Sunday, June 26, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 18, "The Runaway"

We're back -- and it's time to get your emo on as we meet Gargoyle G. Warthog (Gilbert Mack), unquestionably Kimba's most schizophrenic one-shot visitor. Unlike Rancid Reekybird of "The Magic Serpent," Gargoyle, though goofily endearing at times, essentially brings a lot of the grief he suffers on himself, thanks to his absolute conviction that he's the ugliest creature alive. He doesn't openly threaten Kimba's rule, but, like later one-shotters Wiley Wildcat ("The Wild Wildcat") and Silvertail ("Silvertail the Renegade"), he poses an indirect threat to "the prince's peace." The manner in which he redeems himself is, quite frankly, a bit contrived, spinning as it does off of an out-of-left-jungle McGuffin ("The Animal of the Year Award") that is presented with much fanfare but basically did not really need to be introduced in the first place. Kimba is off his best form as well, planning questionable traps and defeating a one-shot menace (a bunch of anarchic mandrills called The Howler Gang) thanks more to sheer luck than anything else. You must admit, however, that, whether Gargoyle engages your rooting interest or irritates you beyond all reason, he will be remembered well after the ep's action has been forgotten.

The opening scenes with Gargoyle set the tortured tone: it's as if the souls of Goofus, Gallant, and a Wachowski Brother have all been poured into one pint-sized, wart-covered body. Gargoyle's relationship with the cute Wildey Boar (Sonia Owens) and his willingness to help Bucky with the fledgling post office show his tender and thoughtful side, his willingness to absorb punishment from Speedy Cheetah (Sonia's voice sounds even more Jimmy Stewart-like here than it did in "Fair Game"), Samson's dumber brother (Ray Owens), and the mama monkey (Sonia again) show his sadomasochistic side, and his viperish snapping at and fighting with the baffled Kimba display his nasty side. Even if Gargoyle didn't resent Kimba for being handsome, I think that he probably would have found some reason for internal turmoil and discontent. Some folks are simply like that. We are probably fortunate that he wasn't also a vampire.

When Mrs. Warthog (Sonia -- if ever she deserved an on-screen credit, it was here) is improbably "delivered" to Kimba's lair, we learn that Gargoyle has run away from home, but how long has he been hanging around Kimba's kingdom? Bucky, Dan'l, and Kimba seem to know him already, but only Dan'l seems to be fully aware of (and concerned about) Gargoyle's internal demons. Dan'l "older and wiser" status probably accounts for his ability to pick up on Gargoyle's mixed signals, but Kimba's comparative cluelessness indicates that he still has a ways to go regarding fully understanding the souls of his subjects. Tangible external threats and moralistic lectures on "proper behavior" are one thing, characters who bring their own demons with them quite another. When the alienated Wiley Wildcat happens along 10 eps down the line, Kimba proves better able to handle him (albeit in somewhat unorthodox ways). Perhaps his previous experience with Gargoyle was helpful in that regard.

Having already established their ability to "explain away" obvious on-screen fatalities, the Titan crew was clearly up against it when presented with Gargoyle's SM bent. I think they handled it fairly well. The bass-clarinet-based "Gargoyle's Theme" already served to lighten the tone, and the Titan gang kept the accompanying dialogue just a bit frothy ("You must be cracked!" sounds pretty benign to me, given Gargoyle's behavior). This made Gargoyle's ultimate breakdown and angry fight with Kimba seem all the more shocking.

The "jungle post office" was a throwaway detail in JUNGLE EMPEROR, and this is the only TV episode in which it figures prominently. The animals' later complaints about "breaking the law" regarding the delivery of mail shows just how "civilized" Kimba's kingdom has become by this time.

I'd take the Animal of the Year Award a bit more seriously if the "contest" for the award had lasted a bit longer than a day or two. That leaves a LOT of potential ballots uncounted, if you know what I mean.

It's a shame that The Howler Gang only made this one appearance. Their "we just want to watch the jungle burn" approach would have provided a good complement to the "foes with plans" (Claw's gang, Tonga) and the "internal opponents of Kimba's ideas" that dominated the antagonists' lineup. They seem to provide a pretty stiff physical challenge for Kimba, too, if only due to sheer numbers. But where are their number plates?

Given Mrs. Warthog's obvious affection for her schizoid son, Mrs. Boar's (Billie Lou Watt) crude insult may actually be the first time that Gargoyle has BEEN openly dissed in his life. Here is where most viewers will put aside the puzzlement and start rooting for him to prove himself -- though he will need one additional kick in his ovoid buttocks before he's ready to do so.

Really, Kimba... a hole in the ground covered with detritus is the BEST you can do against the Howlers? Do you expect all of them to fall into the pit like dominoes? You can hardly blame Gargoyle for messing up the trap. The excuse that Gargoyle "[wanted] to hide his ugly face" and flung himself in comes off as exceptionally lame (Gargoyle wasn't with the other animals when they made the trap, so how would he know where it was?) and almost an apology for an uncharacteristically feeble effort by Kimba.

After some tough love from Mrs. Warthog, we are now REALLY on Gargoyle's side, even unto supporting what amounts to a kamikaze mission against the Howlers. Kimba's comment about Gargoyle losing his chance to win the medal strikes me as remarkably short-sighted. I mean, he's just seen Gargoyle slapped down by his own previously-devoted mother; can't he say something a bit more compassionate?

The scene with Gargoyle and Wildey is really affecting. Wildey's plaintive "Please don't do that" as Gargoyle mashes his face into the rocks packs far more of a punch than any hysterical remonstrance would have. Then, Wildey's pitiful request for help seems to awaken Kimba to the true psychological importance of what Gargoyle is going through; he winds up pitching into the mocking Howlers in a positively Gargoyle-esque fashion. Some of the Howlers' rough treatment of Gargoyle was cut from the American dub (it can be found on the Extras disc in the Kimba Ultra Edition), but what remains on screen is nasty enough and makes me wish that Kimba had truly beaten up the gang, as opposed to driving it off through the fortuitous intervention of some angry bees. Amusingly, Kimba and Gargoyle are seen covered with nasty-looking sting marks in one scene, but Kimba is welt-free a second or two later. Ah, the therapeutic effects of the triumph of virtue.

We finish with a congrats-all-around scene very much like that of "The Magic Serpent," aside from the superfluous intervention of that doggone medal. Rancid didn't need any bauble to convince him to help Kimba and the birds against Puffy Adder. The coda does come with a good "sting in the tail" (sorry, I still have bees on my mind) thanks to the comments by Mrs. Boar. Hypocritical much? A good episode, on balance... and the "swinging version" of "Gargoyle's Theme" at the very end is a very fitting symbol of Gargoyle's new-found confidence and inner peace. He would appear off-and-on throughout the remainder of the series, but never as more than a background figure. The essential battle had, after all, already been won.

Up next: Episode 19, "Mystery of the Deserted Village."

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