Disturbing Disney #11: Clayton’s Death in Tarzan (1999)

You know, it sure seems to me like a lot of “disturbing” moments in Disney films happen to coincide with a villain’s death.

Tarzan (1999) is considered to be the end of the 1st Disney Renaissance, and for this reason I think the film has become totally underrated. Which is really a shame because the animation is incredible, particularly the scenes where Tarzan is “surfing” through the trees. The (real) villain is pretty awesome too. For most of the film, the “enemy” has been presented as Kerchak, the leader of the gorilla troop that raised Tarzan, and the gorilla that should have been Tarzan’s foster father, as it is Kerchak’s mate Kaala that  took the young man in when he was a baby, but Kerchak could never bring himself to accept the human as his son. However, the actual villain of this story is the bloodthirsty and devious Clayton, who has hitherto been working as a bodyguard for the expedition of Professor Porter and Jane. But in reality, Clayton has come because he wants to capture the gorillas for the handsome price they will fetch back in England.

Clayton

Behold the villainous Clayton, even before he’s revealed he kind of looks like a villain already

At the last minute, Tarzan is able to thwart Clayton’s attempt to kidnap all of the gorillas, but Clayton is not giving up just yet. After fatally wounding Kerchak, Clayton chases Tarzan up into the trees, figuring that if he can get Tarzan out of the way, rounding the gorillas back up should be easy. But despite his injuries (Clayton shot him in the arm), Tarzan has a distinct advantage: he was raised in this jungle, he knows how to navigate the trees with his eyes closed, Clayton is like a fish out of water. Despite this, he continues to chase Tarzan until the latter is cornered against a tree trunk. But then Tarzan uses the jungle to his advantage, ensnaring Clayton’s limbs in a tangle of jungle vines (to his mounting fury). At this point, Clayton fully snaps and begins to furiously hack at the vines holding him up, and a single shot forewarns what is about to happen: as the vines are cut away, one loop slips up to tighten around Clayton’s neck.

Tarzan “Clayton’s Death” (1999)

The first time I saw this film in theaters, I didn’t realize what was going to happen, but my parents did. To this day I remember my mom gasping at the shot and wondering what she was reacting to. I realize now that Clayton has a particularly gruesome and disturbing death scene, one that is pretty graphic if you think it through.

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As I’d said, Clayton is hacking away at the vines that are holding him up, not noticing one loop remains coiled around his neck. He is so frantic to get loose to kill Tarzan that he doesn’t notice there are fewer and fewer vines holding him up. Even Tarzan sees what is about to happen and tries to warn him, but Clayton doesn’t listen…and then it’s too late. Down to two vines (the one around his neck and the one his hand is clenching), Clayton hacks the wrong vine and begins to fall screaming, the vine still looped around his neck. This moment is terribly disturbing: not only is Clayton falling to his death, but he has enough time to know it and try desperately to avert the inevitable (see, as he falls, you can see Clayton’s hands trying to remove the loop before he runs out of slack). Maybe Tarzan could have saved himself, but Clayton is no Tarzan and in no time we see the vine go taught with an audible *SNAP* and then we see the shadowy profile of Clayton hanging by his neck…DEAD.

I’ll give Disney credit for one thing: at least they kept the actual moment of death off-screen and only showed Clayton’s dead body in silhouette. Still…watching a villain die via a broken neck is pretty disturbing, and thus it is here on the list of Disturbing Disney.

But I would like to know what YOU think of Clayton’s death; does it disturb you? Do you find it gruesome? Let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear about it.

For more Disturbing Disney, see here

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4 thoughts on “Disturbing Disney #11: Clayton’s Death in Tarzan (1999)

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