Discussion Packet

Tarzan (1999) – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

  1. When Tarzan and his parents are shipwrecked in the jungle how do they handle it? What would you do if you were in a similar situation?
    Caregiver Note: After experiencing the trauma of the shipwreck, it would be understandable for Tarzan’s parents to feel overwhelmed and scared (which they likely do). However, instead of dwelling on those feelings they figure out a plan for how to move forward and build a home and life for themselves in the jungle, showing great resilience. Our children have a similar resilience inside of them that has allowed them to get through their own traumatic past. Coming into care may have felt to them very much like being suddenly stranded in a jungle and this can be a way to get that conversation started about what it feels and looks like to be thrust into a new life situation.
  2. Kala immediately takes Tarzan in and protects him without any hesitation. Why do you think she does this?
    Caregiver Note: In the opening sequence we see Kala lose her own infant to a leopard attack. This is somewhat subtle and may not be noticed by young children (it definitely went over my head as a child!) This plays into her reasons for wanting to take in Tarzan but she also sees that he is alone and wouldn’t be able to survive on his own. She very quickly finds herself bonding with him despite him being very different from her and not biologically related. This can be a way for you to talk to the child about how you felt when they first came to live with you and the bond you have with them.
  3. Kerchak, however, allows Tarzan to stay but does not seem to really want him there. Why do you think he feels this way?
    Caregiver Note: If children did pick up on the loss of Kerchak and Kala’s baby, this can be a way to talk about the different experiences of grief. Kala channels her grief into loving and caring for Tarzan, but for Kerchak he may see baby Tarzan as a reminder of what he has lost with his own son. It can also be a time to talk about how sometimes people are afraid of what is different and that since Kerchak is in charge of protecting the whole Gorilla troop, he has a responsibility to make sure that they are safe. Kerchak may also have is own previous experience with humans and have seen the destructive things they can do to animals/the jungle (as we later see demonstrated by Clayton) and has let that experience drive his opinion of all humans, much in the same way that previous trauma may affect kiddos (for example- since they were abused by one caregiver they mistrust all caregivers).
  4. How do Terk and the other young gorillas treat Tarzan? How does this make Tarzan feel? Have you ever experienced this? What are ways you can help make others feel welcome instead of left out, even if they’re different from you?
    Caregiver Note: While at times Terk seemed friendly to Tarzan, she would leave him out and tease him when the other young gorillas were around. At first Tarzan didn’t seem to notice that he’s being made fun of, but is later hurt and upset about feeling different. This is an opportunity to talk about bullying and the ways in which children can help others to feel welcome and/or how they have felt if they have similar experiences of being made fun of or left out.
  5. When Tarzan is upset and feels like he is different from his friends and other gorillas in his family, his mother reminds him of the ways that they are similar. What are the ways in which you and I are the same or different? Which are more important?
    Caregiver Note: This can be a great starting point for a conversation about similarities and differences. Foster and adoptive children may be from a different race or culture than their caregivers which can result in very significant physical differences. However, like Kala does with Tarzan, point out the ways in which you are similar also. And this doesn’t have to be limited to the physical as Kala does (we both have two hands, two eyes, heartbeat). But you can also find interests or personality traits that you have in common. It’s also important to note that our differences make us unique and special and should be celebrated while still finding the common threads that make you part of the same family.
  6. After Tarzan meets Jane and the other humans he is fascinated by them and wants to learn more about these creatures that are like him. However, Kerchak tells him he has to stay away from them. How does Tarzan react to this? Have you ever felt torn between two things that were both important to you?
    Caregiver Note: Tarzan struggles to reconcile the two parts of himself- his desire to be loyal to and protect his adoptive Gorilla family and his curiosity and strong desire to know more about his past and the people who are like him. Children may have felt something similar in regards to their birth families. They may love their foster or adoptive family but also feel compelled to seek out their birth family or desire to spend more time with them and this may create feelings of conflict as they may feel like they are betraying one family or the other. As caregivers it’s important to have open conversation to help children avoid feeling like this. If they have contact with their birth families in any capacity make sure they understand that you accept and support these relationships. And if they don’t have contact, try to help them understand the reasons for that (as age/maturity level and guidance from agencies may dictate).
  7. Tarzan confronts Kala about why she didn’t tell him about his identity/past sooner. Why do you think she kept this from him? Do you think that was the right thing to do?
    Caregiver Note: It’s not clear from the film why Kala never told Tarzan he was a different species or about how she came to care for him. It can likely be assumed that since she raised him from such a young age and very strongly felt like he was her son that she didn’t want him to feel otherwise or question if he belonged in the family. What to tell a child about their past and when to talk to them about it is one of the trickiest things to navigate with adoption. How your child reacts to this question may give you some insight to how they feel about their own story and how it was told to them or what questions they might still have.
