Saturday, July 16, 2011

THE BEST (AND REST) OF KIMBA: Episode 24, "Gypsy's Purple Potion"

I regard "Gypsy's Purple Potion" as being something of a turning point in terms of Kimba's relationship to his subjects. Previously, the jungle animals' physical and moral support for Kimba has been... mixed, to put it charitably. He's been forced to do most of the fighting and bleeding by himself and occasionally has had run-ins with such recalcitrants as Boss Rhino and Kelly Funt. Here, though, we see the animals creating a tangible tribute to Caesar (and, by extension, Kimba), defending it with ardor, and, most important of all, refusing to give up when it seems that their leader has been lost. There'll be occasional backsliding in the future, to be sure, but now the animals have a real emotional investment in the future of their kingdom that was not previously present.

Claw also returns here for the first time since "Mystery of the Deserted Village," and with his (or, rather, Cassius') most devious scheme to date. And he would have gotten away with it, too, if not for... no, not the meddling kids, but his own dirt-dumb stupidity. Cassius, Tom, and Tab also get shares of the blame -- Cassius because he fails to provide adequate oversight of the elderly, potion-brewing owl Gypsy (Billie Lou Watt in one of her best one-off voice performances), Tom and Tab because they provide said oversight. But I have to fault Claw the most; with a paralyzed Kimba completely in his power, Claw treats his foe like a particularly incompetent James Bond villain.

The "tower of honor" is, as I noted in my review of "Dangerous Journey," a version of the "animal citadel" of JUNGLE EMPEROR. Both structures have a definite ziggurat-like look to them, although the "citadel" clearly looks more like a structure that one could inhabit or defend. The "tower of honor," by contrast, is basically an elaborate platform.

We already knew that Cassius was a sinister sort, but boy, does he cover himself with glory (not!) while negotiating with/intimidating poor Gypsy. I can readily believe that his "life of crime" predates any association with Claw. The "make-up licking" at the end, strangely enough, makes his prior behavior seem even worse.

Dot (Sonia Owens), Dash (Ray Owens), and Dinky (Gilbert Mack) make their first "official" appearance here as a team, though they've popped up in background shots now and again. They'll become Kimba's companions in several future episodes in which the jungle prince's "child stature" is emphasized. These eps, while entertaining, have always had something of an Elseworlds feel to them to me, since Kimba often acts in a somewhat less than mature manner in them, the better to match up with DD&D's frequently forced cuteness. Here, though, the kids make a good initial impression, as their desire to help honor a departed leader whom they're no doubt too young to remember is genuinely charming.

The "purplification sequence" caused by the titular tincture unquestionably makes for some great, frightening visuals -- that is, until you start thinking about it, and it begins to make less and less logical sense. If Gypsy can make poisons, then why give Kimba a potion that "only" puts him into a coma?! This would make sense only if, for example, Claw wanted to hold Kimba for ransom. Claw and Cassius aren't around when Kimba is victimized, so it's possible that Gypsy has already begun to regret making her deal with the "black devil" and is leaving herself an "out" in case she decides to revive Kimba down the line. Tom and Tab, of course, remain clueless as to the possible deception.

After the somber scene in which the villains display Kimba to his horrified subjects, Claw shows where his real interests lie. You'd think that he'd immediately declare that Kimba is dead and that he is now ruler. Instead, he piles right into the tower, intent on destroying the symbol of what he believes is the animals' quasi-religious veneration of Caesar and, by extension, Kimba. (After all, Claw did say earlier in the episode that he wanted the animals to "worship" him.) But the animals' subsequent stack-blowing (initiated by, no surprise, Pauley Cracker -- another indication of the parrot's strong sense of justice) and assault on the villains has nothing to do with protecting a religious icon. The gang, thinking that Kimba is dead (cf. Dan'l's sad head-shake), is attempting to avenge a friend who just happens to be their leader. Here is where Kimba's many acts of kindness, generosity, and friendship "matter" in a way that his fighting and leadership skills never could.

Claw's beating back of the attack leads to an obvious question: If he can do this to an entire jungle full of animals, then why can't he defeat Kimba? Clearly, the animals had to have come to the end of their rope in order for the subsequent scenes to work, but this inconsistency is frankly irritating. Dan'l quickly washes our skeptical minds clean with his most powerful and memorable scenes of the series, first sorrowfully bringing Kimba to what he thinks will be the young lion's "eternal resting place"...

... and then challenging the others to keep Caesar and Kimba's dream alive, with the symbolic first step being the reconstruction of a "tower of honor" that now will serve as a spiritual guidepost.

The religious message here is unmistakable. The revival of the animals' spirit is much like the Apostles' reception of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, especially in its implication that Kimba's subjects are now charged with carrying on Caesar and Kimba's legacy and, if possible, spreading it to other places. Gypsy's subsequent reformation then could be considered the first reception of "the message" by an "outside individual" (Gentile). The Christian interpretation breaks down there, of course, as Kimba's "resurrection" occurs somewhat later in the narrative than did Christ's.

Once he's revived, why would Kimba immediately suspect that Gypsy wasn't responsible for her actions and rush to help her? Maybe he raced after the battered Tom and Tab and beat the information out of them. Hey, he's more than entitled. Then, it's off to Dead River (or a suburb of Sulfur Valley, I'm not sure which) where Claw, incredibly, has another chance to deal permanently with a victimized Kimba and whizzes it right down his leg. Throwing Kimba in prison!? Claw should have let Cassius handle this operation; the panther has already more than established his malevolent bona fides, after all. Cassius even appears to have a human trap supplier, fer gosh sakes.

With his plan to first engage the villains and then "steam-clean" them, Kimba establishes once and for all that he's MUCH smarter than Claw, that brief dash into the boiling lake aside. The fighting here is plenty vicious but isn't a patch on the battles in the later two-parter "Jungle Fun" and "The Pretenders," in which Kimba has to recover from far worse than an injured leg in order to take down Claw. The weather, however, is almost as bad.

Kimba polishing his skills at deep-tissue massage?

After justifiably getting a twinge in his leg for that bad "cleaning" pun -- a gag that even Ammonia Pine might not have stooped to -- Kimba gets his tribute as both a flesh-and-blood hero and an icon. In typical fashion, he's comfortable with neither role, and it takes Gypsy (who, we are led to presume, is now a citizen of Kimba's kingdom, at least in spirit) to convince him to relax and enjoy the tribute. This is actually somewhat fitting, as Kimba spent a good deal of the episode in a powerless position. Kimba's subjects deserve the real palm here for finally making a tangible demonstration of just how completely Kimba's dream has become theirs, as well. For all the illogic about "the poison that wasn't," this is another classic -- and, not coincidentally, decidedly "Heart"-infused -- Kimba episode.

Up next: Episode 25, "Too Many Elephants".

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