by George McWhorter, Curator Burroughs Memorial Collection
Disney's new animated Tarzan movie has generated unprecedented local interest in the Burroughs Memorial Collection at the Ekstrom Library. Suddenly, after 23 years of quiet existence, the collection is being celebrated in the press and on radio and TV. In the weeks that have passed since the film opened in theatres nationwide on June 18, 1999, several national movie periodicals have given accounts of the Burroughs Memorial Collection; a history of the Burroughs Bibliophiles has been published in The Dictionary of Literary Biography, and two brand new museums have opened their doors with "Tarzan" as their premiere exhibitions. The Burroughs Memorial Collection has sent 165 books and periodicals in 30 languages to the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida where they are now being featured along with Tarzan art from the Disney Studios. Another museum opened on July 8 in Oak Park, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) where Burroughs owned three houses before moving his family to California in 1919. We have lent a bust of Burroughs, some statuary and original oil paintings to this exhibition, and will alternate display items every six or eight months for the life of the museum.
The Dum-Dum, the Burroughs annual convention, was held in Los Angeles this year so we could all attend the Disney Studios premiere of Tarzan on June 11 ... one week before it opened to the public. We were given an informal lecture by one of the scriptwriters and one of the animators (a husband and wife team) and then shown the film.
As for the Disney film itself, a total divorce from the literary Tarzan is essential to your enjoyment of the movie. If you know the book and object to major changes in the characters and plots, then you may feel betrayed. But let's face the moment: Disney has restored Tarzan to the public vocabulary. People who never heard of Burroughs are now beginning to wonder about him. Capitalizing on the current craze for skate-boarding was a coup for Disney in snapping up the attention of the younger generation. My hope is that Disney will act as a catalyst in bringing this young audience to the books where the real Tarzan is enshrined. With its emphasis on family values, Disney's Tarzan is considerably watered down to make him appeal to the kiddies and their parents. Kala, his ape foster-mother, advises the young Tarzan to forget what he sees and to trust his feelings. John Leo, a critic for U.S. News and World Report, observed that Kala may have given Tarzan bad advice. If he forgot what he saw and listened to his heart, he would probably have become a snack for the first visually alert predator who crossed his path. The point is well taken. Burroughs worked hard to develop Tarzan's taciturnity and self-reliance, which is how he survived in the jungle. Burroughs, I think, was a better psychologist than Disney. But don't let this stop you from enjoying the film. It has some delightful moments.