Disney’s Tarzan receives a new Blu-ray edition, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of about 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc. The film has been given a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer.
On the whole the presentation isn’t too shoddy, retaining a sharp look throughout the image. The film is a blend of computer animation and classical animation but my understanding is it was assembled and completed digitally and all theatrical prints were made from this file. I’m taking a guess that Disney has sourced this transfer from that master so they kept the digital tinkering for the transfer here down to a minimum. They usually wipe out film grain from their animated features, I suspect to give it that “animation cel” look, which usually leads to some unwanted washing of fine details or a flattening of the colours. Since this film comes from a digital file they didn’t have to do that.
Since it appears there was no need to wipe out film grain fine details remain and are delivered in a fairly sharp and crisp manner. A lot of backgrounds were done on computer but still have a hand painted look, and the details in the trees and various plant-life throughout all pop out. Even the details on the foreground objects and characters are cleanly rendered, especially the line work, which is crisp and sharp along the edges.
Colours look particularly good, the greens especially, and artifacts aren’t too much of a concern, though some close-ups on the characters present some pixilation. Past this I didn’t notice anything else of concern and the transfer looks rather wonderful otherwise. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Disney ports most of the supplements from their 2-disc special edition DVD set of the film, though this isn’t saying much. That DVD was one of Disney’s first real special editions after previously licensing films to third parties like Criterion and this early attempt at a “loaded special edition” has a well-meaning but sort of freshman feel to it all this time later. It looks like there is a lot on here, but most of the material runs less than 4-minutes apiece and is simply EPK material.
Firstly, it appears no new material has been added and all of the video material here is sourced from the standard-definition originals. Deleted Scenes come up first, coming with an optional introduction by Bonnie Arnold, who simply explains the rough nature of the footage: they are all presented in storyboard form since the scenes were never actually animated. We get one actual deleted scene and then a couple of alternates, including an alternate opening where the fate of Tarzan’s parents is shown. There’s also an alternate ending. The alternate sequences are mentioned in the commentary and apparently these led to some real discussions during development and it is nice to see them here. The three scenes and the intro run about 10-minutes.
A section called Backstage Disney presents three features: From Burroughs to Disney, Early Presentation Reel, and Research Trip to Africa. In total they run about 7-minutes. The Burroughs feature is really just a quick overview of the character and how it was adapted for the film, while the presentation reel appears to be just a quick presentation of the concept art (more than likely shown to execs.) The research trip is just a quick piece about the animators studying animals (specifically gorillas) and vegetation in Africa, complete with some of the filmed footage that was taken. Altogether some of it is interesting tough ultimately has little value, a common problem with special features on Disney releases: the material moves too quickly, has little to no focus, and feels more like an advertisement.
And this issue is also found in the next section, The Characters of Tarzan. This is divided into six sections running about 3-4 minutes each, except for one about animating Tarzan, which runs 7-minutes. Five of the sections are about the characters: Tarzan, Jane and Porter, Kala and Kerchak, Terk and Tantor, and then Clauton. There’s a little about the design and the voices but that’s about it, and other than Tony Goldwyn no other actors show up for interviews, which would have been great (especially Brian Blessed!) The most interesting bit in here is the 7-minute section about animating Tarzan and his movements, which were based on a variety of animals.
Moving onto Animation Production there’s a 3-minute video going over the “Deep Canvas Process”, which refers to computer generated backgrounds that the classically animated (hand drawn) characters interact in. This allowed for more complicated camera movements and a better sense of space, depth and dimension. A 5-minute demo is also provided, going through the various stages. The demo focuses specifically on a test that was done before production even began, which shows an animated sketch of a young Tarzan leaping from a tree branch. The demo goes through each step from the rough wireframes of the background to the completed product. They also show the “painting” process and explain how the software used would remember how objects were painted so they didn’t have to go through and do it frame by frame. Though the whole section is short overall (8-minutes in total) I found it a fascinating process and shows how far Disney had come in terms of computer animation. They’ve actually been using computer animation in their classically animated films for many years prior to Tarzan, but it hasn’t always looked right. Hercules presented some computer animated monsters, but they looked so out of place from the rest of the film because they looked computer generated. I think one of the more brilliant aspects of Tarzan is that the backgrounds do look hand drawn and painted so they blend in so much better with the classically drawn portions of the film. They don’t call attention to themselves in a bad way.
Next there’s a Production Progression Demonstration, which is a simple step-by-step process in how a scene is animated. Using a 1-minute clip from the film (where Tarzan and Jane meet) we first see the construction of the scene through a Story Reel, which are storyboards cut together appropriately. It then moves to the Rough Animation, which is a presentation of the rough pencil sketches animated, followed by Cleanup, which delivers cleaner lines and less pencil marks, and then finally the Final Scene, which is the completed scene. In total this demonstration runs over 4-minutes and is probably only of interest to those that aren’t familiar with how a film is animated.
Intercontinental Filmmaking focuses on the global aspect of the production as a chunk of the animation was done in France, apparently because Disney wanted specific artists to work on the film to give it a certain look. The feature borders on useless at only 2-minutes. Story and Editorial then presents a few sub-features, the 3-minute Building the Story, which focuses on the development of the tale here from the original story and the importance of editing very early on in the process. There’s then a 3-minute Storyboard Comparison of the opening, using a “top/bottom” approach with the storyboards appearing at the top. Publicity then presents 3 theatrical trailers. Disneypedia presents a 6-minute video aimed at kids covering the various animals that appear in the film.
There is some interesting material but it’s all not very in-depth. The biggest surprise for me, though, is the audio commentary featuring directors Chris Buck and Kevin Lima, along with producer Bonnie Arnold. Disney commentaries range from uninformative advertisements to insightful and engaging. This one falls more in the latter. They cover a wide range of material and are surprisingly honest. A lot of their limitations stem from the fact they were making a film for the Mouse House, so they had to be really concerned about violence, but at the same time didn’t want it to be too light. They also tried to find ways to break the Disney formula as best as they could. They have some rather interesting stories about their actors (apparently Nigel Hawthorne actually wanted to be an animator so he a real interest in the film and what they did) and get into great detail about the difficulties in the animation process. What impressed me most, though, was the level of research that went into the film and the animation, and the three talk about the work in all of that area. It’s never condescending and very professional and as honest as one could hope. It’s a really good track and probably the best one I’ve heard for a Disney film.
There’s then a whole section on the film’s Music. There’s a 3-minute Making of the Music which is just a fairly basic interview with Phil Collins about writing and recording the music for the film. It’s simply an EPK. This is then followed by a just over 2-minute feature about translating the music to other languages, calling for Collins to sing in other languages, with a few quick samples. There’s then a number of music videos: Phil Collins performing “You’ll Be in My Heart” and “Strangers Like Me”, Everlife doing “Strangers Like Me” (pretty brutal,) a studio session of Collins and N’Sync (ha!) doing “Trashin’ the Camp”, along with 20-minutes’ worth of original song demos by Collins. If you’re a Collins fan you’re in luck, otherwise skip this section.
And that closes it. Unfortunately Disney felt sticking a bunch of promotional material on a disc would make it a special edition, so all we get is a lot of fluff that rarely gets in-depth into anything and it all feels like it’s trying to sell us a movie we’ve already bought. Thankfully at least the commentary and some of the material on the animation process proves rewarding. 6/10