Shame of the Jungle (Tarzoon, la honte de la jungle)

Shame of the Jungle
(Tarzoon, la honte de la jungle)
Director: Picha and Boris Szulzinger
Screenplay: Picha and Pierre Bartier (American version by Anne Beatts and Michael O'Donoghue)
Voices: Johnny Weissmuller, Jr., Adolph Ceaser, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, Christopher Guest, Andrew Duncan
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1975
Country: Belgium / France
"Shame of the Jungle," a Belgian/French animated spoof of Tarzan movies, is a crude, but harmless comedy that went out of its way to be politically incorrect long before that phrase held any meaning. Using bawdy and often blunt humor, it ridicules male/female relationships, sexual mores, the "white man's burden," and notions of Africa as an ancient, mystical wonderland yet to be tamed by civilization.

The movie opens with a thunderous, overly-serious narration with rolling credits that explain the mysteries of Africa. A sample goes something like this: "Africa! ... Where the thread of life is spun from cheaper thread ... Africa! Where the elephants have graveyards and men are left to rot where they fall ... Africa! Where pestilence, carnage, and rapine are not disasters, but a way of life." This immediately sets up the fact that "Shame of the Jungle" is not only mocking classic "Tarzan" films, but also those haughty National Geographic shows that peddle in anthropological importance by depicting Africa as a foreign world of danger and intrigue, when in fact, for most people the real draw of those shows is simple voyeurism (the vicarious thrill of seeing animals kill each other, natives who still don't wear clothes, etc.).

In "Shame of the Jungle," Tarzan is re-imagined as Tarzoon, who is a far cry from Edgar Rice Burrough's noble savage. In fact, Tarzoon is an incompetent sap; he has skinny arms and big feet, and his mighty leopard-skin loin cloth is more like a saggy diaper that is always falling around his knees. His coiffure must have inspired Jim Carrey's 'do in the "Ace Ventura" movies, although its duck-tail and lamb-chop sideburns indicate it was probably meant to parody Elvis.

Tarzoon's character is also a parody of the sensitive male that was all the rage in the late sixties and early seventies (and has made a grand comeback in the P.C. nineties). He is completely controlled by his feisty girlfriend, June, who kicks him out of the house and proceeds to sleep with his chimpanzee companion. The movie is often funniest in its satirical depictions of the relationship between Tarzoon and June; many of the scenes play like twisted variations of TV sit-com family lifestyles, with the meddlesome wife hen-pecking the meek husband. "No wonder you talk to the animals -- they're the only ones dumb enough to listen to you," she mocks him.

The scatter-shot plot follows Tarzoon as he attempts to rescue June after she is captured by the wicked queen, Bazunga. The narrator describes her as a "pernicious she-devil out to rule the world," and she looks like a bald-headed cross between Natasha from "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and Cruella Deville from "101 Dalmatians." Bazunga wants June's hair for her own scalp, and she sends her army of ... well, penis-men would be the best term for them, I suppose ... to capture her. While at first it seems these pudendum-creatures are only meant to look like male genitalia, a short sequence near the middle of the movie depicting how they are created makes it quickly apparent that they are, in fact, walking male genitalia with faces. A not-so-sly poke at the male preoccupation with sex, perhaps...?

The penis-men are only part of the incessant sexual imagery in "Shame of the Jungle." In fact, a moment rarely passes when some part of the screen is not trying to evoke visual references to human sex organs or copulation. The trees look conspicuously like certain parts of the male anatomy; a mountain range is drawn to look like a gynecologist's view of a woman lying on her back; Bazunga's plane is designed to look like a breast on one end and a vagina on the other; and even the entire continent of Africa is seen as a large, naked woman, with "the region known as bush country" being in an obvious location.

"Shame of the Jungle" was co-written, co-directed, and originally created by a Belgian cartoonist named Picha. For those thinking, "Belgian cartoonist?", it should be noted that Belgium has a notable history in comic strips following World War II. In fact, several well-known cartoon characters were created by Belgian paintbrushes, including the Smurfs and Tintin (who is ruthlessly mocked as a marauding missionary in "Shame of the Jungle").

Picha originally worked in newspaper comic strips. He quickly graduated to feature films, but he's only made two others, "Missing Link" (1980) and "The Big Bang" (1986). A June 1997 article by Philippe Moins in "Animation World Magazine" described Picha as a "master of causticity." In "Shame of the Jungle," he is at his caustic nastiest--an overly-sensitive soul could easily become offended at the obvious instances of gross sexism, racism, and general moral depravity. However, it is all done in ludicrous tongue-and-cheek fashion, and the general crudity of the drawing (it resembles early episodes of "Beavis and Butt-head") make it hard to take seriously.

However, for those viewing the film in the United States, it will be hard to tell how much of Picha's original vision exists on home video versions. The American version of "Shame of the Jungle" was basically re-written by "Saturday Night Live" scribes, Anne Beatts and Michael O'Donoghue, with the voices supplied by Johnny Weissmuller, Jr. (son of the original star of many "Tarzan" films in the thirties) and "SNL" stars, including John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Christopher Guest ("This Is Spinal Tap").

In addition to the new voices, several minutes of footage from the original Belgian version were cut upon release in the United States to avoid an X-rating. Although this probably served only to make the film slightly less offensive and did little to alter the raucous comedic tone, it is still interesting to wonder (considering what's still included) which scenes were left on the cutting room floor.

Copyright © 1998 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (2.5)

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