Tarzan was the first movie I bought myself with my own money. I remember it well. I had (I think) $20 and Mom took me to Toys R Us. I bought Tarzan and a Popsicle.. I thought Tarzan was an amazing movie with beautiful animation and fun action–tree surfing. I also like the soundtrack because as a preteen, I had a little crush on Phil Collins’s music. But, I also owned the Tarzan video game and loved to watch Tarzan the Animated Series on Disney Channel.
When I watch it as an adult, some of the themes, especially of family, stick out more strongly to me. Well, a few weeks ago, Justin and I were babysitting some of our nieces and nephews and they wanted to watch Tarzan. I was rocking Rhys to sleep as we watched the beginning sequence and I started crying. I looked over at Justin, and he was crying, too. We are parents now. It adds a whole new layer to it!
So, I decided to dissect it as both a mom and teacher, because it radiates with both of those roles of mine.
In this song, Phil Collins opens with the lines “two worlds, one family.” This is to introduce that there is a human family marooned in Africa and an ape family that the movie will center on. However, on a deeper level, because Disney always goes deeper, it could be talking about different races, ethnicities, or backgrounds. As the song progresses, we see the ape family a bit more–a mom, dad, baby (and extended family), and we see the human family (mom, dad, baby) building a tree house and making the most of their situation. Well, Sabor, the leopard kills the baby ape who has wondered away from his mom. The song then sing, “No words describe a mother’s tears.” As a kid, I understood how terrible it must have been for Kala, the mother ape, to lose her baby, but I never knew the depth of that despair. I still don’t, thank God for that, but, I do know several friends who have already, in their early twenties, lost a child, either as a miscarriage or stillborn. I feel so bad for them to have to go through that pain. I can’t imagine having to bury my own child. But then, it says, “The dream is gone, but where there’s hope.” Kala heard Tarzan crying and went to find him. But, Phil Collins is really saying, “mothers, don’t give up.” I have a friend who was told that her second child probably wouldn’t survive long after birth. He didn’t. She was devastated, yes. But went on living. And hoping. And now, less than a year later, she is pregnant again. Scared to death, yes, but so excited at the opportunity of that new life. When Kala gets Tarzan, sees that his parents are dead (killed by Sabor), and brings him home, that is like adoption. But, not every parent or family member is as convinced that they can love an adopted child the same. Kerchak, Kala’s mate and leader of the family, says, “He can’t replace the one we lost” and “He’ll never be one of us” many times throughout the movie.
You’ll Be In My Heart
I’ve always loved this Disney lullabye as a kid and was determined to use it to soothe my babies (and I have a few times when I get tired of singing Ar Hyd Y Nos). But now, as an actual mom, I love it even more. The chorus says, “You’ll be in my heart, from this day on, now and forever more.” Children will be in their parents heart no matter what age they are. I’m 24 and have my own baby, but my mom still calls me her baby. Phil Collins did an extended version for the credit song that was also played on the radio for a few years. One of the stanzas says, “Why can’t they understand the way we feel? They just don’t trust what they can’t explain. I know you’re different, but deep inside us, we’re not that different at all.” This, again, can relate to the foster/adoption system. Not everyone will be convinced that adopting, or caring for a child from a different culture, ethnicity, religion, race will be successful, but that’s all outside and it doesn’t matter. What’s important is inside. The love and bond formed.
As a child, Tarzan tries to fit in with his ape cousins. This could be like foster/adopted kids, immigrant kids, or just kids who are “different”, trying to fit in with family, groups, or even education. It’s hard and oftentimes, they aren’t accepted. So, they often try ways to fit in that aren’t often of the best judgement. Tarzan tries to get an elephant hair on a dare and ends up causing a stampede that almost kills some baby apes. Kerchak gets mad and again says, “He’ll never be one of us.” Tarzan storms off. Kala goes to comfort him. She tells him that they both have two eyes, two ears, two hands. Tarzan sees their hands are just about the same. Then, Kala has him listen to both their hearts. She’s trying to tell him that they are the same. It’s what matters on the inside, not the outside.
