Tarzan, the classic pulp hero created by Edgar Rice Burroughs, may be heading to the screen once again. Sony Pictures has picked up the screen rights to the character from Burroughs’ estate, Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc., and is seeking to do a “total reinvention” of the character and intellectual property. No writer, filmmaker, or producer is attached as the studio looks for a top-down re-imagining of the Ape Man for audiences in this time and space of the 21st century. LINK
I saw this story posted in a Public Domain Characters group on Facebook that I’m part of (as Tarzan is technically in the public domain, although the Burroughs estate aggressively protects their trademark of the name), as well as on the pages of a couple of other FB friends, and the collective response was generally…why?!?
I was wondering, is this really a property worth investing in? Is there a significant audience that’s waiting for a new Tarzan movie? I was thinking about how producers may be confusing name recognition with popularity. Like, sure, everyone has heard of Tarzan, but how many really care about Tarzan? How many read that article and said “yes! I can’t wait!”?
The character debuted in a novel 110 years ago, and was obviously successful in multiple mediums for decades, as I note he’s a household name at this point, but it feels to me like a concept that’s somewhat losing relevance as time progresses. The White man who is “lord of the jungle?” It’s a bit…problematic (especially if you read those original novels, which are full of racial stereotypes). I’m just not sure it’s a character that resonates with modern audiences.
Admittedly I could be biased, as I was never personally a big fan of the character. I have more fond memories of watching the Tarzan-knock off cartoon George Of The Jungle when I was a kid. I vaguely remember watching the movies Tarzan The Ape Man and Greystoke, The Legend of Tarzan when I was younger, but the only thing memorable in either was Bo Derek in the first one…
So I decided to look up the recent history of the character in pop culture. In 2017, Netflix aired an animated series called Tarzan And Jane. The first season was 8 episodes and was followed by a second season of 5 episodes in 2018. And that’s it. I haven’t seen it so I can’t judge the quality but it doesn’t sound like a raging success. Although I will say that animation seems like the best medium for Tarzan, in my opinion. If you aim it children, like the various Disney films, because then add you can add talking animals and other fantastical elements, that could work.
And before that in 2016, Warner Bros. released the live-action film The Legend of Tarzan. I didn’t see this either, but it made $356.7 million worldwide, which sounds surprisingly good to me on the face of it, except since the film cost $180 million to make, it’s considered a failure.
So that in and of itself has to make you wonder why, just 6 years after that film, Sony thinks the time is ripe for another film? Again, where’s the audience? Who is this for? It would be one thing if some screenwriter had some new take on the character on the character that they pitched to the studio and the studio loved it and thought it had potential, but this is the studio just deciding that they want to make a Tarzan movie first, and now trying to find someone to come up with a new take. And I just don’t know if this is worth the effort. Maybe it’s time to let Tarzan just stay in literary history?