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Tarzan turns 20 at D23, reveals new music with re-recorded theme

By Don Kaye & Benjamin Bullard

Disney released its animated version of Tarzan 20 years ago, and the company commemorated that milestone with a panel on the film's making to close out this year’s D23 Expo with a deep movie-trivia dive worthy of the Lord of the Jungle

Co-directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck joined Tantor voice actor Wayne Knight onstage to swing from one fun vine of little-known lore about the Disney classic to the next — but the highlight moment came when Disney announced that a new musical version of Phil Collins' iconic theme is in the works. 

Tony-nominated Glee star Matthew Morrison arrived at the end of the panel, treating SYFY WIRE and the rest of the audience in attendance to a live version of “You’ll be in my Heart” — just one of a handful of new musical takes on his upcoming album filled with re-recorded Disney songs. After confessing that singing his way through the Disney catalog is “a dream come true,” he kept right on going, launching into “When you Wish upon a Star” to close out not only the Tarzan panel, but all of D23 weekend.

Disney hasn’t yet revealed a title, full track listing, or release date for Morrison’s new take on old-school tunes (though he also launched into Aladdin’s “Friend Like Me” while still on stage) — so stay tuned. 

Earlier in the panel, Buck cleared his throat and proceeded to pour water on a long-held Tarzan fan theory: No, he definitively said — Tarzan and Frozen’s Elsa don’t share the same set of parents; at least, not in any connected Disney universe that exists anywhere other than his head. 

Admitting that the rumor that Elsa and Tarzan had a common ancestry had taken on a life of its own, following a fateful Reddit AMA in which Buck joked about the idea back in 2015, Buck said he never intended for fans to take things literally.

“I'd like to take this opportunity to put a rumor to rest: Tarzan's parents are not Elsa and Anna's parents,” said Buck, dousing the fantasies of ardently imaginative fans everywhere. “I said it as a joke on Reddit and it took off from there." Buck’s original comments on Elsa and Tarzan’s long-lost connection came when he told a Reddit audience that “in my little head, Anna and Elsa's brother is Tarzan,” since Buck (who co-directed Frozen as well) had spent so much time in both movie worlds, and had come to regard Frozen’s shipwrecked-parents storyline as sharing some common themes with Tarzan’s origin story. 

The idea spread like wildfire in fans’ heads and across the internet, and for a long time leading up to more recent news about the plot of Frozen II, Disney geeks everywhere half-expected the sequel to directly settle the matter once and for all — a task it won’t have to tackle now, thanks to Buck’s wilting putdown of the whole rumor at D23.

Tarzan arrived at a time when Pixar already was doing innovative work in CGI, but also as Disney’s animation arm was stretching even further the boundaries of conventional animated filmmaking. In a crowded constellation of fantasy films from Disney, Buck said the creative team wanted to set their movie apart.

“Tarzan had been done a gazillion times live action, so I thought, ‘What are we going to do differently?’’ he said, adding that devising new techniques to catch the Lord of the Jungle’s rippling musculature became a priority. 

“The way that Tarzan could move was another thing. In live action, they’d have the Tarzan actor on a pole covered with vines, sliding across the screen — and we could do something very different,” he explained, adding that much of Tarzan’s sweeping sense of movement was informed by actual research on an info-gathering safari —  where the team discovered that there actually are red elephants like the ones they drew into the film.

To drive home just how deep the artists went in their hunt for inspiration, Eric Daniels — the animator in charge of making the 3D software that brought a hand-painted depth to Tarzan’s backgrounds — told the panel that even skater Tony Hawk served as their artists’ muse. That’s what happens when the kids get involved, as animator Glenn Keane’s son (and extreme sports fan) was at the time. Keane even piped in from his home in Paris, sketching out a quick Tarzan drawing (to the delight of fans) via a video feed.

Knight even dropped a tidbit of Tarzan trivia that not even the directors had heard before: that his idea for the voice of Tantor came from a radio personality named Merrill Shindler, a local food critic Knight used to hear on the radio while driving around Los Angeles.

Featuring an award-winning soundtrack from Phil Collins and a star-studded voice acting lineup including Tony Goldwyn (Tarzan), Minnie Driver (Jane), Glenn Close (Kala), Rosie O’Donnell (Terk), and Knight as Tantor, Tarzan is available on Blu-ray and digital platforms now, and will soon help round out the library of upcoming Disney movie classics bound for Disney+, which launches on Nov. 12.

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