Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Time for some more direct-to-video (DTV) fun with Disney! At this point, it simply seems like a matter of time before a theatrical film from Disney animation receives the small-screen sequel treatment. Yeah, flicks like Mulan and A Bug’s Life haven’t gotten DTV editions yet, but it won’t surprise me if such sequels eventually appear.
Now we find an extension of 1999’s hit Tarzan. The studio’s top-grossing cel-animated film since 1994’s The Lion King, the continuing adventures of its lead characters leave open plenty of room for more fun. Too bad little fun shows up in Tarzan & Jane, the movie’s bland DTV sequel.
Like this year’s Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Jane provides no real central plot. Instead, it consists of three different stories organized around a theme. As the jungle couple’s first anniversary approaches, Jane (voiced by Olivia D’Abo) tries to plan a celebration. She chats with Terk the gorilla (April Winchell) and Tantor the elephant (Jim Cummings) as they remember various experiences over the prior year.
Entitled “British Invasion”, in the first of these some old friends of Jane’s from England come to visit. They disdain her lack of civilization, and Tarzan tries to fit in with this group as he dons formal clothes for the first time. As the ladies picnic, some nasty felines chase them and they get lost in the jungle. Tarzan (Michael T. Weiss) searches for them, and all ends up happily as the women come to appreciate Jane’s new lifestyle.
For the second tale - the blandly titled “Volcanic Diamond Mine” - some opportunists arrive in the jungle. Johannes Niels (John O’Hurley) and his scummy associate Merkus (Cummings) come to cart away as many diamonds as they can carry. However, they need a guide to lead them to the site of these jewels: a local volcano. They hire Tarzan for the task; he accepts just because he believes that Jane wants a big diamond ring, so he agrees to accept a single gem as payment.
Of course, things go poorly. Niels and Merkus just plan to use Tarzan and then dispose of him, but when the volcano turns out to be active, they require his assistance to survive. Much action and adventure ensues.
For “Flying Ace”, the final tale, Jane’s childhood friend Bobby Canler (Jeff Bennett) arrives in his biplane, allegedly on a mission mandated by the queen of England. Tarzan immediately becomes suspicious of Bobby, but Jane and her father Dr. Porter (Bennett) seem excited to see their old companion. Since Tarzan refuses to interact with Bobby, he and Jane fight, and she believes he simply feels threatened and jealous.
Inevitably, Bobby quickly shows his true stripes as he eagerly searches for an old music box he gave to Jane years ago. Jane accidentally discovers that the music box actually decodes British secret codes and he needs it to sell to England’s enemies. Bobby kidnaps her and Tarzan comes to the rescue.
Compared to Disney’s prior DTV efforts, Tarzan & Jane actually comes across pretty well. However, that stands more as an indictment of the other films. These tend to range from bland but watchable to pretty stinky, and Jane definitely falls in the former category.
On the positive side, Jane includes some fairly well realized action sequences. The three vignettes certainly pour on the adventure, as each includes extended and lively action pieces. None of these seem tremendously invigorating or exciting, but they provide some fun moments.
Some of the artwork also easily surpasses the usual ugly animation seen in DTV affairs. Actually, the three vignettes themselves look surprisingly good. The animation seems fairly stiff, but the visuals come across as vivid and rich. These moments don’t approach feature animation standards, but they look quite solid for the most part.
The visuals decline substantially during the linking sequences in which Jane ponders her anniversary. Those presented good colors but looked much stiffer and awkward. The characters also blended poorly with the backgrounds; actually, they usually seemed like paper dolls placed on the artwork. This becomes especially problematic given the fairly high quality of those backgrounds; they often seemed quite lush and elaborate, which just made the character animation even more flawed.
Still, the project maintains a quality stronger than most other DTV fare I’ve watched, and it seems more enjoyable as well. Unlike most of its siblings, however, it includes none of the original film’s voice talent in their prior roles. No Tony Goldwyn as Tarzan, no Minnie Driver, no Rosie O’Donnell, no Wayne Knight - no anybody! No other Disney DTV flick that related to a modern movie failed to obtain at least one original cast member; even Buzz Lightyear of Star Command landed Tim Allen, and most of the others used multiple returning actors.
Because of that fact, it seems surprising that Tarzan & Jane is probably my second favorite of the Disney direct-to-video movies I’ve seen; only the fairly winning Buzz tops it. That remains faint praise. I rate Jane so highly among this crowd because so many of the others are terrible, while this one’s merely mediocre. After dreck like Cinderella II and The Hunchback of Notre Dame II, I’ll happily take mediocre, however.
Trivia note: Seinfeld fans may recognize the voice of Niels. John O’Hurley played J. Peterman on that show. Ironically, that character also traveled the world in search of goods, though he wasn’t quite as evil as the Disney baddie.