April 30, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Tarzan
Starring: The voices of Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, Rosie O’Donnell, Nigel Hawthorne, Brian Blessed
Directed by: Kevin Lima and Chris Buck
What’s the big deal? The Vine King.

Why would Disney want to remake the Edgar Rice Burroughs man-raised-by-apes story, spun into movie form more than 50 times before? For one thing: The flick’s a natural cross-promotion for the company’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Florida, not to mention an ideal springboard for plush toys of the sort that made The Lion King a $1 billion merchandising phenomenon. Besides, no live-action movie ever gave Tarzan the feral qualities Burroughs envisioned because no actor, however aerobicized, could move so nimbly.

Enter Glen Keane, star animator (he designed the Beast and The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel, among other characters). Watching his teenage son skateboarding, Keane decided this Tarzan wouldn’t swing from vines, he’d surf the jungle boughs. (A new background technique called Deep Canvas makes the settings look more three-dimensional.) Once Lima and Buck were recruited as codirectors — dividing the intensive workload — they cajoled the studio into shucking the big-production-number musical format that made Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King naturals for Broadway. Instead, they aped the Toy Story paradigm: Voice-over songs, written and sung by Phil Collins, that comment on the action but aren’t mouthed by the characters themselves (except in one monkeys-on-the-loose jam session, ”Trashin’ the Camp”). The filmmakers also pushed to give their hero anatomically convincing musculature — but less WWF, more Olympic swimmer. ”We didn’t want an Arnold Schwarzenegger body,” says Buck. ”The idea was, this guy’s been imitating how apes move his whole life. So only some of him is overdeveloped, like his calves.”

To find his voice, the directors sat through umpteen auditions, including two with Brendan Fraser (he made Disney’s George of the Jungle instead, which got to theaters far more quickly). Goldwyn — who’s best known as the bad guy in Ghost and who recently directed his own movie, the period ’60s drama A Walk on the Moon — stepped to the mike and got the title role based on what Lima describes as ”the animal sense” in his readings, along with some ”killer baboon imitations.” It then took three years of on-and-off solo recording sessions to finish his work, during which time Goldwyn never met costars Close (as Kala, Tarzan’s ape mother), Driver (a very English Jane) or O’Donnell (a cheeky monkey named Terk). ”It’s just you reading into a microphone,” says Goldwyn, who had to play his tender love scenes with Jane opposite a male reader. Says Lima, ”For action scenes, I’d put Tony in a headlock and roll tape.” (June 18, 1999)

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