Let me start off by saying that I wanted to keep my personal feelings for this project separate from the news. I have a responsibility to keep the bulk, hopefully all, of my personal feelings aside from the information that might interest people. Having said that, I do have some very strong personal feelings on matters, so instead of just blasting outright on the Netflix adds Tarzan and Jane news article, I decided to rant here instead. It’s just easier that way…
For those who didn’t read the synopsis the last time, here it is again:
- “Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and Jane” (second half of 2016): In modern-day remake of the classic characters, 16-year-old Tarzan returns from the African jungle to a London boarding school where he meets Jane, who helps him solve environmental injustice, crimes and mysteries. The eight-episode season comes from 41 Entertainment and executive producer Avi Arad (which are also developing “Kong – King of the Apes” original series and feature-length film for Netflix) with animation from ARC Prods.
I want to be excited about this. I REALLY want to be excited to see a project like this become reality. It’s a favorite character of mine coming back into the limelight. There are books, movies, television shows, and animation a-plenty for this particular character. He ranks in good company with the likes of “Sherlock Holmes”, “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “the Phantom of the Opera”, to name a select group. These characters who are brought back time after time, in so many different mediums, to bring a new generation of fans to the table. That should please the fan in me, or so I’ve come to believe.
Now, I realize for all of this, I’m about to rant on just a small outline of a series that will be almost another year in the making. Regardless of that, there is so much wrong in the one sentence that sends a cold chill down my spine. Why? Let’s examine, shall we?
First: this modern-day remake. No, absolutely not. This story has no place in modern day. “Tarzan” is a product of its time. When the Claytons were stranded on that desert shore, there was no way to know that they would ever be found, and if they were, who it was that would do the finding. John Clayton’s life was in the hands of fate. His parents died horribly in their hideaway in the trees, leaving a baby to be raised by an ape mother. Kala lost her own child when Kerchak killed it in a fit of blind rage. A fate that Tarzan almost shared as well, on more than one occasion. In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, such a fantastic story makes one suspend disbelief. In today’s society, they would have soon found this “ape-man” incarcerated for study be a battery of scientist, should he ever have been lost for so long. Technology these days has a far better chance to track where a plane or a boat would have been at the time of its loss. Charters, radio signals, black boxes, etc. are prevalent. Suspension of disbelief is out the window that he would turn into the tanned and well-built Jungle Lord that he was when Jane and party found him.
Tarzan in boarding school: I know this is for kids. The Disney offerings were too. However, the story of “Tarzan” really isn’t as much for kids as one wants to believe. It’s often a violent story, with many social overtones to it that even plague today’s society in many ways. I give Disney’s version a great deal of credit. For what they did, it gave a great deal of sensibility to the character. First, they didn’t treat him like he was an idiot. The man is a sponge when it comes to information. He had to be. The circumstances he was raised in dictated the need. He was a human raised in an environment where his “peers” were 10 to 20 times his strength, and were prone to lose their tempers quickly when something wasn’t going their way. This means you learn quick, or you die. He applied that to everything he did. Would schooling him be necessary? I’m sure lessons in the ways of the world would be a necessity. However, I’m very quick to point at “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes”. I find the way he was learning there a far more acceptable way of going about things. Jane was helping him, he learned his lessons, and he moved on. A genius level intellect helps with that. If you’ve read the books, you can tell that he’s got that sort of intelligence. He’d have to, just based on what he’s capable of doing between books 1 and 3 alone. The teenage Tarzan going to some stuffy school, away from the jungle setting that he thrives in, is ridiculous. It reeks of being like James Bond Jr. was back in its day. The incredible things he and Jane will be getting themselves into will most assuredly lead him to using his jungle-learned skills and will lead to a confused headmaster. Yeah, I know it’s for kids. I know I’m reiterating the point, but kids are far more intelligent themselves. Why play down to them?
Third: The solving of environmental injustices, crimes and mysteries. I get the environmental injustices. When in his own jungle, Tarzan would make it very clear about how things would be. He was lord and master of those lands, any who trespassed and meant to kill an animal for sport, to destroy the lands, or cause any amount of trouble was subject to jungle law. You were strong enough to beat him, then do as you will. If you weren’t strong enough, if he didn’t beat you into submission, likely you were going to be killed. Tarzan didn’t screw around with a lot of second chances. If you managed to survive a meeting, it was because something general came about to separate you two out, and he would be satisfied with that until you returned. That’s on you. Crimes and mysteries? Is every crime going to be about him or those he cares about? I highly doubt that. Besides, you’re overlooking the true nature of who Tarzan is in British society. He’s Lord Greystoke. This is a role he takes very seriously, and he acts with the manners of a gentleman and English Lord when in those roles. He tries to trust things to the laws of society, because it’s expected. Sure, there have been exceptions. However, these exceptions have only come for the sake of personal wrong. In a kids cartoon, I give leeway to certain things, but if I’m being brutally honest, this should be a period outing, and it should be done more like the “Batman: Animated Series”. Given that the person running this show was one of the masterminds behind “Spider-Man: The Animated Series”, then you’ve already got a basic template. Treat it with more reverence to the story.
