Sunday, May 29, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 16, "Diamonds in the Gruff"

"Diamonds in the Gruff" is a real Sloppy Joe of an episode -- rather messy, yet satisfying. It manages to tie together two completely separate plot lines in an improbable, yet enjoyable, manner. It includes several iconic moments that all fans of Kimba seem to remember to one degree or another... and fittingly, given the highly schizophrenic nature of the episode, these moments are simultaneously charming and eye-rubbingly bizarre. Kimba's role in the ep is also "all over the map" in nature. Early on, he is more of an assistant to a plan hatched by another character (Roger Ranger in this case) than a plot-mover in his own right. In that respect, he behaves more like Astro Boy than the proactive young prince we've come to know. Later in the episode, however, he switches to "Noble Superlion" mode to save the day (though not without some assistance from his subjects). He then "reverts to childhood" at the very end and is last seen frolicking with the jungle youngsters!

This is the first episode since "Great Caesar's Ghost" in which Kimba turns a jungle antagonist into an ally (the "jungle" qualifier is included so as to exclude the likes of Professor Madcap and Billy Bully). Here, the "positive turncoat" is the grouchy Gruff (Hal Studer), the leader of the jungle's "unreasonable" horde of alligators. The impact of this conversion is somewhat lessened by the fact that the gator gang would never really have another big chance to display their new loyalty in the dramatic manner that Samson the water buffalo did in "The Trappers." It's still necessary practice for Kimba as he proceeds to later eps and the far more difficult task of breaking down the resistance of such major-league sourpusses as Boss Rhino and Kelly Funt (the implausibly Irish-accented leader of the standoffish elephant herd).

Trust me, the Titan crew will come up with much better future malevolent monikers than Manny Mean (Ray Owens) and Norbert Nasty (Gilbert Mack). If you believe in determinism, then this pair's line of dirty work will come as no surprise at all. They're so disagreeable that they even manage to take advantage of the 1960s' less stringent restrictions on smoking on board airplanes. In light of all the white people on the plane, the northbound flight pattern, and M&N's accents, I gather that the crooks are supposed to be South Africans (or perhaps Australian expats working out of S.A.) attempting to smuggle diamonds out of the rich diamond fields in that country. Makes perfect sense. There's no indication that the gems will eventually be used to power a mass-destructive laser satellite, though... but if you're having any Wint and Kidd flashbacks, just you wait!

How often, I wonder, has baggage been thrown out of commercial aircraft "to lighten the load" in real life? It's easy to find jokes and other movie/TV references about this situation, but this is the only remotely similar real reference that I could find... and it dates from a very different era in air travel. This may rank right up there with "escaped zoo/circus animals" insofar as unrealistic-yet-frequently-employed tropes go.

Gruff's "son" Allie, with "his" prominent bows, sure looks like a girl to me. I don't see the point of a gender change unless it was somehow meant to "justify" Gruff's extreme anger at the other children's "feeding" Allie the gas... and even that requires you to swallow the sexist notion that Gruff's more likely to get upset at something happening to his son than to his daughter. Speaking of swallowing things, alligators don't seem to be omnivores to anything like the extent that they are depicted as being in this ep.

We get flung into plot thread number one in a peremptory, half-assed manner that's always bothered me. How and when were the kids put on the island? Rather than go to all the trouble of putting them there, why didn't the gators simply eat them right away? (It's not like the gators are asking for ransom or anything.) Why is the crowd of watching animals so clueless that they don't even realize that "there must be trouble"? Who told Gruff that the kids made Allie drink the gas? (If it was Allie, then he deserved what he got.) The kamikaze manner in which Kimba and the other animals run at the gators -- and then retreat -- is also poorly handled. Kimba's quick appeal to human assistance in the form of Roger Ranger doesn't speak well for his ability to craft a plan on his own. The fact that Roger's ultimate solution involves technology not normally available to Kimba partially cancels out this difficulty, but it's still somewhat bothersome.

Plot thread number two reemerges with some funny visuals, such as Nasty's cigar staying lit underwater and the Genie from Aladdin (or a relative of his) making a cameo appearance. I still find it difficult to believe that it would be that easy to locate baggage spread over what must be a fairly large area of jungle.

