Review Summary: The relationship and interplay between Mancina’s scoring and Collins’ songwriting results in a product that embodies and manifests the spiritual undercurrents of the film’s atmosphere.Phil Collins
was initially asked to be a part of the development of Tarzan
in 1995 as a songwriter because the team wanted “strong jungle beats” to accompany the film due to his background in drums. He had just released Both Sides
which was not received well initially, and described his willingness to contribute to Disney as “…an opportunity to move out of that meat market of MTV and VH1 and do something that would be lasting and forever.” The soundtrack went double platinum in the United States and sold an additional half a million copies until as recent as 2014. You’ll Be In My Heart
won both the 1999 Academy Award for Best Original Song as well as Golden Globe in the same category, was nominated for a Grammy, and the soundtrack itself won a Grammy for Best Soundtrack Album. Collins also received an American Music Award at the 2000 ceremony for his work on the record.
Most of the songs were formed during improvisation sessions and reactions to the film treatment given to him. Collins also read the original text by Edgar Rice Burroughs and had a lot of material to show directors Kevin Lima and Chris Buck in just a few weeks. He described the drumbeats as needing to be both “…arresting and exciting”, looking to African tribal rhythms for inspiration, omitting the “…rhythms that would have sent the kids screaming out of the theater” in good taste. In the demos he submitted to executive producer Chris Montan, the four songs that ended up being in the film were mostly complete already, and had working titles like “Celebration” for Son of Man
and “I Will Follow” for Strangers Like Me
that were very much akin to how they culminated on-screen. A recording that was never included on the soundtrack called 6/8 Intro
that was used to promote the film at release contains no lyrics but festive and exuberant polyrhythms, harmonized choral sections, and impassioned cries that are reminiscent of Zulu and Swahili song. Phil Collins’ voice saturates the soundscape in a way that is intuitive and natural, and summons shared origins between the souls of indigenous singers and the almost invocatory, animistic impressions Collins leaves behind at times in his most fervent moments.
In an interview with MTV Japan in 1999, Collins said originally he started writing the songs as if the characters were meant to sing them, but was eventually asked to perform the songs himself since “the way I was writing and singing the songs was so much a part of the spirit of the film, they didn’t want anybody else…”. He described the experience of songwriting for a film as easier than normal because of having source material to inform the music versus having to generate original ideas and concepts from scratch.
Collins learned to sing phonetically in Spanish, Italian, French, and German specifically for this project and had never sung in a language other than English before. This was the first Disney soundtrack to be recorded in multiple languages for different markets by the same artist, expected to be released in 35 countries and dubbed in 39 languages, a record for Disney at the time of release next to Mulan the year prior. In many of the soundtrack versions outside of the languages that Collins sang in, the singers chosen for the records seemed to share similar pop or rock backgrounds in their respective countries and have similar timbral and expressive qualities in their voices relative to Phil's. It seems to speak on a sense of consistency that was sought out in the character and the mood of the songs that was already established, for instance, in Tor Endresen on the Norwegian soundtrack, Stig Rossen in Danish, and Paweł Hartlieb in Polish.
Some of the foreign language versions of each song capitalize on different themes in localization, both in Phil’s and others. For example, the Italian language version of Son of Man is titled In Tuo Figlio
(In Your Son) and the last line of the refrain “In tuo figlio un padre scoprirai” blends the ideas of growing and maturing into a human from Son of Man with a father-son relationship using the lyric “In your son, a father will you discover”, similar to the parallelism of “In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn…” from the second verse of Son of Man. Disney has been localizing and text-setting languages for decades, but often there are difficulties in choosing the best ways to approximate expressions from stories that at times use a high number of American colloquialisms such as “thingamabob”, “Let’s get down to business…” and “…stuff some chocolate in my face”. In the Italian version of “Circle of Life” written by Elton John and Tim Rice from The Lion King
, a “wheel-of-fortune” becomes a “merry-go-round”. The lyrics in Tarzan in foreign adaptations are pretty much one-to-one with the source language, undoubtedly because of what the movie is about, and the primal messages that infuse and imprint an almost scriptural level of textuality in the context of the film.
Greg Perler, the film’s editor, commented on there not being a lot of dialogue in the film, and a lot of what is communicated being visual, from camera panning to the facial expressions and gestures of the characters. The lack of dialogue makes the music even more memorable and palatable, as well as vital for driving the narrative. On a metaconceptual level there is a language barrier between the humans and the animals, and initially Tarzan and the humans, so the songs seem to serve both a communicative role to the viewer that articulates the feelings of the characters as well as one that allows the pace, tone, and plotting to remain intact in the same space. This effect probably would not have been possible if the characters had sang the songs instead, outside of Trashin’ the Camp
which does not have any lyrics but is one continuous scatting and rhythm piece that is also blended into the actions of the characters finding and playing with manmade objects to create percussion before the song actually begins.
Consequently, these creative decisions also caused the characters in the film to not hold up as well to other characters from films during the Disney Renaissance, because the musical theater traditions of having characters sing and dance themselves were intentionally broken, resulting in a different relationship between the characters on-screen and the viewer. Phil Collins sings about the characters in the third person or in their stead, such as during You’ll Be In My Heart, but the characters’ themselves are never augmented by the music, regardless of if the animation is from one scene alone or a montage of scenes where a single character is being emphasized, versus a third-person omniscient narrator. It can be read as a film that is heavy on introverted characters and non-verbal communication, which parallels a lot of the motifs in the story and is what the directors intended, but is considered the end of a creative era by Disney because of the same disconnect between character and song, unlike the dozens of other installments before it whose heroes sorted themselves out musically for all eyes and ears to behold.
All five songs are strong enough to be appreciated independently, but don’t really lend any musical ideas to each other like other films in the Disney canon. It would not have been really possible to do this however, nor is it really necessary, due to the unique purpose they play in each part of the film they first appear, such as Son of Man and Strangers Like Me dealing with important, but not primary ideas to the plot and characters that are also rather temporary. The only songs whose themes are repeated during the film in multiple places are Two Worlds
and You’ll Be In My Heart because they contain the most important and enduring ideas that encompass Tarzan’s experiences from birth to adulthood, namely about family, identity, and belonging. Mark Mancina used melodic sections from You’ll Be In My Heart as well as Two Worlds in the track One Family
which is played during the emotional turning point in the film, and the leitmotif that plays during Tarzan and Jane’s first encounter as well as their interactions during the end of the film calls up a more wistful interpretation of the refrain from Two Worlds.
Thomas Schumacher, the then-and-current president of Disney Theatrical Group, remarked on the film having “…sequences of action…that play out unlike other animated movies we’ve done…a certain kind of maturity…about how to tell a story.” He also notes the film’s “beautiful…internal rhythm within sequences” thanks to Perler’s editing prior to animation. The manner in which the rhythms found in both the visual techniques as well as the songs written by Collins simultaneously inform each other and weave ideas together is one of the most interesting and immersive aspects of both Tarzan and its soundtrack, whether or not Tarzan is surfing barefooted through trees or learning about his past and the culture of humans.
Collins’ contributions to the soundtrack by way of non-diegetic songs has been a bone of contention among Disney fans who did not all respond equally or favorably to the decisions of the studio to create a more introspective and less theatrical story. The relationship and interplay between Mancina’s scoring and Collins’ songwriting nonetheless results in a product that is fluid and evocative, with an essence of timelessness, coexistence, and “…something bigger out there” that embodies the spiritual undercurrents of the film’s atmosphere.
Recommended tracks: You’ll Be In My Heart, One Family, Son of Man, Two Worlds