Sunday, April 3, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 9, "The Flying Tiger"

Decent but not great -- mostly due to a larger-than-needed number of logical holes -- "The Flying Tiger" is primarily notable for Kimba's first use of the "mad human scientist visits the jungle" trope. The nutty noodler in question, the horse-faced Professor Madcap (Gilbert Mack), winds up as something of a "tweener" (to borrow from Greg Weagle's wrestling vocab). He "tampers in God's domain" to a disturbingly extreme extent, yet pivots at story's end to become not such a bad guy. That's a pretty good result, given some of the nogoodniks we'll be seeing down the road a piece.

Also, somewhat belying his reputation as a "super-lion," Kimba gets beaten up pretty badly, not once, not twice, but three times in this ep. In two of the three instances, direct intervention by others is the only thing saving Kimba from what would appear to be a pretty severe fate. Granted, it's easier to root for Kimba if he doesn't win all of his battles easily all the time, but this ep shows just how far he has to go in terms of developing straight-ahead fighting skills.

We get a shocking opening that not even the brief presence of the "goofy" Harry Hedgehog (Billie Lou Watt) can obviate: the aged, prickly "bald eagle" Clutch (Mack) swiping a "cute wittle bunny wabbit"! And that rabbit is not coming back, but will instead presumably be "wipped apawt"! What will the children think?

Certain species of eagles do apparently exist in Africa, but they assuredly don't include the bald-headed variety. Aside from Dan'l's description of Clutch, you can tell that the old bird is bad news because Mack uses a voice for him that will be familiar to anyone who's watched Astro Boy: that of the "crabby, misanthropic scientist character" who would often cause trouble for the Institute of Science (and usually possess a secret weapon or something similar that would make him a target for bad guys, obliging Astro Boy to go on a rescue mission to save his sorry rear end). Mack would later use the same old-man voice for the more benevolent characters of Methuselah the Bush-Daddy and Pop Woolly the Mountain Goat.

Stretch the Giraffe (Mack), Dodie Deer (Watt), and Dash the Cheetah/Leopard...thing (Ray Owens) are the first group of youthful characters to act "as a team" in their support of Kimba, but they assuredly would not be the last. The trio of Dot the Ocelot, Dash, and Dinky the Lynx will ultimately become the most consistent "gang" accompanying Kimba in stories in which the young Lion Prince is either portrayed as or acts as a child character (going to school, getting into mischief, etc.). These "Kimba the Kid" episodes are somewhat peculiar, existing as they do cheek by jowl with eps in which Kimba is very much the jungle lord, but they also tend to be quite enjoyable (provided that you can stomach the support personnel's high-pitched "kiddie" voices).

If Clutch were a hummingbird, I could perhaps buy the idea of him being able to cause a rock-moving windstorm with his wings, but as it's presented here... well, he comes off as much more of a "super-eagle" (does the Nigerian Soccer Team know about him?) than Kimba does as a supposed "super-lion." Kimba is so thoroughly whipped that he clearly reacts in a far more despondent manner than Watt vocally portrays here (note the droopy ears).

The night scene in which the "flyger" makes his first appearance stretches the bounds of credibility so tautly that you can hear the "twang" from here. How could a tiger, even a flying one, "carry off" an antelope? Why make such a big deal over "not having tigers in Africa" when a bald eagle just popped in? How would Kimba know that there are no tigers in Africa -- and if there are none, then where did he ever learn that tigers even exist? (A number of visits to the zoo with Roger Ranger during Kimba's "civilized years" are implied here, but they're never formally explicated.) These gaping plot holes have always irritated me. To make matters worse, Dodie will now spend much of the rest of the episode whining about getting her "mama" back. This sequence has a lot to answer for.

Happily, the Kimba-Clutch-Dodie-"flyger" scene that follows the night scene is very good... and the "flyger" (Ray Owens, using a more evil version of his Reginald Owen-inflected voice for Astro Boy's Dr. Elefun) being able to cause a windstorm with wing-flapping, I can buy, at least for animated-cartoon purposes. This first battle between Kimba and the "flyger" is as purely "animalistic" as any fight Kimba ever engaged in. Left unanswered is the question of exactly why the mutilated Clutch decided to save the drowning Kimba's soggy bacon and pitch into the "flyger" when he did. Clutch will soon come to respect Kimba due to the latter's subjects' obvious love for him, but I gather that this offensive (along with Clutch's earlier efforts to fight with Kimba in the cave) was primarily motivated by the proud Clutch's shame at what has happened to him.

More annoying questions. How does Professor Madcap know so much about Kimba, even that the lion can speak human language? And did the good Prof's lab just "apparate" (complete with Astro Boy SFX!) in the jungle one day without any of the animals noticing? Those "prefab labs" are amazing, aren't they?

The scene between Madcap and the "flyger" is the first indication that the "vicious" tiger is not what he appears to be. Madcap's mention of the creature's previously "gentle" nature suggests that the "flyger" is actually furious at being turned into a freak and is simply lashing out at everyone and everything. With his "flyger" having flown the coop, Madcap pops the question on Kimba becoming a "flion," leading to the brief but very charming fantasy sequence... which I wish would have been accompanied by the cut sequence (notice the quick fade-in/fade-out at 7:36 in the video) in which, I would assume, we were asked to imagine Caesar's reaction through Kimba's eyes. Judging by Kimba's solemn face following the missing scene, I have no doubt that the imagined Caesar was "not at all... pleased."

Right on the heels of "The Insect Invasion," Kimba must once again fight off his legitimate fear and accept a challenge -- this one a far more directly physical one. Even with the assistance of some impromptu nunchuks, Kimba again gets the worst of it... until Dodie's mom pays off her daughter's nagging. The fight then wraps up so abruptly that I strongly suspect there was another cut here someplace. I'm glad that they retained the "shadow-boxing" sequence, however; it was a clever way of avoiding too much on-screen violence while still getting the ferocity of the action across.

Professional Jungle Prince in closed lab. Do not attempt at home.

The ep concludes neatly, perhaps a little too much so. Professor Madcap is properly eloquent when describing how he has learned his lesson, but this little speech also raises some issues that even the most devoted Kimba fans might not be comfortable with... for example, wouldn't Kimba's desire to teach the carnivorous animals to eat vegetables count as a very significant example of "flying in the face of nature"? Is a self-imposed, well-meaning version of "tampering in God's domain" automatically superior to Madcap's more intrusive, imposed-from-outside version? In "A Revolting Development," science once again intervenes to save the day with a "synthetic meat substitute," but even that could be counted as slightly unnatural. The results of a century of attempts at social engineering suggest that all parties are on at least somewhat shaky ground here. Bottom line: Madcap never does appear again, and it's probably a good thing.

Up next: Episode 10, "Two Hearts and Two Minds."

1 comment:

Mark Lungo said...

"Professional Jungle Prince in closed lab. Do not attempt at home."

Funny! You should do more humorous photo captions.