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On Video: Direct-to-video sequel takes Tarzan, Jane back to the jungle

Friday, July 26, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Gee, Tarzan, another year of living in the jungle seems to have deepened your voice. And marriage appears to have altered Jane's speech (ever so slightly) in "Tarzan & Jane," a direct-to-video sequel to the animated Disney hit of 1999.

Although the average 5-year-old probably won't notice, the voices of Tony Goldwyn and Minnie Driver have been replaced by Michael Weiss and Olivia d'Abo, who also spoke for the leads in the television series, "The Legend of Tarzan." Weiss may be best known for playing Jarod on television's "The Pretender," while d'Abo expertly disguised her English accent when portraying Kevin's older, hippie sister on "The Wonder Years" back in the late 1980s.

As "Tarzan & Jane" (** 1/2 ), new to videotape and DVD this week, opens, Tarzan and Jane are about to mark their first wedding anniversary. Jane would like to do something special, but she's not sure what. She turns to Terk the gorilla and Tantor the elephant for advice.

As she suggests tapping into her native British customs -- parties, gifts, an anniversary waltz -- the animals remind her what happened when Tarzan was introduced to those rituals in the past. It wasn't a happy marriage of man and mannerly behavior, as we see in three self-contained flashbacks identified in the closing credits as "British Invasion," "Volcanic Diamond Mine" and "Flying Ace."

My favorite was the first, in which three of Jane's finishing-school friends arrive to "rescue" their countrywoman. The visitors in impractical floor-length dresses with bustles, high heels and umbrellas view Tarzan with a mixture of fear and awe. One of the ladies, in particular, is intrigued by Tarzan's savage side and notes he is "rather robustly proportioned."

When Jane tries to reproduce a proper English picnic, a function Tarzan shuns because she would like him to trade his loincloth for a suit, near-disaster strikes when the women are stalked by menacing black panthers. Jane must rely on her newly acquired jungle smarts and common sense, plus Tarzan, to save herself and her gal pals.

In the middle story, which has some of the most exciting animated action sequences, two unethical diamond hunters posing as volcano experts convince Tarzan to lead them to a volcano studded with the brilliant stones. After Tarzan saves them from crocodiles and keeps his end of the bargain, they betray their greedy natures and strand him, Jane and her professor-father inside a volcano suddenly churning with red-hot lava.

In the third and least accessible -- for children -- story, a Royal Air Force pilot and longtime friend of Jane's arrives in a prop plane. It turns out he's not what he seems, which Tarzan suspected after meeting the Brit.

As direct-to-video sequels go, "Tarzan & Jane" is definitely worth a look, even if the jungle seems a bit underpopulated and the movie is light on music and occasionally above the heads of preschoolers. Will they understand what a double agent or code machine is? It's not essential but it may leave them scratching their heads.

And Rosie O'Donnell may have bowed out as the voice of Terk, but she's been replaced by someone who seems to have (or affect) an even thicker, more out-of-place New York accent. "I was 'dere," Terk says at one point, rocketing you right out of the thicket of trees. April Winchell, daughter of comedian Paul Winchell, talks for Terk, and Jim Cummings speaks for Tantor. Cummings also does the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

The movie closes with a Mandy Moore song and an exuberant scene, with the sort of energy that usually infuses an entire Disney theatrical feature.

If you buy or rent the DVD, the extras include a Moore music video; "Tarzan & Jane's Adventure Builder," which allows you to construct your own story by choosing (with the remote) between two scenarios; and a "Build Your Own Tree House" game, in which you must click on the materials in the order in which they would be assembled. The professor applauds the correct choice with "Splendid, precisely right" or "By jove, you've done it. Excellent work." If you make an incorrect pick three times, though, you're out of the game and please don't ask if I was booted.

"Tarzan & Jane," with its lessons about compromise, valuing yourself rather than worrying what others think, ethical behavior and sacrifice in the name of love, is absolutely worth renting. The characters retain their individual looks and charms and don't look like they've been run through the animation mill.

I've seen "Tarzan & Jane" once and that was enough. Whether children will want to watch it repeatedly may be another story. "Tarzan & Jane" has a running time of approximately 75 minutes. It's rated G.

O&A AGAIN: Although it's not the same as anticipating another season of "Once and Again," fans can console themselves with news that the ABC show will be released on video Nov. 5.

Buena Vista Home Entertainment will issue the first season, plus the pilot, of "Once and Again" as well as "Felicity." Each boxed set will be priced at $79.99. Also coming out, according to Video Business magazine, are all of the episodes of "Sports Night."

DVD REVOLUTION: If you needed further confirmation that it's upon us, the 1 billionth DVD was shipped in mid-July. By year's end, predictions are that nearly 50 percent of U.S. homes are expected to have DVD capability. More than 272 million DVD movies and music videos were shipped in the first half of this year, an 80 percent increase over the same period in 2001.

AWARDS SEASON, REDUX: As part of the Video Software Dealers Association Home Entertainment show in Las Vegas, a string of awards were announced. There were too many to list them all, but here are highlights:

Rental title of the year by a major studio: "The Fast and the Furious."

Rental title by an independent: "Traffic."

Sell-through title by a major studio: "Shrek."

Sell-through title by an independent: "The Sopranos," first and second seasons.

Direct-to-video/limited release by a major studio: "Lady & the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure."

Direct-to-video, limited release by an independent studio: "Replicant" with Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Sleeper of the year (a title that performed better than expected): "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"

Foreign language film: "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Special edition DVD (based on supplemental features only available on DVD): "The Godfather DVD Collection."

DVD Technical Award, best of show (theatrical): "Moulin Rouge."

Best of show (non-theatrical): "The Sopranos," complete first edition.

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