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Disneys Tarzan | review | game | Lollipop
(Activision for the Nintendo 64)
by Brian Johnson
It's hard to remember that once upon a time Disney's animated movies were more than vehicles for Elton John's washed up composing skills or marketing machines for fast food juggernauts like McDonalds and Burger King. That they weren't just cookie-cutter story lines, pressed out by the deft stroke of studio executives looking to churn another hit out of the Disney machine. It's hard to remember the beautiful, hand-drawn Victorian backgrounds of Lady and the Tramp, the wonderful songs by Louis Prima in the Jungle Book, the psychedelic, and favorite of all college students on magic mushrooms, Fantasia. It's hard to remember that Disney was once just a studio and not the sometimes ascribed "evil empire" whose omnipresence makes the sun seem like it's wearing Mickey mouse ears. But it's not hard to forget how the Disney films of yesteryear made you feel as a child.
Disney has been suffering from a hangover since the defection of former studio chief and cartoon Lazarus, Jeffrey Katzenberg. It was Katzenberg, who, after taking over as studio head in 1984, resurrected the modern Disney cartoon movie. 1989's highly successful Little Mermaid began in earnest the rejuvenation of the modern Disney movie. This also marked the rise of Alan Menken, the composer who's honored yearly at the Academy awards for his best original songs written specifically for Disney films. Part plot, mostly musical, the Little Mermaid began a string of mega-blockbusters that captured the public's imagination around the world. Followed by the excellent Beauty and the Beast in 1990 and Aladdin in 1992, a trend began. While Beauty... and Aladdin hid their basic formulaic plot lines, movies like Lion King were simply just cookie-cutter story arcs set in the Mermaid model. There's the one-dimensional protagonist, the predictable love interest, and the excruciatingly cutsey-poo wise-cracking sidekick. But who am I to argue with success?
Bringing us into the present, 1999's Tarzan had all the pedigree of another Disney hit, including an original song by the follicle-challenged Phil Collins who won an Academy award for his song "You'll Be in my Heart." Along with the massive multi-media marketing campaigns, Disney puts out the inevitable video game. While these games are made primarily for children, occasionally an adult can find some joy in these games.
Tarzan the game is a quest in which the player must take Tarzan from childhood to manhood as he vows to become the "best ape ever." Part modern-day Pitfall, the game encompasses 13 levels in which Tarzan must swing giant vines, climb enormous trees, surf tree trunks and avoid stampedes, being knocked over by flying fruit, and other assorted jungle oddities. The game is rendered in two-dimensional graphics, and the camera follows along as you go zooming in and out automatically. While the graphics are impressive, some children may find it difficult to adjust to the delicate balancing acts that Tarzan must perform. I often found myself falling off the edge of ravines, so I can imagine the reaction of a frustrated nine-year-old.
In closing, it all adds up to another cash cow for the mouse. The movie was a hit, the song won an Oscar, and the kids went home happy to play Tarzan on their Nintendo 64. Impressive graphics and mildly-challenging Tarzan will either bring out the kid in you, or keep your children asking for money to buy it.