Sony has recently purchased the rights to Tarzan, the iconic wild man originally created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with the intention of creating a “total reinvention” of the character and intellectual property. This project is very much still in the planning stage. No actors, directors, or producers have yet been attached to the film.
Tarzan’s story is well known: an orphaned boy raised in the jungle by great apes, who falls in love with a young woman named Jane. Eventually leaving the jungle for her, marrying her and moving to England where his eyes open to how barbaric so-called civilization really is. Then he returns home to Africa. Because Burroughs’ original novels were pulp stories from the turn of the century, this journey is punctuated by lion fights and mysterious cities lost to the jungle.
It’s safe to assume that most modern audiences are familiar with Disney’s 1999 adaptation of the story, complete with the Phil Collins soundtrack that still goes unbelievably hard and became the basis for the Broadway musical. The Lord of the Apes has featured in countless movies, serials, radio shows, TV shows, and comic strips, most notably in the period between 1930 and 1980 (go ask your grandparents, they probably remember seeing Ron Ely don the loin cloth on TV).
Even parodies, like the 1997 Brendan Frasier vehicle “George of the Jungle” saw huge success. But not every venture into the jungle has been as lucrative. Among Warner Brothers’ recent baffling decisions, they also tried their own Tarzan movie back in 2016 with Alexander Skarsgard and Margot Robbie which went over so poorly we’re willing to bet that this is the first time most of you are hearing about it.
So it will be interesting to see what comes of this venture. It’s hard to theorize what a “total reinvention” means in the context of Tarzan. Burroughs’ stories, while fun, are mired in early 20th-century colonial imperialist discourse, imagery revolving around ‘Darkest Africa’ and all the racist nonsense associated with it, and a hearty helping of old fashioned misogyny. These themes have been circumvented in the past (seriously, go watch “George of the Jungle ” again, it absolutely holds up) and we can only hope that whatever Sony comes up does the same.