The Other Side of Animation 46: Tarzan (2013) Review

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With a new film released about the man among apes, Tarzan, called The Legend of Tarzan, I decided to get on the bandwagon, and review something, well, Tarzan related. Since I review animated films, I tried to find one that wasn’t the classic Disney film. So, what I did find was a CGI animated film from Germany. Yeah, we are heading into some weird and horrible territory. Tarzan was released back in 2013 in Russia (odd, since it’s a German-animated film), but made it stateside, and everywhere else in 2014. The film was directed by Reinhard Klooss, and animated in motion-capture. I remember nothing about this film’s marketing, Not even a trailer or one ad online. All I have read about this film are the reviews, and boy, the reviews were not kind at all. So, do we have one of the worst animated films of all time? Let’s find out.

While the film does follow a bit of the story of Tarzan, with his parents getting killed off, and Tarzan now being raised by gorillas, that’s pretty much any similarities this film has with the original source material. What does the plot follow in this film? Well, during the age of the dinosaurs, a meteor crash-landed into Africa, and holds a limitless and powerful energy inside it. Skip to modern day where Tarzan (this time, he is American and not British, for some reason), played by Kellan Lutz, meets a bumbling scientist and his daughter, Jane, played by Spencer Locke. They team up and have to stop Clayton, played by Trevor St. John, from destroying the environment and obtaining that meteor. Can Tarzan save the day? Can this film waste my time and give me time I will never get back?

Boy, where do I start with this film? I seriously had a hard time writing this because there is way too much wrong with this movie to put into a nicely organized line. I guess I will start out with the animation. This film was advertised that it was made heavily using motion-capture technology. Listen, this kind of technology is still very impressive to me, but it doesn’t seem like a big deal, since this was made a few years after the closure of Image Movers Digitals, the studio behind films like Polar Express and Beowulf. To be frank, this kind of technology doesn’t really make for great animation for films. Sometimes you can work around it, but it always looks clunky, and the character models clash with the more realistic designs and movements because of the motion-capture. The human character models are too cartoony looking, and the proportions never look right. Sometimes the scenery views are pretty to look at, but then you have to go back to 2013 video game CGI models. It’s extremely distracting. I don’t mean to draw parallels to the Disney Tarzan film that came out 17 years ago, but the Disney film used the medium to its advantage. You remember how cool, fluid, and fun it was to watch Tarzan slide, slip, ride, and swing on vines and trees, due to the animators taking the movements from extreme sports athletes, and how they would make Tarzan look like he was surfing/skating on those vines? It was freaking amazing. Unfortunately, due to the limitation of motion-capture or lack of creativity, watching the somewhat ugly character models move is boring and off-putting. The reason why I harp on this film’s character design so much is because they use rather realistic animals, and they don’t mix with the Barbie-dollish look of the characters. It worked in films like The Polar Express and Beowulf, because they had consistency with all the characters.  The character models also don’t have very expressive eyes, and look dead half of the time. Why does it seem so hard to animate eyes?

Another giant problem with the film is the setting. Why modernize the setting with helicopters, automatic rifles, and mp3 players? It was timeless with the original setting. Why did they make Tarzan American? I mean, really? Why was his nationality changed? Why is there a sci-fi and environmental element to the film? It really makes no sense, nor does either element have any reason besides being the McGuffin of the story. Seriously the meteor really has no reason to be there. What was wrong with this story being just about Tarzan growing up among the gorillas? Why is there an evil gorilla at the beginning? What was wrong with the relationship between Tarzan and the father gorilla? Another incredibly amateur-hour story bit they brought in was these guardian monkeys that are in this movie that protect the area around the meteor. Well, technically, that’s wrong. They don’t live in the area where the meteor landed, but in the outskirts of the jungle surrounding the meteorite landing area, and they do nothing throughout the entire movie. They don’t really protect anything, and just sit there. Also, did the creators of this movie ever go to Africa? Because Africa in this film is like the most bipolar country, apparently since it not only has a barren wasteland where the meteor landed, but active volcanos, and large snow-covered mountains. And yes, I did look it up and see that in some parts of Africa, there is snow, but apparently it’s not enough for skiing, which is the complete opposite of this movie. Oh, and apparently, Africa has cassowaries (big, flightless birds) even though they are not native to Africa, and giant monstrous vine creatures, made due to the energy the meteor is giving off.

I don’t usually want to sound harsh, but these actors for this film were terrible. I now swear that Kellan Lutz is box office poison, since none of the films he has been in did particularly well, including Legend of Hercules, Immortals, and Expendables 3. I felt like no one gave a really compelling performance, and that’s either because they have never voice acted before, the director in charge of the actors was asleep, or the actors didn’t really care. They even throw in this really forced and really awkward narrator that also has no purpose, and sounds like he was rushing his lines to get out of that recording booth as quickly as possible. The side characters aren’t really side characters, since they have no dimension or personality to them. They were there just because. It feels like that was the line used when people questioned why this film had so many odd and nonsensical changes to it.

Seriously, that is the one term I would use for this movie, “No one really cared”. There was really no effort into making this a good movie. It almost seemed as if they were forced to work on this film when they had no interest in it. No one put any effort into making this film even remotely close to the source material. Say what you will about Disney’s Tarzan film, but at least they kept it pretty similar in a lot of ways to the original source material. The overall product feels like this cynical Hollywood cash-grab that was made for no other reason than to get made.

So, under this massive waste of time, is there something that can be salvaged that would be considered good? Well, not really, but I did enjoy some of the scenery of the jungle. I also sort of enjoyed the quiet moments that were put in between the rest of the bad story and acting. I wish there were more films that were more about no dialogue, like The Illusionist, since you can watch that movie and get what is going on without one tiny bit of dialogue.

Once again, with no exaggeration for the sake of comedy, the 2013 (2014 for the states) CGI-animated Tarzan is one of my top 10 worst animated films of all time. It might even be in my top five worst animated films of all time. How could the studio and the director do such a half-baked nonsensical adaptation of something that isn’t that hard to adapt into film or into CGI animation? Heck, the overall plot really has nothing to do with the source material, with it taking place in modern times, and this pointless, forced, stupid, brain-dead sci-fi/environmental plot point that has no reason to be there. This is also on top of characters that are boring and or annoying, a narrator that is awkwardly put in, and is also quite purposeless, and animation that isn’t all that great due to being limited by the motion-capture. It’s one of the worst cases of motion-capture as well. There might be a nice environmental shot here or there, but those few second shots don’t save the film by any means. Avoid this movie at all costs, like an angry silverback gorilla coming at you. Do not buy this movie. Don’t even rent it for a bad movie night. If you want to see Tarzan in animated form done right, or at the very least, done in not such an insulting way, watch the great Disney film, or check out Legend of Tarzan. I sure as heck know that it will be more worth your time than this pointless adaptation. Boy, while the next review is of an adaptation, I can at least say it was much more enjoyable than Tarzan. Next time, we look at the animated version of The BFG. Thanks for reading. I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: The Worst/Blacklist

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