Daily Recco, May 31: Joe Lara, the only Tarzan
As we mourn Joe Lara, watch him as Tarzan rescuing animals from the vile world of humans in Tarzan in Manhattan (1989).
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We woke up to the news that Joe Lara died in a plane crash. And the first thought was, “How could Tarzan die?” For the 1980s and 90s kids, Joe Lara IS Tarzan. Period. From being treated to the movie Tarzan in Manhattan (1989) and the follow-up TV series Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (1996-1997), we think Joe Lara grew into the identity of Tarzan — a character that became his claim to fame.
We talk about the movie today, but the TV series is just as exciting. There have been Tarzan movies based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs ape-man-hero comic series right from the silent pictures era, starting with Tarzan of the Apes (1918) with the titular role essayed by Elmo Lincoln. In Tarzan in Manhattan, the then 26-year-old, six-foot-three, Joe Lara fit right in with long tawny hair and blue eyes — a shocking contrast with his California tan. He was the 18th actor to essay the role of Tarzan since 1918. Call it our generation’s nostalgia or simply the fact that the 1989 Tarzan was as close to a feral child as we could imagine, swinging from trees in the jungles of Africa, raised by his ape mother Kala and his sidekick chimpanzee Cheeta — Lara is etched in our minds as Tarzan.
The storyline of the movie is simple: Kala has been murdered and Cheeta has been kidnapped. The hunters work for Brightmore — the head of a supposed philanthropic organisation. However, he is an evil experimenter (we shan’t call him a scientist) who wants to experiment on Cheeta’s brains. When Tarzan reaches New York City to avenge Kala and rescue Cheeta, he finds a larger cause — rescue all the animals from the Brightmore Foundation and expose Brightmore. He is helped by Jane — the daughter of a former cop, and her father, Archie Porter.
Their adventures in New York, close shavings with Brightmore’s goons and Tarzan’s bewilderment of the civilisation, all call for a great watch. Cheeta is inextricably associated in the public mind with Tarzan, the chimpanzee, besides being a pivotal character as an essential comic relief and a conduit between Tarzan and his allies. Tarzan is foolhardily impulsive and it falls on Cheeta’s head to lead other animal friends to Tarzan's rescue.
A word of caution though: switch off your adult brain and look at it from a child’s perspective. Tarzan, swimming the East River, clambering the 59th Street bridge and swinging through the city buildings and fire escapes like they were the creepers in the African jungle, would be all too real to you.
Watch Tarzan in Manhattan and make it a point to follow it up with the Tarzan: The Epic Adventures. Both, the movie and the TV series are available on Amazon Prime Videos. As the world mourns Joe Lara, we shall always remember him fondly swinging from the trees, procuring bananas for Cheeta.