“Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle”: John Belushi, Christopher Guest and others voice this X-rated animated treasure!

By on June 18, 2015

In the mid-70s, French/Belgian animators Picha and Boris Szulzinger created the first foreign-animated film to receive both an X-rating and wide distribution in the U.S.

The feature-length cartoon — titled Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle in the States (and Tarzoon: La Honte De La Jungle in France/Belgium, and, curiously, Jungle Burger in the UK) was also the subject of a 1976 lawsuit from the estate of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who went after the producer of Tarzoon and 20th Century Fox, the film’s distributor in France, for alleged plagiarism, but lost their case in French court when it was determined the film was a legit parody of the Tarzan franchise.

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A fifteen-minute Tarzoon premiered at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, and the film was finished by September 1975.

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Audiences were treated to a wonderfully absurd and raunchy storyline taking place in the deepest part of Africa — “Bush Country” — where an evil — also, bald and multi-breasted — Queen Bazonga, who resides in a blimp inside a cave shaped like a women’s legs spread open revealing her vagina, plans to conquer the earth. She decides that she wants to be taken more seriously as the leader of her people, and is advised by her assistant Charles of the Pits (who has two heads) to get a scalp transplant from a maid named June, who works for, and is having unsuccessful sex, with Shame, the ruler of the jungle.

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Bazonga sends out her penis soldiers to kidnap June, who, sexually frustrated, ends up bedding Flicka, Shame’s monkey friend, but they end up having an orgy with her instead, and Shame, ruler of the jungle, hears her screams and sets out to rescue her with his friend Flicka’s help.

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As he swings through the jungle, a airplane containing a 4-man crew of would-be explorers — eccentric Professor Cedric Addlepate, ditzy Stella Starlet, grumbling Brutish and nevous black assistant Short — crashes in a giant mud pit, and they end up wandering through the jungle until they find Shame, who is brought back to the plane by Brutish and Short, but Prof. Addlepate suffers a different fate when he’s discovered by the the cannibalistic “Molar Men,” who tie Stella to a tree and make a quick snack of the Professor.

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The fun continues as the Molar Men race back to catch up with Brutish and Short, and satisfy their appetites again, then free Shame from his cage and they’re about to eat him too when fratboy Craig Barker appears, flying in on a carpet lifted by a flock of birds, who swoops down to save the jungle king.

We’re not sure how much more we should tell you — yes, it goes on from there! — but suffice it to say that it’s great fun and a real treat for your eyeballs.

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In 1978, Stuart S. Shapiro — the creator of the original “Night Flight” TV show and this very blog you’re reading — brought the film to the U.S., promising customs officials that the film was a work-in-progress and that it would be edited for theatrical release before showing it on U.S. movie screens, but screenings would prove to be elusive and fraught with difficulties, as theatre owners were a bit apprehensive about showing the film.

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Shapiro’s International Harmony distribution’s ad campaign helped to make the film a success in San Francisco, however, with an ad campaign — created by writer Edwin Heaven — that focused on the film’s controversial rating with posters and radio ads that promised: “You’re Going To Laugh Your X Off!”

Tarzoon was eventually re-edited and dubbed into English, and the MPAA was persuaded by the distributor to change the film’s rating to R. This new version featured newly-penned dialogue — by comedic geniuses Anne Beatts and Michael O’Donoghue — and voices, provided by celebs like John Belushi (“Craig Barker”), Christopher Guest (“Chief M’Bulu”), Adolph Caesar (“Brutish”), Brian Doyle-Murray “Charles of the Pits #1″), Judy Graubart (“Stella Starlet”), Bill Murray (“Reporter”) and Johnny Weissmuller Jr. (“Shame”), among many others you might recognize.

The Burroughs estate then filed a second lawsuit, this time demanding that the name of the cartoon be changed, after their attorney found a New York State statute covering disillusion of trademark. The estate argued that the name “Tarzan” was a “wholesome trademark,” and that the French cartoon degraded the character’s name.

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They found a judge who agreed with them, and three weeks into film’s New York screenings, the lawsuit went forward. Shapiro was forced to change the name Tarzoon in the soundtrack, reversing the title, thinking it would kill the film, because he would never be able to get it out of the soundtrack — today he refers to his solution, “as one of the ingenious workarounds in my career… it came out NOOZRAT, which was pretty funny.”

Two years later, the very same judge (U.S. District Judge Henry Werker), brought up Shapiro’s case in his decision to cut Bo Derek’s nude beach scene in her husband-producer-director John Derek’s film Tarzan, after the Burroughs estate claimed that it also ruined their trademark.

According to Shapiro, the film did not do as well at the box office, because audiences were attracted to the “Tarzoon” name, which is a damn shame, if you ask us.

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Watch it in its entirety here:

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.