  8. Jane tries to convince Tarzan to return to England with her, saying “You belong with us.” However, Tarzan also feels like he should stay with his adoptive Gorilla family whom he loves. Where do you think Tarzan belongs? What should he do?
    Caregiver Note: Again, this can be a great conversation starter with the kids in your care and their opinions about Tarzan’s situation may offer some insight to their own feelings about their foster/adoptive family, their bio family and the different connections they feel to each. The important thing is that there are no right or wrong answers here- Tarzan is part of both worlds and either choice he makes would be a valid one, given the information we have at this point.
  9. Kala shows Tarzan his childhood home and he sees some of his old belongings and a picture of his parents for the first time. How do you think this experience makes Tarzan feel?
    Caregiver Note: Children who have been through trauma likely have complicated emotions surrounding items or places from their past. On one hand, seeing pictures of mementos might make them feel a connection to their biological families and provide a sense of familiarity. But, many times these items or locations may also trigger painful memories relating to their trauma. This can be a difficult topic for many, especially if they only recently experienced a trauma. Talking about Tarzan’s experience might be an easier way for them to talk about how these activities might make them feel.
  10. Tarzan protects Jane and Dr. Porter from Kerchak, even going as far as to physically fight him. When the fight ends Tarzan looks at his own hands and seems horrified- as if he didn’t know his own strength or what he was doing at the time and feels bad for hurting Kerchak. Have you ever had an experience like this?
    Caregiver Note: Children from a background of trauma will often have various behaviors they engage in when they feel threatened or something triggers a memory or flashback of the trauma. They may get into a fight, break things, or have some other type of emotional outburst. Then once the perceived threat is gone and they have regained emotional regulation they may not remember what they did or why they engaged in certain behaviors. Like Tarzan experiences, this may lead them to feeling bad about hurting someone or causing damage that they didn’t mean to. Some children may also have lingering guilt over defending themselves from an abusive caregiver. It’s important to talk about ways to improve emotional regulation but also that these behaviors stem from an adaptive place that helped them to survive.  And while they may have hurt someone, which isn’t ideal, they didn’t mean it in a malicious way, just as Tarzan didn’t intend to hurt Kerchak, he just wanted to help his new friends.
  11. When Tarzan leaves to go back to England with Jane and Dr. Porter, his friends are upset that they didn’t get to say goodbye. Tantor says he is sad, but Terk calls Tarzan names and hits Tantor when he tries to comfort her. Why do you think she reacts this way?
    Caregiver Note: Grief can manifest itself in many different ways. Sometimes, it is easier to feel angry than it is to feel sad. Terk isn’t really mad at Tarzan and it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about it, this is just Terk’s way of trying to deal with the pain. Tantor says he understands that she is sad too and Terk hits him, likely because she is trying to prove to him that she isn’t sad. Sometimes grief can be perceived as weakness so she may feel that being angry instead makes her seem stronger. This can be a good time to talk to children about the different feelings they have when they experience something sad or upsetting and why sometimes emotions may come out differently than what you’re really feeling (i.e. Engaging in ‘mad’ actions when you’re really sad, laughing when you’re nervous, etc.)
  12. Kerchak is shot by the humans but right before he dies, he finally calls Tarzan his son and apologizes for not understanding that he was a part of the family all along. What changed Kerchak’s mind? How do you think it makes Tarzan feel to hear this?
    Caregiver Note: Kerchak has told Tarzan throughout the movie that he will never be one of them and that he doesn’t belong. When he sees Tarzan defending and helping the gorilla family, he realizes he’s been wrong and that looking similar isn’t what makes a family, caring and helping each other is what does that. Kerchak’s change of heart is an important thing to discuss- it shows us that it’s okay to make a mistake sometimes but that it’s important to admit to the mistake and apologize/change behavior. Tarzan has tried his entire life to please Kerchak, so it probably makes him feel good to finally be called his son, something he’s always wanted. But it’s bittersweet because Kerchak is dying and Tarzan won’t get to have a relationship with him now that he’s accepted.

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About the Author: Jenn Ehlers

Jenn is a central Virginia native who received her BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia in 2012. Since then she has worked for a local mental health agency and the Department of Social Services in various capacities and has been involved in her community’s efforts to create a Trauma Informed Network. Currently Jenn works in vocational rehab and mentors youth in foster care. When she isn’t working, Jenn enjoys writing stories, anything and everything Harry Potter, and spending time with her niece and nephew.

**Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its review to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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