Tarzan vs Activism

For my final blog post of the semester, I will be writing about one of my favorite children’s movies Tarzan (1999) and how it relates to activism.  Tarzan is a story about an orphaned boy who is stranded after being shipwrecked in the remote African jungle.  His parents died the same night that a baby gorilla is murdered by the leopard that killed them.  The mother gorilla of the baby (Kala) finds Tarzan and decides she will raise him as her own.  Thus, Tarzan grows up as a gorilla, loved by some gorillas and begrudged by others (mainly Kerchak, leader of the gorilla pack).


Although Tarzan is accepted as a gorilla, he has always felt different and that difference is realized when he meets a pack of humans looking for the gorillas.  Jane and her father have come to find and research the gorillas along with their protector Clayton.  Tarzan falls in love with Jane and learns how to be a human but, he will not allow Jane and her entourage to come near the gorillas.  Only when Jane must leave does Tarzan show them where the gorillas are living.  Clayton has other ideas of what to do when they find the gorillas.  He tries to capture them for the money he can receive with capturing exotic creatures.  In the end (spoiler alert) he doesn’t succeed and Tarzan becomes King of the Jungle.


Now, you may be saying, what does this have to do with activism?  Well, let’s start with a definition.  Activism is “international action to bring about social and political change and similar to advocacy or speaking on behalf of groups usually in relation to legislative change” (Steele, 2016).


Now, the film Tarzan didn’t bring about any legislative change, but it did talk about issues on behalf of those who can not speak for themselves, animals.  In the film Clayton wants to capture the gorillas and sell them to the highest bidder.  This is much like what we have seen in the past and what we see even today.  People hunting and capturing exotic and endangered animals for sport.


Tarzan, Jane, and her father fight against Clayton to protect the gorillas from being taken and killed.  They all agree that the animals belong in the wild and that they should be left alone to live their lives without having to run from human interference.

Although the movie isn’t blatantly trying to further an agenda and change laws, it does in some way try to make people more aware of how animals should be treated.  This is important because children are watching the film.  They are learning that capturing and killing helpless animals just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.


“Steele, C. K., Dr. “Online Activism.” CSU, Fort Collins, CO. 26 April. 2016. Lecture.”

Tarzan. Dir. Chris Buck and Kevin Lima. Perf. Tony Goldwyn, Minnie Driver, Glenn Close, Brian Blessed. Walt Disney Pictures, 1999.

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