How tough must Gruff's teeth and digestive system be in order to swallow diamonds? Tough enough to provide the episode's pun-ny title, apparently. Now you know why the name of the head gator was changed from the name used in "Scrambled Eggs."

So M&N sleep... right next to each other... in the tent. Perhaps the creation of Wint and Kidd really was inspired by this episode.

I've heard of sea lions, but this is ridiculous.

I fully agree with the YouTube commenter who described "The Scuba Kimba Kaper" as "Waaaay CUTE!" The gag in which Kimba forgets to turn on his air lends a clever bit of verisimilitude to what is, after all, a fairly far-fetched rescue scheme. Kimba may be extremely smart, but he's surely not familiar with scuba technology, so he can be given a pass on this oversight. It's actually far more amazing to me that all the animal youngsters can handle the gear without any trouble. (This scene is all the more meaningful, in a bittersweet sort of way, if you know that Ray Owens died in 1994 while scuba-diving in the Caribbean.)

The gator march on the jungle is supposed to be scary (as indicated in the reaction of Dan'l, Bucky, and others), but I've always found it quite chucklesome. First we have the very funny "morning after" dialogue between Gruff and his second-in-command (Mack), then the goofy marching music that makes the invasion seem almost semi-comical. Should we take Gruff's threats seriously? "That, I don't know."

I can understand Pauley being full of himself at the "cleverness" and "brilliance" of his little scheme to "destroy" the gators, but he really should have paid attention to Kimba's earlier verbal comment that he didn't want to see any animals get hurt by M&N during the latter's search for the diamonds. With Kimba's angry reaction to Pauley's plan -- not to mention his blow-off of Roger for suggesting (a little shockingly, given Roger's love of animals) that "it's too late" to help the gators -- the strong-willed jungle prince that we know and love at long last reemerges.

"Diamond fever" must well and truly have driven M&N mad in light of their frankly nutsoid scheme to uncover the gator who'd swallowed their prize. Consider how low the helicopter would have to swoop in order to do an effective slice-up job... and with amateur buffoons doing the flying, how successful do you think this gambit is going to be? I'd imagine, too, that the "whirling knives" striking the gators would make it well-nigh impossible to control the subsequent flight of the copter. The wholly unnecessary sequence in which M&N chop down trees is a clear indication that they haven't a clue as to what they're doing. And how did they know that they would need "coal tar bombs" and "whirling knife attachments" in the first place, anyway? I've heard of being prepared, but M&N make Boy Scouts look like pikers.

Fueled no doubt by the nobility of his cause, Kimba now proceeds to do a couple of daring deeds that would seem to be a stretch even for him. Since M&N have to fly low to begin with in order to cut up the gators, it is at least plausible that Kimba might be able to do this...

... but in order to accomplish this, he would probably have to have received that operation from Professor Madcap beforehand:

No sooner must we accept these amazing feats than we get the exceptionally confusing sequence of scenes in which M&N's copter is trashed and then crashes. I suspect that the original Japanese version of the attack was a little more coherent and that the seeming randomness of the American version (uh, wait, wasn't that Samson? And how did Bucky and Pauley suddenly appear to help?) is simply the result of some poor editing. A fuller explanation as to how Kimba was injured may also have been left on Titan's cutting-room floor.

Strangely, given that an entire future episode ("The Red Menace") will be devoted to the animals' concerns over fire, our friends don't appear to be all that fazed by the holocaust that envelops the river in the wake of the copter crash. Roger even channels The Life of Brian with his loopily sunny remark that at least the fire will "soften the tar." I would imagine that the ecological consequences of such a disaster, especially as they relate to the animals' water supply and that of the farm, would tend to be a bit more important in the long run.

I'd love to know how the bruised and battered M&N (1) managed to survive their crash in the first place and (2) then managed to catch another plane so quickly without any means of transportation to the airport. Perhaps the incident of the detective (Ray Owens) arresting our hapless antagonists on the plane postdated the wrap-up scenes in the jungle. These scenes are brief but to the point, though the ep sort of peters out with a pointless shot of sparkling water (I guess that pollution cleared itself up right quick, eh?). As bizarre as it is in places, I always enjoy watching this episode, and I have all the more reason to enjoy it on the heels of having to endure "Scrambled Eggs." The series is back on track, though not without a fair number of logical bumps and bruises...

Up next: Episode 17, "The Magic Serpent."

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