This new motion-capture animated take on the Tarzan legend comes courtesy of German animation studio Ambient Entertainment GmbH. Set in an Uncanny Valley somewhere in Africa, it tells an updated version of the story of a young boy who is orphaned in the jungle in tragic circumstances but is adopted by a colony of apes who raise him as one of their own. Darker in tone than you might be expecting, it has several sequences which might be a little too violent, intense of scary for younger or more sensitive children, especially in 3D.
It stars “Twilight” alum Kellan Lutz, which is appropriate as this is very much “Tarzan” for the Twi-hard generation. Had this been a live action movie, it might have worked better and probably pulled in the audience to spawn a whole new franchise. As an animated feature, it falls uneasily into a no man’s land between kiddie friendly jungle antics and young adult action and drama.
The modernisation of the story gives the name Greystoke to a multinational energy conglomerate. John Greystoke the CEO, and his family, are in Africa looking for the remains of a meteor which crashed to Earth millions of years ago. The meteor contains a substance which could solve the world’s energy crisis, because science! Years later, a new greedy CEO of Greystoke Energies comes to the jungle determined to find the meteor regardless of the impact on the jungle and the wildlife which lives there.
The film starts brightly enough, seeking to hook its target audience in with has by beginning in space of all places as we see the meteor hurtling towards the Earth. An Earth populated by…dinosaurs! The dinosaurs are quickly exterminated by the impact of the space rock but the whole sequence is so well animated and designed that I wished we could have spent more time with the gorgeously rendered dinosaurs and their lives. Unfortunately, instead we’re propelled forward in time to a by the numbers eco themed story of corporate greed and man versus nature, underpinned by the most condescending and badly written narration outside of cheap children’s television. The animation of the jungle and the animals is very well done however the human characters are wildly varied in quality with some extremely well rendered and others looking like they wandered in from an episode of “Postman Pat”. The plot is likewise undercooked, with events simply placed one after the other with no sense of set up and pay off. Character motivations and straightforward black and white versions of good and bad, with no room for the subtlety or ambiguity a flesh and blood cast might have been able to bring to the material. Ultimately the story falls flat and disjointed, relying on the risible voiceover to bridge any narrative gaps or explain events away as plot threads dangle limply.
Awkward, uneven and unsatisfying, this is missed opportunity to bring the Tarzan back to the big screen. Disney managed a better Tarzan than this fifteen years ago and despite the good intentions and occasional fleeting glimpses of something better, this mediocre animation shows just how far ahead of the pack the Dreamworks, Disneys and Pixars are. It’s worth mentioning, though, that The Mertmas loved it. He crept closer during the tense and scary scenes but it landed firmly in the zone of ‘good scare’. Far more willing to overlook the lacklustre storytelling, he revelled in the action and excitement of it and was slightly too young to be interested in Tarzan’s (slightly creepy) romantic interest in Jane.