Thursday, July 14, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 23, "The Gigantic Grasshopper"... and a new KIMBA KONNECTION riding KABOOSE!

A number of our jungle friends seem just a little bit "off form" in "The Gigantic Grasshopper," but that's not to take away from an eerily effective episode in which Kimba must deal with the dark side of "great responsibility": the necessity of taking a life, even a mindlessly destructive one. A creepy ambience is sustained from the opening gong as Kimba's kingdom is threatened by an atypically "science-fictional" menace. Those used to "group-laugh" conclusions of cartoons -- or even the "group-farewell" closings that are more typical of Kimba -- are in for a BIG shock here; the ending has far more in common with an episode of, say, Gargoyles than anything else available in 1966-era animated TV.

This is the first episode in which Kimba can be said to have (momentarily) buckled under the pressures of leadership. In the past, he's despaired on occasion, but never before has he snapped. The bizarre nature of the uber-powerful foe has a lot to do with it, but Kimba's mid-ep tirade against some of his own subjects can be at least partially explained by his legitimate need for assistance that is not forthcoming. The irony is that, when we review "Gypsy's Purple Potion" next time, we'll see the jungle animals eagerly rush to the aid of an incapacitated Kimba, even at considerable risk to themselves, and demonstrate their loyalty to the jungle prince in impressively tangible ways. Perhaps the animals who let Kimba down here had a good "heart-to-heart" after the fact and resolved to do better by their leader next time. Or perhaps the episode order is somehow messed up. I'm thinking the latter.

Kimba's behavior isn't the only feature of this ep that is not at its best. Dan'l Baboon becomes obsessed with omens and portents and is dissed by the other animals with surprising alacrity. Roger Ranger and Kimba let loose with some dialogue that can only be described as mind-numbingly boneheaded. The animals avoid contemplating what to do about the giant mutant grasshopper that's been bred in the insect cave (cf. "The Insect Invasion") in favor of engaging in an irrelevant tangential discussion. All that being said, this is still a very good episode. Really.


For a "new moon," that looks suspiciously like a crescent to me. The funny thing is, we'll see a FULL moon in the final scene, and there's no possible way that the events of this episode lasted a whole month.

I think that the Titan crew made the right call in electing not to try to "Anglicize" the owls' nighttime serenade. What the owls (with whiskers?) are saying isn't really important; the mood that they establish is. It certainly helps that owls hoot the same way in both English and Japanese.

Hasn't Dan'l established enough "cred" with the others to be taken just a little more seriously about feeling an earthquake? Especially since, as Dan'l notes, "things have been mighty peculiar" ever since the willywisp... uh, thingy... blew into town, chopped down the trees, and supposedly vaporized. Since other animals observed the same phenomenon, Dan'l's mistake here was in not trying to establish the connection right away, as opposed to waiting to mull things over back at his tree. Then again, Dan'l seems adamant in attributing the giant plants and so forth to satanic intervention, so perhaps he should have kept his mouth shut. Kimba later belatedly "piles on" by (momentarily) accusing Dan'l of possibly "fooling" him about the earthquake that Kimba himself felt. This seems more than a little ungrateful to me.

Once again, "radioactivity" seems to be a convenient explanation for everything EXCEPT that which radioactivity actually causes! I think Roger Ranger is punching a little above his level of expertise here. (How is he going to be able to say that "it's safe"? Does he think that he can build a Geiger counter out of coconuts?) At least we can give Kimba, Pauley, and Dan'l a pass on not understanding the phenomenon of radioactivity. In "The Day the Sun Went Out," we'll learn that Kimba is unfamiliar with eclipses, as well.

I love the little eraser that "teacher" Kimba is wearing on his paw in the flashback! Where can I get one of those?

We get a nice potted summary of "The Insect Invasion" for those who missed it. The "insects" are now officially tagged as grasshoppers, when they were pretty clearly locusts before. We can therefore explain away the "gigantic grasshopper" as some sort of mutated locust with grasshopper-like features. Hey, if Roger Ranger can get away with the "radioactivity" dodge... And now we get our two dialogue lowlights in quick succession.

