Some technical video and audio flubs hold back Disney’s Blu-ray premiere of Tarzan

Disney’s “Disney-fication” of Tarzan works because it’s stunning. With an amalgamation process called Deep Canvas, this 1999 production harnesses the artistic willpower of a slowly outmoded traditional animation team and loads of computer savvy members. Tarzan, whether played by Johnny Weissmuller or presented in other animation, has never moved like this.

Barren-voiced Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn) sweeps through fully rendered 3D jungle settings. He slides, he glides; it’s magnificent. While Disney spent millions to make The Little Mermaid protrude in 3D, this is where they should have been tinkering. This movie was meant for it.

Such a design allows for uncharacteristically perilous action scenes, outing Tarzan early as the defender of his ape tribe when he becomes entangled in a war with the jungle cat Sabor. Their fight is as beautiful as it is a marvel of unchained camera work. The fluidity in matching the free flowing CG with hand drawn characters is staggering, and digitally painted backdrops appear the same as they have for decades.

Elsewhere, Tarzan is weary. Cartoon chimps rambunctiously babble on for comedic relief, straddling that line which leans over into Saturday morning material. Changes to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original are nominal in context unlike the usual warping of source material to fit something into family form. Story writing credits extend to a record breaching 24 (!) writers, making it appear as if this final product was frustratingly settled on because little here feels distinctively branded.

Outside of its art, this is a comfortable edition of Tarzan for a generation unlikely weened on this legend of the ape man. It’s spiffy, Phil Collins’ work is all over it, and the film surprisingly ignores the near necessity of constant music indulgence. Collins’ touch is more of mood setter than story intrusion, even if the film erupts from the opening frames with his vocals. Tarzan’s jarringly aggressive introduction is devoid of narrative seeds, instead clinging to the idea of montage to sweep away the mundane or tragic.

Proposing a “what if,” had Disney’s Tarzan been born from Walt himself, it likely would have been perkier and sharper. Of course, it wasn’t. Despite the setting of sometime in the late 1800s, this work has all the trappings of contemporary animation, in addition to the cliches of Dinsey-born cinema of its era. Wonky structure is somewhat lopsided as the villain’s plot seems to randomly appear (despite foreshadowing), leaving Tarzan himself to carry it all with his confused looks about civilization. It’s fun if soggy, but no doubt still one of the more gorgeous pieces to exit from the studio. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Absolutely stunning @ 52:18

Disney does not offer Tarzan Diamond Edition status, instead relegating it to a Special Edition as if to admit it’s off their unusually high par. With this Blu-ray treatment comes an admirable AVC encode which is ready to handle the rush of passing trees, vines, and other CG backgrounds. In action, bitrates peak to ensure the images maintain their quality. Nothing is lost.

Compression outside of the action is where the disc becomes worrisome. Certain brighter colors – tan areas on gorillas in particular – reveal excessive leftovers of the transfer process. When animation is in close, the swarm of artifacts is hard to miss. It’s a flashback to a previous generation of home media, if held to a few specific areas. Transfer work otherwise appears superb. A few possible encode errors show up during a panning shot across a waterfall (some black pixels flicker like print damage), but are so quick and negligible as to be barely be of mention.

The rest is exceptional. Tarzan’s use of firm Earth tones is consistent and lush, brought over to Blu-ray and absolutely trouncing the former DVD in terms of vividness. Greenery douses the screen in many shots, plus offering a multitude of variances. Character designs, especially Jane, are brisk in their contrasting choices. The yellow of her dress is marvelous.

Sharpness is impeccable, reaching down into pencil strokes to reveal their origins. Layers of fidelity protrude from the screen as is their intent. This persistent jungle environment feels as if it’s pushing ever deeper, and without the likes of DVD-level MPEG-2 to ruin it, Tarzan’s true depth can finally be seen in the home. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

DTS-HD 5 point 0. Yes, that’s a zero. Tarzan does not come with a discrete channel for the low-end. Released concurrently with Hercules on Blu-ray and its frown-worthy DTS-HD HR track, Disney’s current trend of audio mix-ups seems more like market testing rather than logical technical reasoning.

Ignoring the gaffe for a moment, Tarzan feels new. For a film so abundant in motion, it demands a perfectionist style when it comes to rendering audio. Between the channels, this disc manages to collect voices and gorilla calls to place in each. Tarzan’s jungle sliding is always aided by traveling sound, catching snapping branches or various hollers. Speaking of which, the iconic Tarzan call is pure spectacle as it reaches the rears to convincingly create the natural space. Phil Collins’ additions are also vivid.

Then we come to the .1, or rather the lack of. Stampedes lose their punch. The score is missing depth. Roaring gorillas are left without support. You’ll need to rely on your home theater system to pick up any slack and keep things rumbling on the low-end. Most receivers should, but that’s not a reason to exclude it in the first place. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Disney works to bring over nearly all of the two-disc DVD bonuses. Commentary is provided by directors Chris Buck & Kevin Lima, with producer Bonnie Arnold. Ten minutes of deleted scenes are offered with introductions.

Backstage Disney holds most of the content, if dated by today’s standards for extras. Six sections on character designs, four on animation (including multiple bits on Deep Canvas), two on story development, and one on the history of the project fill a rotund section of bonuses. A short educational piece labeled Disneypedia is basic, and a music section delivers videos along with accompanying featurettes. What’s missing? Art galleries. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Extras]


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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