Son of Man
So, Tarzan says, “I’ll make him see. I’ll be the best ape ever.” Tarzan then spends the rest of his childhood (in montage sequence) to become a better ape. He uses his own talents and naturally is able to start fitting in. Again, this can relate to the foster/adoption programs. Or even just overcoming adversity: “There’s no one there to guide you/No one to take your hand/But with faith and understanding/You will journey from boy to man.” Basically, the song is saying to never give up, always try your best, persevere, be determined, and you can overcome adversity.
It also has one of my favorite quotes ever, “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” This has become the motto of my education philosophy. I am here to teach my students, but there are many things they can teach me as well.
Trashin the Camp
Tarzan then meets Jane Porter and saves Jane. While he is, his animal friends are trying to find him and stumble upon the Poter’s campsite. Of course, being animals and having never seen human items, they are curious. Trashin the Camp is really fun to sing because it’s “scat”, but other than that, honestly, it’s pointless and the movie could’ve done just as well without it.
Strangers Like Me
Kerchak, nervous about the humans (Jane Porter, Professor Porter, and the “protection” of Clayton), tells his family to stay away from them. But, Tarzan then says, “Why are you threatened by anything different than you?” Which is a good point and could be mentioned to those parents who family members that aren’t accepting of adopted or married family that is different. Tarzan, curious about the species that is like him, disobeys Kerchak and keeps returning to the camp to learn more. On the surface, this song is about Tarzan learning English and about English society (human society). However, under the surface, this song could apply to learning anything new: academics, skills, languages, cultures, etc. But, for Tarzan, it also applies to feelings and emotions. Yes, he loves his mother, Kala, and his ape family, but he’s never felt attraction. He’s starting to fall in love with Jane and doesn’t understand it.
At the end of the song, the Porters and Clayton ask Tarzan to show them where the apes are. He refuses because he loves his family and wants to protect them. This shows that the family you grew up with, the family you love and loves you, is more important than any other similarities you have with any other groups.
Tarzan also sees a picture of man proposing to a woman and realizes that that can apply to him and Jane.
Tarzan returns to camp the next day to ask Jane to stay with him, and sees that the boat has come back to take them to England. Clayton is able to influence Tarzan with his feelings of Jane into showing them where the apes are. Kerchak finds out and is furious. Tarzan feels terrible he put his family (and new friends) in danger. Kala feels bad and shows him where she originally found him. This is like telling an adopted kid about his biological parents. She then let’s Tarzan chose to either stay with the apes or go with Jane to England. Tarzan decides to go with Jane, but tells Kala, “You’ll always be my mother.” Although Kala only adopted Tarzan, she cared for him, loved him, protected him, raised him, and would do anything for him. That is what a true mother is, regardless if she is biological or not.
However, it was all a trap and Clayton tries to capture all the apes. Tarzan, Tantor, Terk, and the Porters, along with other jungle animals, rescue the apes. Clayton and Tarzan then have their “battle.” Clayton is about to kill Tarzan, but he’s able to swipe the gun. Clayton than dares Tarzan, “Come on, be a man. Shoot.” Tarzan breaks the gun and says, “Not a man like you.” Tarzan is saying that you don’t have to be super muscular or masculine or violent to be a man. No. You only need to stick up for your beliefs and protect what is important. *Spoiler alert*: in his rage and trying to now stab Tarzan with his machete, he accidentally hangs himself on vines.
Two Worlds Reprise
In the resolution, Jane and Professor Porter decide to stay. Jane speaks “ape” that Tarzan teaches her: Jane stay with Tarzan. The fact that she speaks their language represents a culture adopting and accepting another culture to make a new, unique, individual and personal culture. The finale says: “Put your faith in what you most believe in/ Two worlds, one family/ Trust your heart/ Let fate decide/ To guide these lives we see/ Put your faith in what you most believe in/ Two worlds, one family.”
Moral of the story: Do what you believe is right and have faith in that. And even if you are different, you can still be family. And finally, FAMILY IS IMPORTANT!
Check out other Disney movie lessons here!
Which other Disney movies would you like me to do?