"Huh?" Dialogue Moment #1:

ROGER to KIMBA: Now then, you said you had too many grasshoppers. What's the problem now [sic]?

What KIMBA actually said: The leopard and the cheetah are eating them...

What KIMBA should have said: WE HAVE TOO MANY GRASSHOPPERS!! Whaddya think?!

Kimba's recognition that some of the meat-eating animals are stuffing themselves with insects should also be kept in mind here. At the moment, Kimba is merely disappointed in the logy lions, leopards, and lynx, but just wait.

"Huh?" Dialogue Moment #2:

MONKEY to KIMBA: There was a strange noise in the grasshoppers' cave, I was just going in to find out what it was.... AHHHHHH!!!
KIMBA: Musta been something!
CEB to KIMBA:
Um, yeah.

And said "something" proceeds to scare the bejeebers out of Kimba, who is only saved by the timely intervention of the moles -- much as Orchid's pals helped Kimba get out of the lava pit in "Battle at Dead River." Kimba performed so admirably during "Dangerous Journey" that it's hard to credit a giant bug for scaring the jungle prince out of his gourd, but the violence of the beast's assault makes it all too easy to believe.

In spite of Kimba's promise to the others that "you'll all be safe," only the knowledge that Kimba's still scared spotless (if he had any spots, that is) can get the viewer through the next scene without a major loss of faith. Kimba already knows that the meat-eaters are in no condition to fight, but he pitches a fit anyway, because he's equally aware that all the responsibility for stopping the giant grasshopper now rests on him -- and he's not sure that he can handle it. FDR once famously said, "It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find no one there." I doubt, however, that FDR would have reacted in quite this way:

Jungle Prince's Log: "LIFE SUCKS!"

Kimba subsequently continues to dance around the issue at hand by choosing this moment to discuss dietary habits and food storage -- and all the other animals willingly join in. (Trust me, the video is silent, but that's what they're discussing.) Nero is tuning up his fiddle even as we speak...

Luckily, Kimba regains his cool just in time to get the idea of luring the grasshopper above ground, and it's off to the races as Kimba rides the bellowing (huh?) 'hopper up the volcano-side (in Sulfur Valley, perhaps? It's quite possible) in a really neat animated sequence. Given his frazzled state of mind, Kimba deserves all sorts of praise here for daring to physically prod the beast out of its cave.

Kimba uses the familiar euphemism "destroy" to describe what he ultimately had to do to the grasshopper. At least that's better than "get rid of." The Japanese version of this scene was about 15 seconds longer, but the brief shots retained by the Titan crew certainly get the somber point across. Roger Ranger's comforting of the sorrowing Kimba was no doubt meant to soften the blow even further, but Roger's comment about "hav[ing] some kind of monster inside or outside ourselves that must be overcome," rather than providing philosophical gloss, gives off a fortune-cookie sort of vibe. It would have been far better to have recognized that Kimba was forced to break his moral code, commiserate with him on that specific point, and let it go at that.

The rest of the episode amounts to a mournful "dying fall," the momentary silliness about the "grasshopper eggs" aside. This last development was meant to solve the food-storage crisis that the animals had discussed earlier, but it will be rendered entirely irrelevant three eps from now, when the animals get a presumably permanent source of substitute meat in "A Revolting Development." The shot of Kimba listlessly pawing at the Earth -- with one claw glittering in the moonlight as if to mock his pretensions about supervising a completely pacifistic empire -- is infinitely more memorable. Ray Owens' narrative circumvention of what has happened might normally be taken as another attempt to "hide" an obvious death, but, in this case, it actually shows a good deal of respect for the audience. We are left to mentally guide the distraught Kimba out of the ep in our own way -- and to consider how Kimba will recover in time to resume the awful responsibility of leadership.

Up next: Episode 24, "Gypsy's Purple Potion."
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I'll close with a YouTube video that was just uploaded, featuring the voice of Gilbert Mack, as recorded at a 1977 fan gathering of some sort. An added bonus in the vid is a photograph of the Titan crew that was taken early in 1966 during the production of Kimba.

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