Sunday, February 13, 2011

THE BEST OF KIMBA: Episode 2, "The Wind in the Desert"

The story of how Kimba (finally) returned to the jungle to take up his father's legacy is all of a piece with the numerous Kimba episodes that concern, in some fashion, Kimba's "backstory" -- the tale of how Kimba came to be familiar with the human world and how it informed his future actions as jungle leader. It's full of inconsistencies and logical lapses that will make even the most forgiving of "fanboys" tear out his hair in frustration. Even so, it ultimately redeems itself by drawing from the series' long suit -- "Heart" -- and creating a scenario in which we badly want the characters to succeed even when what they're doing or saying doesn't make the best of sense.

Let's welcome Kimba back to the jungle with a musical overture. And if you don't think that this doo-wop classic has anything to do with the episode... just listen, and then watch the ep. You'll be surprised.


I can't say that Kimba's first "jungle scene" was handled all that artfully by Mushi. He appears (as Greg Weagle might say) OUT OF NOWHERE and immediately plunges into a confrontation with several of his most persistent (if not his most competent) adversaries, the evil lion Claw's hyena-henchmen, Tom (Ray Owens) and Tab (Gilbert Mack). T&T's West Side Story-esque finger-snapping patter routine appeared a few too many times on the show to please me, but they're OK in small doses. Alas, this "official first meeting" would be whizzed away just five episodes later in "Battle at Dead River," when Kimba "meets T&T again for the first time." I wish I knew the order in which those two eps were recorded.

Kimba's pacifist approach here reflects the manga. As Tezuka told the story, the pampered pet lion was brought to the jungle and initially traumatized by such appetizing sights as vultures picking over a carcass. Kimba actually comes off better than that here, in that he isn't visibly scared by T&T; he simply wants to avoid a fight with them. In describing his planned philosophy of jungle governance -- an outlook as yet still pristine and not yet scarred and battered by bitter experience -- Kimba also slips in the first references to his previous life among humans. (Was that Daytona Beach he washed up on? Or maybe it was Cape Town. It's hard to tell.)

Kimba's first encounters with his staunchest allies -- Bucky (Owens), wise old Dan'l Baboon (Owens channeling Walter Brennan), and champion pop-off Pauley Cracker (Mack) -- are a continuity buff's nightmare. Kimba meets Bucky for the first time as he's rescuing him... fine. But Dan'l and Kimba knowing each other by name? Kimba knowing Pauley, but the reverse not being true? I suppose you could make sense of this if Dan'l and Kimba had "exchanged notes" in advance of Kimba's arrival. Since Dan'l is the ranking senior member of the jungle community, such an "early warning system" would be a politic thing for Kimba to use. Then, too, Dan'l's comment "You came here just in time" would have no meaning unless the baboon had had some inkling that Kimba was "due." You have to assume a LOT to make all this hang together, though.

Hard as it may be to believe, the black panther Cassius (Owens) played the exact same role in the manga that Tom and Tab play in the TV series; he was the doofus sidekick to the loud, overbearing, unquestionably Scar-resembling Claw (Mack). The decision to turn Cassius into a much more menacing character, aside from providing Claw with a "brain heavy" that did not exist in the manga, makes Claw a more formidable adversary almost despite himself. Left to his own mental devices, Claw is hopelessly outmatched against Kimba, especially the more mature (not to mention physically stronger) version of later episodes. With Cassius whispering evil ideas into his ear, Claw at least has a "puncher's chance" of defeating Kimba by guile. You might almost think of Claw and Cassius as together forming a foe to rival Scar.

The "Bushdaddy" character only appears here but later mutated, so to speak, into Methuselah, an ancient creature who lived in a tree and dispensed sage wisdom to Kimba from time to time. It's probably for the best that this transition took place; "Bushdaddy" would probably have run out of cliched phrases within an episode or two.

