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An infant boy and his parents are shipwrecked on the shores of Africa. Although the young couple is determined to create a home for their son, there, of course are dangers in the jungle. Meanwhile, further inland lives a family of gorillas, led by the dominant male, Kerchak. He and his mate, Kala, have a newborn of their own. After their son is tragically taken by a leopard, the grieving mother hears another baby crying. She discovers the orphaned human infant in a house destroyed by a predator, the same leopard who stole her child is hiding nearby to claim the human baby as well. Kala’s maternal instincts direct her to protect the child, and she manages to escape and bring him back to her clan to claim as her own. Her mate does not like the idea of a human in the clan. He feels that the boy may have others looking for him who would bring danger to the family, but Kala convinces him to allow the boy to stay. The other gorillas, especially Kerchak, never fully accept Tarzan as one of their own. He is constantly ridiculed, no matter how hard he tries to fit in. His gifts of tool making and sound imitations make him stand out from the rest. He does manage to make a few friends, though. Terk, another gorilla, likes him, but does not want her friendship with him to hinder her popularity with the rest of the clan, so she although she looks out for him, she pretends she doesn’t like him in public. Tantor, the elephant, though, has no problem openly being Tarzan’s friend. Once Tarzan grows into manhood, a ship arrives with the scientist, Professor Porter along with his daughter Jane. They have come to study the gorillas. However, Clayton, their guide, has other ideas. Jane is the first to discover Tarzan, and although she and her father become quite attached to him as they try to teach him about human culture, Tarzan refuses to show the English scientists where his family resides. Eventually, Tarzan deems them safe enough for introductions, and brings them to meet his mother, Kala. Clayton and his men take over with plans to capture the gorillas, and the Porters, Tarzan and his friends battle to stop them.
Not every family is the stereotypical mom, dad, and 2.5 kids. Many adoptive children have difficulties growing up in a family where they feel out of place – they don’t look like other members of their family. Tarzan’s mother may not look like him, but she loves him fiercely, and he learns that love and respect are more important than looking alike. After all, the humans who come to his jungle (except for Jane and her father, of course) look more like him, but they only want to hurt him and his family for their own gain. On the opposite side of the coin, Jane and her family reject much of the “civilized” world from which they came, in order to remain true to the society that they feel more in tune with.
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Kala: Close your eyes. Now forget what you see.
Kala: (puts Tarzan’s hand to his chest) What do you feel?
Young Tarzan: My heart.
Kala: (puts Tarzan’s head by her chest) Come here.
Young Tarzan: Your heart.
Kala: See? We’re exactly the same.
Tarzan: No matter where I go, you will always be my mother.
Kala: And you will always be in my heart.
Professor Porter: Oh, those magnificent creatures, shivering in cages. What is this world coming to?
Tantor: That sounded like Tarzan. It sounded like – like he was in trouble.
Terk: Yeah? Why doesn’t he get his new friends to help him? I don’t care.
Tantor: (Grabbing Terk) Thaaaaat’s IT! I’ve had it with you and your emotional constipation! Tarzan needs us, and we’re gonna help him! You got that?
(He places her on his back)
Tantor: Now pipe down, and hang on tight! We’ve got a boat to catch.
(Tantor charges off a cliff and into the ocean)
Tantor: I’ve never felt so alive!
Terk: Good, ’cause I’m gonna kill you!
(Tarzan takes Clayton’s gun and aims it at him)
Clayton: Go ahead. Shoot me. Be a man.
(a shot is heard, but not from the gun; it’s Tarzan mimicking a gunshot)
Tarzan: Not a man like you!
Tarzan: Kerchak, forgive me.
Kerchak: No. Forgive me, for not understanding that you have always been one of us. Our family will look to you now.
Tarzan: No. Kerchak.
Kerchak: Take care of them, my son. Take care of them.