While Tarzan has been a staple of literature and pop culture for over 100 years, the character’s popularity certainly isn’t anywhere near the level it was when the original Edgar Rice Burroughs stories were being published and the immediate decades afterwards. In 2016, Warner Bros. Pictures’ brought the Ape Man back to the big screen through The Legend of Tarzan, which stared Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson, but it failed to hit with audiences. Now it’s been reported that Sony Pictures is developing its own Tarzan movie, but I can’t help wondering what this means for a potential live-action remake of Disney’s animated Tarzan from 1999.
Regarding the Sony update, THR shared that the film studio has picked up the film rights to Tarzan from the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate and is looking to deliver a “total reinvention” of the property. The project doesn’t have a writer, director or producer attached, but Sony is reportedly intends to reimagine Tarzan for moviegoers “in this time and space of the 21st century.” This would certainly be a good way for Sony’s Tarzan movie to stand out from traditional Tarzan stories, which are usually set between the late 1800s and early 1900s, and have a pulp feel to them.
We’ll have to wait and see if Sony Pictures has better luck with its Tarzan movie than Warner Bros. did in 2016, but now let’s turn our gaze to Disney. For basically a decade, the studio has been on a tear with making live-action adaptations of its classic animated movies, whether we’re talking straightforward remakes like Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, or major re-imaginings like Maleficent and Mulan. This run isn’t ending anytime soon, and while Disney hasn’t announced anything about a live-action take on 1999’s Tarzan, considering how critically and commercially successful the animated movie was, as well as it being the final offering from the Disney Renaissance era, I imagine this has at least been discussed in conversations about upcoming Disney movies.
However, now that Sony Pictures has its own Tarzan movie coming, maybe that throws a wrench into the proverbial works. What’s interesting is that although Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original Tarzan stories reside in the public domain, there are other aspects of the property, such as stories Burroughs wrote in the 1940s and ones published after he died in 1950, that are privately owned. And either way, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ estate owns the trademark. If Sony had to work out a deal with the estate to make a new Tarzan movie, that could prevent Disney from making its own movie, regardless of 1999’s Tarzan being one of the Mouse House’s more well-known features.
On the other hand, just because the people at Disney have talked about making a Tarzan remake doesn’t mean it will actually happen. As noted in THR’s article, the original Tarzan stories are packed with colonialism and white savior elements, as well as racial and gender stereotypes, that flew in the early 20th century, but not anymore. Even though many of Disney’s recent live-action remakes/re-imaginings have had aspects of their stories updated to make them more palatable for 21st century audiences, the studio may feel that tackling Tarzan is not worth the effort. At least it wouldn’t be alone, as Disney hasn’t said anything about remaking 1995’s Pocahontas, and I’m skeptical about a live-action take on 1996’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame actually moving forward.
There’s also the possibility that Disney may just sit back and play the long game with Tarzan now that Sony is developing its own take. Remember, Dwayne Johnson starred in a Hercules movie put out by Paramount Pictures back in 2014, and now Disney is finally starting to put together a remake of its animated Hercules movie from 1997 that will be directed by Guy Ritchie. Obviously if Sony’s Tarzan movie ends up being the first entry in a film series, that could further complicate things, but I could easily see Disney waiting to see how Sony does before working out its own deal with the Burroughs estate (assuming that even needs doing) and perhaps waiting until around 2029 to release its live-action version of Tarzan, when the animated Tarzan movie celebrates its 30th anniversary.
Since Sony’s plans for Tarzan have only just been unveiled, it will likely be a long time until we learn any concrete details about what’s in store for this adaptation, and who knows if Disney will ever announce a Tarzan remake. Either way, CinemaBlend will pass along any relevant updates on these fronts alongside our news about all sorts of upcoming movies.