Creative Critique: Call Of The Mild

Tarzan is sanitized beyond belief; Nestlƒ opts for banality
You might have noticed that the bulk of big hit movies this summer is obsessed with man’s baser and more carnal needs: Austin Powers goes at it nonstop in The Spy Who Shagged Me; South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut needs no explanation; and lest we forget about the subadolescent gross-out quotient of Big Daddy, the ad shows Adam Sandler and his little ward peeing in a doorway.
Anyway, judging from box-office response, we can’t get enough of male body functions on the big screen this season. Except for Tarzan. In the bodily function department, Tarzan is the true man of mystery.
For starters, how come Tarzan has no nipples? Oh yeah, he has the standard Men’s Health cover boy kind of chest–hairless, rippled, six-packed–and he has areolae. But no nipples. I guess Disney didn’t want to play into the pecsploitation game. But for a guy who was raised as an ape boy and walks on his knuckles, he’s awfully sanitized.
I know there have been complaints in the media about Tarzan’s body–that he’s bulked up in the way the Star Wars’ and Batman toys are. Some researchers believe these images are increasingly giving young boys the same eating disorders girls suffer. And that’s terrible.
But in Tarzan’s case, I beg to differ. As anybody who’s seen the promo knows, Air Tarzan’s incredible tree-surfing skills are inspired by the head animator’s teenage son’s skateboarding moves. Thus, he has the lean muscular body of a suburban California skate punk who swoops around all day looking like the male version of Jodie Foster and lives on a diet of dandelions, steamed bamboo and vine shoots, with the occasional Yoo-Hoo. Maybe he models for Abercrombie and Fitch in his spare time.
This Tarzan never emits any foul sounds nor expresses an iota of sexual hunger, especially in his relationship with Jane. The two of them, each with huge, round blue eyes, are like kittens in a Keene portrait. The pairing is about as lusty as Miss Jane and Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies.
The only thing primal about Tarzan is his search for identity, the quest for a father and the wish to be accepted by the Big Daddy gorilla he’ll never please. He asks his stepdad, “Why are you threatened by anyone different from you?” He would appear to get this from his gorilla mama, Kala, the voice of Glenn Close, who seems to have an M.A. in counseling.
But if you’re searching for the lowest, dumbest, silliest of the knuckle walkers, look no further than some of the ad tie-ins.
The Playstation spot using live elephants is best, and some of the McDonald’s spots are pretty cool. (The Tarzan straw makes more noise than Jungle Boy himself.) Aqua Fresh is bad. But did somebody say Nestlƒ? They are the very worst.
I actually thought the spot for Nestlƒ Tarzan Treats was a parody. I haven’t seen kids coiffed and dressed this prissily since Leave It to Beaver. The house, with each kid sitting on a twin bed, also looks like something out of a ’50s sitcom, but that’s to make the spiral into a jungle scene even more of a contrast! The boy and girl then appear in Fred and Wilma wear; later in the spot, when Tarzan Treats are advertised, the boy is found in the low-budget, jungle-lite setting in a felt cave-boy suit, scratching his head. The announcer says, “They’re wild.”
Perhaps it’s the annoying product name, but the spot for Nestlƒ’s “It’s a Kadoozie!” is even lamer. The Kadoozie is a tricolored ice pop encased in a package that looks graphically cool and contemporary. That’s in marked contrast to the spot, which also seems straight from the ’50s, complete with an intro featuring a boy and girl each holding a pop, looking at the screen and screaming, “It’s a Kadoozie!” “What is it?” “It’s a Kadoozie!” They look like contestants on Wonderama about to win a Schwinn Stingray.
Now, I’m as tired as the next critic of ads with preternaturally cool kids getting down in baggy hip-hop wear. But there’s got to be some middle ground that would engage kids with actual intelligence. After all, doesn’t the ability to create clever ads separate us from the apes?