Disney adventure swings into '90s

Movie: Tarzan

Our Rating: 3.50

Disney animated movies of recent vintage have taken cues from classic quest narratives, with the central protagonist(s) eventually proving that -- Thomas Wolfe be damned -- you can go home again. Simba returned from exile to claim his place atop the food chain in "The Lion King," action figures Buzz and Woody got back to where they once belonged in "Toy Story," and Flick returned from afar to save his ant colony in A Bug's Life.

Tarzan (Tony Goldwyn), in a new version of the Edgar Rice Burroughs tale that has shown up on the big screen more than 50 times, winds up with Jane (Minnie Driver). And he gets the jungle, too.

Forget all that vaguely exotic and patently racist stuff about drum-beating natives from those Johnny Weismuller adventures of yore that are still the stuff of Saturday-afternoon television, thanks to cable.

This is the multicultural '90s, and Disney products -- the movies, the theme parks and, most importantly, the omnipresent tie-in toys and burger wraps -- are nothing if not politically correct. So the new "Tarzan," a reasonably engrossing adventure laced with ample amounts of comedy, romance and action, is dosed with a message of tolerance.

A baby boy, found crying in a Swiss Family Robinson-style home after his parents are killed by a bloodthirsty leopard, is initially ridiculed as a "hairless wonder" by the apes who comprise his new family. By the end of the film, though, he's in: "You have always been one of us," says Kerchak (Lance Henriksen), head of the clan and husband of the sweet, maternal Kala (Glenn Close).

Tarzan, a brawny but graceful guy whose sculpted torso resembles that of an Olympic swimmer, soon enough encounters Western civilization, which means lovely, understanding Jane as well as greedy hunters with mayhem on their minds. Will he save his ape family and hook up with Jane? I won't ruin the outcome, but few will be surprised.

The name on the film's label means there are several stock devices we could have lived without, like the inevitable wisecracking sidekick (Rosie O'Donnell) and a pile of syrupy pop songs, this time belted by Phil Collins. Think of it as the new lucrative career move for fast-fading rock stars.

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