If you think that the appearance of "secret agent James Brawn" seems jarring, it might have been worse had Kimba gone into production in Japan a year later than it actually did. In 1966, Japan was convulsed by the presence of the James Bond movie crew, which was filming You Only Live Twice (1967). I have a feeling that we would have seen a number of additional "spy-type guys" -- in the flashback sequences, if nothing else -- had the YOLT foofaraw occurred before production on Kimba commenced. As things stand, James Brawn (Hal Studer -- Billie Lou Watt's husband), with his mission to stop the use of illegal weapons, comes off as more like a slightly glamorized Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms official. And can you imagine Sean Connery admitting that he'd chuck it all to live like Ranger Smith? (The Titan crew may have been hedging its bets a bit here -- at the time, they were unsure as to whether Brawn was actually supposed to be Kimba's former master and future ally Roger Ranger. As we'll see, they took a big hint at episode's end that he wasn't, which prevented a gaffe.) The Ned Sparks-inflected Graspin Grabb (Owens), with his Captain Planet-style primary-colors villainy and his frequent quips, is one human villain I wouldn't have minded seeing again.



I can't even pretend to understand why Brawn and Kimba can communicate verbally, let alone why Brawn knew Kimba's name. The very next episode, "A Human Friend," posits that the animals can't talk to humans and want to learn. Unfortunately, the Titan crew had little control over this, as Mushi clearly presented the two characters as having actual conversations here. I think the crew handled it about as well as they could have. As illogical as the byplay is, the two characters make a pretty good team when fighting the bad guys. And that leads to...

... Kimba now realizing that fighting for a good cause is not wrong. One can only imagine what inspiration he would have drawn from Brawn's actual death (as opposed to the "just resting" business we're given here) as it pertained to the need to be willing to sacrifice for others. The scene in the desert, with its haunting theme music, is remarkably effective despite the unfortunate compromise and the horribly muddled ending in which Kimba proposes to go and say goodbye to his "resting" friend, only to abruptly change his mind and return to the jungle with Dodie (Watt).

In his first fight with Claw, Kimba shows some of the "super powers" that NBC had persuaded Tezuka to give to the lion in order to lighten the show's atmosphere and make it more "believable" that Kimba could hold his own physically against far larger opponents. Even so, Claw is clearly physically superior at this moment, as Kimba has to resort to guile to trap Claw in the well. In slinking off at the end, Claw blows his best real chance to simply overpower Kimba. Apart from his size disadvantage, Kimba is not yet firmly established as a leader; he had been on the scene for only a short while before being captured by Grabb, so his bag of bona fides is empty, leaving him to rely heavily on the other animals' sentimental memories of Caesar. By the time of Claw's next appearance in "Battle at Dead River," Kimba has established alliances and is in a much stronger position.

But now I must address the question that my good friend Joe Torcivia asked the first time I showed him this episode: WHAT ABOUT THE BOMB?

"Should we go ahead and proceed with bomb disposal, Kimba?"
"Sorry, I don't have hands, Dodie."
"Neither do I, Kimba."
"C'mon Dodie, let's go home."


Hopefully, "super miniature bombs" have expiration dates. Otherwise, Kimba and his friends will wind up like the lead singer of The Cadets and literally be "cooked" someday.

Up next: Episode 3, "A Human Friend"

1 comment:

Joe Torcivia said...

Chris:

Intentional or not, the ending (regarding the bomb), reeks of the kind of Nyah-Nyah, in-your-face, it’s all a big joke anyway, type of ending employed by such theatrical animation classics as “Falling Hare” (where they “run out of gas”) or “King Size Canary” (where there’s just no more of the stuff)!

Having “no hands” doesn’t prevent you from running to get help from someone who does. Even Lassie could tell you that – that is if she could speak! :-)

This may be the key to what I consider one of Kimba’s faults… I’ve always gotten the sense that the voice actors appear to have “made it up”, in reaction to what they saw in the animation.
If they ever were presented with a script, they probably “threw it out” and rolled with the moving pictures.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There have been times (seldom, but true) where I’ve completely thrown out the script for a Disney comic – and just wrote from my brain and from my heart. (You might be able to guess where – but I’ll not be telling publically!)

But, when I’ve done that, I’ve added humor and proper characterizations where there were none – for the most part, the Kimba actors appear to have kept that part of the covenant – AND maintained an “internal logic” to the story, whether or not one was in the original script.

Leaving a live bomb ticking in the wild (even in a work of children’s fiction) is not the way to go – unless you were setting up a sequel, or were doing a Bob Clampett or Tex Avery style cartoon!

“Nyah-Nyah” – Joe.