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“The jungle. Here I was born. And here my parents died when I was but an infant. I would have soon perished too had I not been found by a kindly she-ape named Kala, who adopted me as her own. And taught me the ways of the wild.
Now I share the friendship and trust of all jungle animals. The jungle is filled with beauty…this is my domain…for I am Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle.” - The opening narration to Filmation’s Tarzan (1976).
Commencing in the fall of 1976, Filmation began airing on Saturday mornings an animated series called Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle. Although from its second year forward, the Tarzan show was part of an omnibus hour, the first season consisted of sixteen half-hour episodes devoted totally to the Lord of the Jungle. In total, Filmation produced 36 episodes involving Tarzan.
Remarkably, Filmation’s version of the material was one of the most faithful ever produced and even developed plot-lines direct from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ literary series.
Tarzan himself was the educated, well-spoken man imagined by Burroughs, and did not follow in the semi-articulate manner of the early Weismuller Tarzans.
Jane did not appear as a regular on this series, and Tarzan’s most frequent on-screen companion is a tiny monkey named N’Kima, a character also taken from the literary adventures.
The Animated Series features an opening montage that recounts Tarzan’s origin (excerpted above), depicting his burned-out jungle home (where his parents died) and his rescue at the hands of a friendly she-ape, Kala.
Because animation allows a writer to travel almost literally anywhere, the Filmation Tarzan is rich in the “lost civilization” or “lost cities” Tarzan trope, taking the characters to a gold metropolis and to a kingdom of Vikings, among other exotic locations. It's a very busy, very populated jungle.
Throughout the series, Tarzan is a steadfast voice for the persecuted, standing up to Queens and other rulers, and always fighting for the weak, or champion-less.
He also has a special technique when facing hostile animals. He fights against them for a bit, and then tells them, in friendly terms, to surrender…to leave. They always obey his entreaties, realizing they have picked the wrong battle.
The series’ first episode, aired on September 11, 1976, is titled “Tarzan and the City of Gold” and is an adaptation of sorts of the Burroughs book of the same name, first published in April of 1932. The book is the sixteenth in the original Tarzan continuity and involves Tarzan’s encounter with a gold city, and its tyrannical ruler, Queen Nemone.
In the episode, that gold city is named Zandor, and Tarzan first encounters it while on a trek to take home a lost maiden, Thia, from the neighboring city of Athne.
Once captured in Zandor, Tarzan is forced to fight in the gladiatorial games against a warrior named Phobeg (Ted Cassidy).
Tarzan refuses to kill Phobeg in the arena, and so Phobeg befriends him. This turn of events qualifies the episode as a “My Enemy, My Ally”-type story, which I have written about in regards to Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Enemy”), and Planet of the Apes (“The Trap”) to name just two variations of the tale. In narratives of this type, the most committed of enemies become friends, or at least work together towards common cause.
The episode culminates with Tarzan and Thia escaping custody -- with Phobeg’s help -- on a chariot. Thia is then returned home to Athne, and Tarzan returns to his jungle, where N’Kima awaits.
I’ve been watching a number of Filmation animated series from the late seventies and early eighties recently (namely season two of Flash Gordon and Blackstar), and it is a delight to report that Tarzan is pitched at a higher level, and seems a bit less slapdash.
First, there’s the commitment to creating Tarzan and his world as Burroughs envisioned it, even if some of the details are altered slightly.
And secondly, the art work is rendered well. There are some beautiful vistas here, both of the jungle and various fantasy domains.
This doesn’t feel like a cheap attempt to strip mine a popular brand, but a legitimate attempt to introduce a new generation to the adventures of Tarzan. Not all the episodes are great, and there's a fair amount of moralizing (a constant in 1970s Saturday morning television), but many of the stories are exciting and well-rendered.