The Changing Face of Tarzan: Why He Wasn’t Always a Movie Star

When Hollywood’s latest adaptation of Tarzan hit movie theatres around the world in 2016, the reception wasn’t quite as positive as some may have hoped. Sure, the movie grossed $349,143,061 in worldwide box office sales, but some critics weren’t overly sold on its portrayal of the jungle man.

According to The Guardian’s Wendy Ide, Alexander Skarsgård was “too tame” to be considered a wild man. Although the storyline of him returning to the jungle to “find his roots” probably wasn’t ideal (i.e. a watered down version of Tarzan), Skarsgård’s less than rugged appearance certainly doesn’t help either.

A Print Legend Before Anything Else

Tarzan

Of course, if you’re looking for an “ok” movie that doesn’t challenge the mind too much The Legend of Tarzan is perfectly acceptable. However, if you’re someone that wants a hard-hitting, vine swinging continuation of a franchise that’s almost a century old, you might be a little disappointed. You see, before Tarzan was an iconic figure on our screens, he was flinging himself through trees and battling predators on the page.

First brought to life by author Edgar Rice Burroughs in his 1912 novel, Tarzan of the Apes, the feral hero then went on to become a comic favorite. Yes, long before he was a TV or movie hit, appeared in a series of comics. Dating back to 1947, Tarzan was used in newspaper strips as well as dedicated comic books from publishers such as DC and Dark Horse Comics.

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When Dell Comics owned the rights to Tarzan, Gaylord DuBois was the chief writer and it was his way with animals and words that helped define our early images of the jungle man. Because DuBois was able to give the support cast a greater sense of depth and life, it allowed Tarzan to appear wilder. For critics like Ide, The Legend of Tarzan was a departure from this and there were too many modern themes “transplanted” into the movie.

Tarzan Can Wear Many Guises

Tarzan

However, it’s worth noting that Tarzan has always been a product of his time and that recent portrayals are merely a continuation of that trend. When you look at modern tastes, consumers don’t always want a character that’s stuck in the past. Indeed, when you consider that Tarzan is now an online slot game, there’s an argument that we now view him as less of a serious wild man and more of a fun figure.

When you take a spin with Tarzan at Lottoland, you only have to look at the games around it to see that fun is the name of the game. From lottery draws and classic casino games and scratchcards called Dream Car and Lucky Irish, the surrounding games suggest an untamed Tarzan wouldn’t fit the mold. In fact, we can take this a few steps further.

The 1999 animated version of Tarzan again shows a softer side to the eponymous hero thanks to wisecracks and the odd cameo from Disney favorites like Mrs. Potts and Chip Cup (Beauty and the Beast). This softer side is also apparent in things such as the The Muppets Go to the Movies (1981) sketch.

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Basically, what we’re saying is that Tarzan has evolved just like any other fictional character. In fact, many modern viewers won’t even know that he was the hero of a novel and then a series of comics long before he was a movie star.

So, while there may be some merit to recent criticism of The Legend of Tarzan, it’s worth remembering that he’s a multifaceted guy that’s capable of spanning multiple genres. From the wild man of the comic world and the entertaining host of a slot game to a reflection of modern society in a movie, Tarzan has a number of different guises, even if he does usually strut around in the buff.

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