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Tarzan's Directors Explain How Their Trip To Africa Was Crucial In Developing The Iconic Disney Film

Like all of Disney's animated features, 1999's "Tarzan" gave its artistic and creative team a wealth of new challenges. However, a trip to the film's real-life location would help the team in more ways than one. An adaptation of the Edgar Rice Burroughs 1912 novel "Tarzan of the Apes, Disney's "Tarzan" tells the story of a man raised by gorillas who falls in love with an explorer's daughter and must now decide whether he should stay with his gorilla troop or live in the human world. The 37th animated feature in Disney's lineup and often considered the final film in the studio's renowned '90s Renaissance era, the film was a success upon its release, earning over $448 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo) and winning an Academy Award for best original song for Phil Collins' "You'll Be In My Heart." 

As with all of Disney's adaptations of classic stories, the studio sought to reimagine the iconic character, who had already been featured in film since the silent era, for the animation medium. This led to a series of innovations, from Glen Keane's inspired animation of the titular character to a new 3D painting technique called Deep Canvas that allowed for more immersive action sequences (via MovieMaker Magazine). However, no matter how groundbreaking the technical innovations are, the film's beating heart is center stage and needs to be discovered first. And to uncover that crucial element, the team found inspiration from a unique research trip. 

The gorillas' family dynamic heavily influenced the team

The creative team behind Disney's "Tarzan" would take a trip to various African countries to observe the African wildlife and environments they hoped to implement into the film. This included venturing through Bwindi's "Impenetrable Forest" to observe the elusive and critically endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Not only did the team find inspiration in the rainforest environment to more appropriately replicate it in the animated film, but their observation of the family dynamic of the gorilla troop further aided in developing the heart and soul of the film. 

Co-director Chris Buck recounts the experience in an interview with D23, saying, "The trip to Africa was life-changing for those of us who went and a critical step in developing the film. I don't think we could have made this movie if we hadn't gone. It gave us a tremendous appreciation for the beauty of the jungle and a sense of the special family relationships that exist among the gorillas." Similarly, in a Bobbie Wygant interview, the film's other co-director Kevin Lima describes observing the giant primates as " ... a real validation for us because we were telling the story of a family. Here we were in the middle of a family; the gorillas were most definitely a family."

Taking such research trips is now a common practice for Disney animated films. In fact, many of the studio's biggest hits, including "The Lion King," "Frozen," and "Moana," all went on notable trips that heavily influenced the final films.