an X-Sports star and there's scene after scene of him sliding along tree boughs or diving through foliage that looks like a green version of snowboarding or skateboard stunts. He also seems to have visited Jose Eber of the jungle for that lovely windswept look. Jane is just another spunky Princess and has little personality. Most of the rest of the cast is comic relief and only Glenn Close emerges with her dignity intact; her ability to do a lot with minimal material suggests the mother/child scenes from Dumbo, an infinitely better film which also included elephants and apes.

The creative team are the same ones that brought us Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, another highly inappropriate piece of material for children's animation treatment. I have not been able to locate their next Disney project, but I assume Disney's version of Kafka's Metamorphosis will be coming soon. I feel this one is for Disney completists only.

Surviving photograph. Cliff diving. Gratuitous elephant fart joke. Gratuitous piranha joke. Abandoned shell casings. Abandoned gorilla nests. Dropped shoe. Horde of baboons. Magic lantern slides. Victrola recordings. Gratuitous Mrs. Potts cameo.

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