Of late, formula has seriously dimmed the luster of Disney's animated musicals, even the good ones, such as Mulan. You know the drill: establishing shot, song about being independent, shot about finding a kindred spirit, song about finding a kindred spirit, shot about the need for family, song about the need for family. Circle of life, colors of the wind, blah blah blah.
No wonder the livelier Disney flicks with computer-generated imagery — Toy Story, A Bug's Life — stole thunder from the old-guard joys of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.
Tarzan, however, is a spirited return to form. The script is light on messages, and the five songs, written and sung by Phil Collins, comment on the story without stopping the action cold to do so.
Best of all is the animation; a process called Deep Canvas allows Tarzan to look like a surfer dude riding the vines in a way-cool 3-D video game. The story has drama — a shipwreck, a leopard attack, a heroic rescue and romantic conflict. And the voices are beautifully nuanced. Tony Goldwyn invests Tarzan with strength and sweetness, and Glenn Close finds the heart of Tarzan's gorilla mother, while Lance Henriksen inspires fear as the gorilla patriarch. On the lighter side, Rosie O'Donnell makes a raucous big-gorilla sister, especially in the "Trashin' the Camp" number. And Minnie Driver gives Jane a throaty, teasing allure that suggests nights in the jungle won't be Disney dull for the T-man. Propelled by Mark Mancina's percussive score, this Tarzan swings.