Changing things for kids, or for change’s sake: I mentioned “Batman: TAS”, and “Spider-Man: TAS”, I would point that “Gargoyles” in the two years before it became the Saturday Morning Cartoon as being perfect example how to do things. You have a rich history to build from. You don’t necessarily have to take every storyline that Tarzan ever went through to get the heart of the character. However, a little attention paid to it would be nice. Adapting doesn’t mean bastardizing. Most people fall into this trap of belief that just because it’s been seen before, it’s gotten tired. In some cases that’s true. It’s very true. However, when it’s been a good long while between outings, we can also look at things with a new sensibility and say it worked. It can also work just as good, if not better than the last guy. All we have to do is bump a little closer to template than the last guys did.
Is it too much for kids? Depends. If you’re going to show him cutting out the heart of an animal, yeah i’d say that’s too much. If you allow the more graphic things to happen off the screen, and elude to possible worse fates, than perhaps not. Disney’s version had the hunter, Clayton (borrowing the Tarzan family name) get hung from a vine. a slight burst of thunder to light the shadows gave us the fate of the villain. That doesn’t have to happen every episode, but it’s still a point of contention. This isn’t “Captain Planet”, and these kids can learn the difference for themselves. Yeah, I know, old reference there too,
I want to reiterate the point, one more time about sticking him in his own time frame. I do not understand the need for everyone wanting to bring these characters forward in time. You want to tell a story about Jesse & Frank James, you’re going to put them into the old west. Shoving them into modern day downtown Branson, MO wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense. What would these characters be fighting for? Their original motivations for doing things are so well documented, and I mean WELL documented, that you’re going to find it difficult to just misplace them in time and get the same result. If anything, they would be trading horses for motorcycles, and would be involved in some sort of gang that would likely be terrorizing towns, not knocking over banks. That’s not Jesse or Frank James. You now have a “Sons of Anarchy” knock off.
Oh, is my point supposed to be about a character, not real people? Okay, let’s play that game too. Let’s take Alan Scott, the Golden Age “Green Lantern”. You can have the argument that they updated him to the current generation back when the “New 52” introduced “Earth-2”. Yes, they did. I believe it was also acknowledge that he was pretty much a completely different character to the original. Well, yeah, he was. The original was built in a world where World War II was on its brink, and the depression was still raging everywhere. The new version was a modern day exec at a production company, who went to China. He was going to propose to his boyfriend, who died in a train wreck. However, Alan was saved by a mysterious green flame which turned him into the Green Lantern. They took elements, but they completely changed him. Some will argue, that it’s just because I’m being homophobic and don’t want to see a character I know be pronounced gay. This has zero to do with a character being pronounced gay. Changes to characters happen all the time. Some I like, sometimes I don’t. However, I see a marketing ploy for what it is. There are thousands of Green Lanterns, one for every system in the universe. A a brand new character could have easily created to fill the void instead of using an established one. So what’s the marketing ploy? Link bait, pure and simple. At the time it happened, news sites such as Yahoo, MSN, to every fansite that you could name published the story. I even wrote about it back when I was writing for SciFiFX. I’m making much the same argument here. They wanted to get people reading and then buying the book. People who hated it would buy it to so they could have something to bash. People who could relate to him would buy it in support of the decision DC Comics execs made. Then you have people who were sitting on the fence about it that will go ahead and buy it just to see if the story is actually worth its hype.
In any case, the original story of Alan Scott finding the green metal while working on the railroad, then being told by this unknown force to forge a ring and a lantern, is ingrained into my memories. The origin story, the weakness of the ring to wood, and even the original red, green, purple and yellow costume he wore was a product of time and place. These elements define the Green Lantern. Until Hal Jordan came around, that was a very unique mystical powered ring that gave an every day man the advantage to do good and even move up in the world. When Jordan came around, and the Green Lantern was reworked, he was given a more scientific explanation of his ring, and it just worked.
What does any of this have to do with what I have been talking about with Tarzan? Okay, bear with me a little while longer. The point I’m making here is simple. Much like Alan of the New 52, we’re using a well known property to tell new stories with, because someone didn’t want to bother to create new characters to fit the bill. Honestly, if we were to make this the grandson or great-grandson of Tarzan, or some kin to Doc Savage, I might be on board with the idea. To use a gimmick, then to completely remove it from where it works best is only worth it if you’ve got a writer and story worth its salt. Tell me that what little is said here doesn’t scream that they’re one canine away from owning a Mystery Machine? You’ll likely disagree with that point. Any good characters with fleshed out backgrounds could fill these roles in just as well. That’s what it’s all about. Using the creator’s name and then butchering the property is wrong. It’s a shameful publicity grab, because people will pick up on a well-known property. I object to turning characters into a grab, just because they don’t have anything better to offer.
Final Words: Make your animated series, but don’t use the Lord of the Jungle. Wait until you’re ready to actually tell his story, then come back to it. He has fans, after all.