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Listen to ‘Tarzan’ – A Love Story Best Told By Its Music

James Allen St. John, Tarzan and His Mate, 1947. Oil on canvas.
Tarzan and His Mate by James Allen St. John, 1947. Via Wikimedia Commons; public domain.

Staff writer May Zaben writes about the importance of Phil Collins’s score to the romance in Disney’s “Tarzan”. 

Romance is everywhere. It exists in movies, in books, in hearts. It even exists in Disney’s “Tarzan” (1999), where it pervades all throughout the film and into the soundtrack — all thanks to Phil Collins and Mark Mancina. 

Tarzan’s soundtrack is heavily loaded, packed and assembled with a lot of heart from Phil and Mark. Every word Phil wrote and sung on there is magic, particularly in “Strangers Like Me” and the relevantly-titled “You’ll Be In My Heart”. In “Strangers Like Me”, when the light shines on Tarzan, he moves closer and closer to the screen, eager to see what Jane and her father have prepared for him. When pictures of all kinds emerge (one of a gorilla, lovers dancing and much more), Jane’s face softens. Phil’s voice in the background sings: “I can see there’s so much to learn. It’s all so close and yet so far…”

This hopeful melody tugs at the viewer when, simultaneously, Tarzan pulls Jane in for a dance. Phil then sings: “I wanna know. Can you show me?”. The visual scene changes, the vibrant, sonic atmosphere matching the brightness of the night sky.  If this song were not placed in this very scene, the viewer would feel little. But with the beat of the chorus matching Jane’s wonderstruck expression, Tarzan’s urge to dance, and the dark blue sky, Phil makes everything seem naturally sublime; you fall in love with the movie more and more. When Tarzan stares at the heaps of stars through the tiny telescope, the drums crescendo, and hope reigns. “I wanna know about these strangers like me,” Phil exclaims. I cried.

When the song “You’ll Be In My Heart” played in a scene just after the film’s beginning, it was so emotional to watch that my heart skipped a beat. Seeing Kala hold baby Tarzan in the gentle version of this song (sung by Glenn Close and Phil Collins) did things to me. It made me smile slightly, wishing for someone to hold me. And it was when Phil sang, “Cause you’ll be in my heart,” that I realised different modes of romance exist in this film, and it’s the form of music which brings this to light. It’s the song “Strangers Like Me” which showcases the romance between Tarzan and Jane, the song “Son of Man” which reveals the growing bond between Tarzan and Terk, and it’s “You’ll Be In My Heart” which makes the familial romance evident between Kala and Tarzan. When Phil adds on, “You’ll be in my heart, always,” Tarzan and Kala are soundly asleep.

In these moments, the viewer learns how the songwriters were able to bring about the romance of Tarzan through music. Because music itself contains a multitude of genres, the soundtrack of a film can achieve such emotional diversity if one looks a little deeper. If “Strangers Like Me” and “You’ll Be In My Heart” manage to show all these modes of romance, imagine what focusing on the other songs might bring, and what looking at each scene alongside them reveals. How many other films might be the same? Only by listening to them with fresh eyes — or ears — can we find out.

 

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